/ ©: Dan Slavik

Beaufort Sea

Connected, Protected, Respected: Conserving the Beaufort Sea Ecosystem

The Beaufort Sea of Canada’s western Arctic stretches across the northern coasts of the Northwest Territories and Yukon, and into Alaska. It’s home to abundant wildlife including fish like Arctic char, birds like the king eider, marine mammals like beluga and bowhead whales, and predators like the polar bear. Today, as it has for thousands of years, the Beaufort Sea supports the livelihoods and culture of the Inupiat, Inuvialuit and Gwich’in peoples.

But the future of this region is at risk, as sea ice retreats and interest in development increases. This is why WWF is working on the ground with communities, to ensure wildlife remains abundant and healthy in the Beaufort Sea ecosystem, and that habitats are managed sustainably in a rapidly changing Arctic.



In the Beaufort Sea, the ecosystem extends across the Canada-Alaska border. Likewise, many of the important local species are highly migratory and travel great distances into Alaskan and Russian waters in the Beaufort, Chukchi and Bering Seas. Beginning in 2012, WWF has organized a series of workshops that bring together Inupiat and Inuvialuit groups to discuss cross-border Integrated Ocean Management in the Beaufort Sea. Giving these neighbours an opportunity to explore shared values and knowledge opens the door to more collaborative management that will help people and nature live in harmony.

© Dan Slavik

Research and Traditional Knowledge

In the Beaufort Sea, scientific research and the traditional knowledge of the Inuvialuit people work hand in hand. In addition to helping to shape the way the land is managed, locals assist in monitoring species, using generations of experience and expertise to learn more about wildlife.

For example, with help from the community of Tuktoyaktuk and local harvesters, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans has developed a comprehensive picture of beluga health. WWF is working with other communities in the region to support similar community-based initiatives.

To help bring tradition and science together, WWF participated in Elder-Youth Workshop on Beluga Health and Climate Change on Egg Island, Darnely Bay. The workshop taught local youth about the importance of traditional knowledge shared through storytelling and cultural events.

© Dan Slavik

WWF also supported the development of an Inuvialuit traditional knowledge database to make previous studies available for use by decision-makers and community members. With years of research offering invaluable insights, this information is now available to play a central role in shaping planning and management decisions. To make its use even easier, WWF is helping compile and digitize the data for use in mapping software, a key aspect of the planning process.

Working with Communities

Inuvialuit communities actively use the lands, waters, and coastline for subsistence harvesting. In remote areas - which are often in or near important wildlife habitat - managing the waste created through these activities can be challenging, since logistics are tricky, and it can be expensive.

“Clean Camps, Clean Coasts” is a collaboration with the Paulatuk and Tuktoyaktuk Hunters and Trappers Committees to address these challenges, supported by partners including Environment Canada. The community organizations in Paulatuk commented that “the community takes pride in our land and our subsistence traditions, and see this program as securing our lands, animals, and habitats for future generations”.

In 2013, WWF supported cleanups at four sites – two camps and two shore areas – near Paulatuk and Tuktoyaktuk. Workers and volunteers came together to inventory the waste and identify its sources, and to create educational materials about safe waste management.

© Dan Slavik

At the table: the Beaufort Sea Partnership

WWF is a member of the Beaufort Sea Partnership, to plan for a future that safely balances the needs of wildlife and communities with the increasing pressure to develop the Arctic’s abundant natural resources.

To support these planning and preparedness efforts, WWF has completed an oil spill trajectory modeling project that maps out multiple oil spills and how these spills could interact with important areas for communities, wildlife and ecosystems. Explore the risks of oil spills in the Beaufort Sea at arcticspills.wwf.ca.
 

WWF Expert

 / ©: WWF-Canada/Dan Slavik
Dan Slavik
Senior Officer, Government and Community Relations
 / ©: Monte HUMMEL / WWF-Canada
Sea ice and driftwood, Beaufort Sea, near Herschel Island, Yukon, Canada.
© Monte HUMMEL / WWF-Canada

Stewards of land and sea

The Inuvialuit people have always been stewards of the lands, ocean, and wildlife. In 1984, they signed their comprehensive land claim, one of the first in Northern Canada. Through the land claim, they took on certain rights and responsibilities to manage wildlife, and balance the needs of wildlife and people with the need for economic development. Inuvialuit have already established numerous conservation areas within their traditional boundaries, embracing the philosophy that “the land will support the people who protect the land”.
 / ©: naturepl.com / Steven Kazlowski / WWF-Canon
Polar bear (Ursus maritimus) swimming in the water in front of an iceberg, Beaufort Sea, Arctic Ocean, Alaska
© naturepl.com / Steven Kazlowski / WWF-Canon

Polar bears in the Beaufort Sea

WWF is supporting a survey of the Viscount Melville polar bear subpopulation, which will provide new details on the population size, demographics and territory – data that will help assess how polar bears are adapting to changing sea ice habitat in the region. You can follow along as we track the movement of these bears by visiting our polar bear tracker.
 / ©: Paul Nicklen/National Geographic Stock / WWF-Canada
Two young Peary caribou (Rangifer tarandus pearyi), Ellesmere Island, Nunavut, Canada.
© Paul Nicklen/National Geographic Stock / WWF-Canada

Peary caribou in the High Arctic islands

WWF has helped fund a Peary caribou survey on the Melville-Prince Patrick Islands Groups in the high Arctic. This aerial survey – which involves counting wildlife from low-flying planes – established new population estimates for both Peary caribou – which are endangered in Canada – and muskox.

Learn more about caribou.
 / ©: Monte HUMMEL / WWF-Canada
Sea ice near the shore, Beaufort Sea, near Herschel Island, Yukon, Canada.
© Monte HUMMEL / WWF-Canada