The dramatic melting of Arctic sea ice due to climate change means more commercial ships than ever before are traveling through the Bering Strait, a remote marine gateway located between the United States and Russia. At its narrowest point, the strait is only 55 miles wide and is the only route between the Pacific and Arctic oceans.
The increasing vessel traffic poses serious environmental risks for the strait, a critical migration corridor for thousands of bowhead, beluga and gray whales, and millions of seabirds. Indigenous peoples have lived in the Bering Strait region for millennia, supported by the productive ecosystem. These waters are also home to walruses, ringed and spotted seals and polar bears, and provide important habitat for some of the largest concentrations of breeding seabirds in North America. More shipping will increase the threats of oil spills, air and water pollution, underwater noise and ship strikes on wildlife—all serious concerns for Indigenous communities that rely on a healthy ocean for food security and their way of life.
Today, we are launching a new web story that outlines the environmental impacts of increased shipping in the Bering Strait region—and offers recommendations for how to tackle these issues. There’s no time to waste. Vessel traffic increased 150% in these waters between 2008 and 2018 and could double by 2030. More than 90% of world trade is carried out by sea, and the Arctic will only become more attractive to shipping companies as sea ice melts.
There’s plenty we can do to help protect the Bering Strait region. We can urge the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to ban the use and carriage of heavy fuel oil in the Arctic to lessen the risk of devastating oil spills. We can support IMO proposals to significantly reduce shipping emissions that contribute to climate change. We can listen to the voices of Indigenous peoples who live in this region about how best to safeguard a healthy ocean for future generations and ensure they have a meaningful role in decision-making.
The Arctic is changing and vessel traffic is poised to grow rapidly in the Bering Strait region. But if we act now, we can put in place effective measures to reduce the risks of disastrous oil spills and other shipping-related accidents. We hope this web story inspires you to speak up on behalf of the remarkable Bering Strait region.
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