Shell’s release of offshore leases permits huge Arctic marine park

Lancaster Sound is home to 75 per cent of the world’s narwhal whales and the Canadian Arctic’s richest concentration of marine mammals. (Mario Cyr / Nature Conservancy of Canada)
Lancaster Sound is home to 75 per cent of the world’s narwhal whales and the Canadian Arctic’s richest concentration of marine mammals. (Photo: Mario Cyr )
The surrender of exploration permits covering 8,625 square kilometres will facilitate the conservation of a massive, highly sensitive marine ecosystem at Lancaster Sound in the Canadian Arctic.

Shell Canada voluntarily surrendered the permits to the Nature Conservancy of Canada, which in turn, released them to the government of Canada.

Besides being beautiful, Lancaster Sound has been a hunting ground for the Inuit for thousands of years. (Diane Blanchard/Parks Canada)
Besides being beautiful, Lancaster Sound has been a hunting ground for the Inuit for thousands of years. (Diane Blanchard/Parks Canada)
Area of ‘critical ecological importance’

The area is one of the Arctic Ocean’s richest marine habitats and home to several species of whale, seals, walrus and polar bears. It is bordered by important seabird breeding colonies. Indigenous people have hunted and trapped in Lancaster Sound for generations and continue to do so.

Canada had originally planned to protect 44,500 square kilometres of marine territory, but the surrender of these exploration rights would remove the obstacle to creating one of 100,000 square kilometres.

Map shows location of proposed marine park and area freed by the release of offshore leases in red. © Nature Conservancy Canada
Map shows location of proposed marine park and area freed by the release of offshore leases in red. © Nature Conservancy Canada
Expanded park would be ‘globally significant’

“This is globally significant,” said John Lounds, president and CEO of the Nature Conservancy of Canada. “This is a huge area. If it is established at a 100,000-square-kilometre size it would represent almost two per cent of all of Canada’s marine territory.

“It’s significant not only in terms of size. It’s significant in terms of the species that are found there, the wildlife, and it’s important in terms of an ecological system that will continue into the future.”

Listen to the interview with John Lounds:
John Lounds is confident the Canadian government will work with the Nunavut government and indigenous groups to establish an expanded marine park. © Simon Wilson
John Lounds is confident the Canadian government will work with the Nunavut government and indigenous groups to establish an expanded marine park. © Simon Wilson
A long haul, not over yet

Canada has pledged to protect five per cent of its marine territory by 2017 and 10 per cent by 2020. Lounds calls the promise ambitious but says the government could make substantial headway by expanding and protect the Lancaster Sound area.

First the federal government must negotiate with the government of the northern territory of Nunavut and the Inuit people who live there. Success would be the culmination of years of effort and disagreement among competing interests including governments, industry and conservation groups.

Lancaster Sound is vitally important for the indigenous Inuit population, which has used it as prime hunting and fishing ground for millennia. (Photo: Mario Cyr)
Lancaster Sound is vitally important for the indigenous Inuit population, which has used it as prime hunting and fishing ground for millennia. (Photo: Mario Cyr)
Related stories from around the North:

Canada:  Calls for protection of Canada’s Lancaster Sound, Eye on the Arctic

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

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Lynn Desjardins, Radio Canada International

Born and raised in Montreal, Quebec, Lynn has dedicated her working life to journalism. After decades in the field, she still believes journalism to be a pillar of democracy and she remains committed to telling stories she believes are important or interesting. Lynn loves Canada and embraces all seasons: skiing, skating, and sledding in winter, hiking, swimming and playing tennis in summer and running all the time. She is a voracious consumer of Canadian literature, public radio programs and classical music. Family and friends are most important. Good and unusual foods are fun. She travels when possible and enjoys the wilderness.

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