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STATEMENT: IMO Announces Safety Measures for the Bering Strait, One of the Most Ecologically Significant Places on the Planet

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The following statement was issued by Janis Searles Jones (@InVeritas_Jones), CEO of Ocean Conservancy, in reaction to the International Maritime Organization’s approval of two proposals to protect the Bering Strait region today:

“Ocean Conservancy applauds the decision at the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to embrace precautionary measures that will improve vessel safety in the Bering Strait—a remarkable body of water that supports the livelihoods of thousands of Russian and Alaska indigenous peoples and is one of the most important migratory passages bowhead, beluga and gray whales and millions of seabirds.

“At a meeting in London, the IMO’s Marine Safety Committee approved a joint U.S. and Russia proposal for a two-way vessel route as well as a U.S. proposal for three areas to be avoided around the islands of St. Lawrence, Nunavik and King Island.

“The Bering Strait, only 53 miles wide at its narrowest point, is the only marine gateway between the Arctic and the Pacific. It is a critical migratory pathway for thousands of marine mammals and millions of seabirds. The region is home to Alaskan and Russian indigenous peoples who have depended on the health and bounty of our ocean for millennia.

“When it comes to shipping safety in the Arctic, precautionary measures like this help to prevent problems and lessen the chances of accidents putting ecosystems and humans at risk. As the global shipping industry takes advantage of reduced seasonal sea ice in Arctic waters, there is an increased risk of noise and water pollution and ship strikes on whales, as well as increased potential for conflict with subsistence activities and accidents—including devastating oil spills. Those dangers are further exacerbated by harsh weather conditions and enormous distances from spill response capabilities, which can hamper rescue and cleanup efforts in the event of an accident.

“The joint U.S.-Russia proposal, now adopted by all 174 nations in the IMO, is an encouraging example of international cooperation in the Arctic. Ocean Conservancy welcomes the IMO’s decision to protect the Bering Strait and wholeheartedly supports efforts to wisely manage and protect a rapidly changing Arctic.”

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Ocean Conservancy experts are available for media inquiries.

NOTES TO EDITOR:

  • The Bering Strait region is home to Alaska Native peoples who have depended on the health and bounty of the oceans here for millennia. A clean, healthy ocean is critical to food security and their way of life.
  • The Bering Strait is a critical migratory pathway for thousands of marine mammals and millions of seabirds who move north through the Strait every spring to take advantage of Arctic summer productivity, then back south in the fall to ice-free seas for the winter.
  • This year, scientists recorded the lowest winter sea ice in the Bering Sea than has ever been recorded.
  • The joint U.S.-Russia proposal was submitted in February 2018 to establish new two-way routes to encourage ships to travel in regions that have been charted to modern standards and are significantly offshore, reducing the risk of vessel incidents that could endanger lives, lead to devastating oil spills, or adversely impact subsistence lifestyles.
  • The U.S. proposal for areas to be avoided will steer vessels clear of three islands in the region (St. Lawrence, Nunavik and King Island) that contain dangerous shoal waters on their coasts, are environmentally sensitive and are important to subsistence activities.
  • In December 2017, Russia and the United States joined 8 other nations to finalize an agreement on international Arctic fisheries.

Ocean Conservancy is working to protect the ocean from today’s greatest global challenges. Together with our partners, we create science-based solutions for a healthy ocean and the wildlife and communities that depend on it. For more information, visit oceanconservancy.org, or follow us on FacebookTwitter or Instagram.