Legal action taken to protect rich Arctic area

The Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker Louis S. St-Laurent sails past an iceberg in Lancaster Sound, Friday, July 11, 2008. Jonathan Hayward/ The Canadian Press
The Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker Louis S. St-Laurent sails past an iceberg in Lancaster Sound, Friday, July 11, 2008. Jonathan Hayward/ The Canadian Press
The World Wildlife Fund has gone to court to try to kill old permits for gas and oil exploration in Lancaster Sound, in the northern territory of Nunavut.

The conservation group says the permits awarded to Shell decades ago present an obstacle to the long-planned creation of a marine conservation area.

‘A very biodiverse area…very important to the local Inuit’

“Lancaster Sound has one of the richest concentrations of marine mammals in the world,” says Ian Miron, a staff lawyer at Ecojustice who is representing the World Wildlife Fund in this case. “We’re talking narwhals, belugas, bowhead whales. It’s got one of the highest concentrations of polar bears in the Canadian Arctic.

“It also provides important habitat for seabirds. So it’s a very biodiverse area and it’s also very important to the local Inuit communities.”

Lawsuit is ‘a kind of last resort’
Beluga whales are an important food source for Inuit in the Arctic. Unheard of before 2006, a cat pathogen, which can be harmful to humans, has moved to the north and is infecting a percentage of the whales. (Darryl Dick / The Canadian Press)
Beluga whales are an important food source for Inuit in the Arctic. Darryl Dick / The Canadian Press

Lawyers have gone to Federal Court to ask that the judge confirm the permits for exploration on the border of the proposed conservation area have expired, and that the government be obliged to update its registry records in the Canada Petroleum Resources Act to show that.

“This lawsuit is kind of a last resort effort to clarify the status of these permits and sort of remove that obstacle to the finalization of the protected area,” says Miron.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada:  Calls for protection of Canada’s Lancaster Sound, Radio Canada International

Finland: Lapland TV host becomes nature enthusiast, Yle News

Sweden:  Sweden’s Society for Nature Conservation: some plastics should be phased out, Radio Sweden

United States: U.S. polar bear conservation plan focuses on near-term goals, Alaska Dispatch News

Lynn Desjardins, Radio Canada International

Lynn Desjardins, Radio Canada International

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