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Protecting the Arctic

Welcome to the Arctic

A View from the Top of the World

Welcome to the Arctic

The Arctic is among the most spectacularly beautiful places on the planet—and one of the most remote. People have made their homes in this harsh region for millennia, and residents of Arctic coastal communities continue to rely on a healthy ocean to sustain a traditional way of life and as a vital source of food security.

The Arctic is also home to animals found nowhere else on Earth. Where else can you find the longest living vertebrate on the planet (the 400-year old Greenland shark), the unicorn of the sea (the narwhal), and the colorful Spectacled Eider?

In fact, there’s an abundance of wildlife in the Arctic Ocean—including some of the most iconic animals in the world. Polar bears prowl the ice looking for ringed seals. Pacific walruses, too, call the Arctic home. They dive from ice floes and use their sensitive whiskers to locate mollusks on the ocean floor.

A variety of whales swim in Arctic waters, including communicative beluga whales and enormous bowhead whales, which can live over 200 years. Gray whales undertake an epic migration—up to 12,000 miles round-trip—to spend summers in highly productive Arctic marine habitats.

My hope is that we find a way to communicate how special and how fragile this environment is to those who have not yet had the opportunity to experience the Arctic in-person

Sarah Bobbe

Arctic Program Manager

One of the greatest marine migrations on the planet flows through the Bering Strait to reach the Arctic Ocean every year. We are only beginning to understand how rich and diverse the Arctic Ocean region is, and how important this area of the world is to the communities who live there and the planet.

The Problem

The Arctic is warming three times as fast as the rest of the world.

In recent years, Arctic wildlife and peoples have faced rapid and dramatic impacts related to global climate change.

The Arctic is warming three times as fast as the rest of the world. Seasonal sea ice, habitat for so many Arctic animals, is in rapid decline. Some scientists predict that it could be completely gone by 2037. Animals dependent on sea ice habitats—like walruses, polar bears, and certain species of Arctic seals—will face great challenges as sea ice continues to decrease in this region, as will the Indigenous peoples who depend on these animals and the sea ice to support the subsistence way of life.

In addition to the stresses imposed by climate change, the Arctic also faces the threat of offshore oil drilling. While oil and gas companies were forced to retreat from some areas of the Arctic Ocean, they still hold drilling leases off the coast of northern Alaska, and drilling in Arctic waters could lead to a catastrophic spill. No proven methods exist to effectively clean up oil spilled in icy Arctic waters. Finally, with the nearest permanent Coast Guard station more than 1,000 miles away, it would take several days just to reach the site of a spill in the remote Arctic Ocean.

As Arctic waters warm and sea ice recedes, the region has also become more accessible to vessels interested in using Arctic shipping routes. More shipping companies are using northern shipping lanes, in particular the Northern Sea Route along Russia’s Arctic coast. Arctic tourism is bringing cruise ships to these remote waters, too, including along Canada’s famed Northwest Passage, which historically was nearly impossible to transit. This additional vessel traffic exposes wildlife and Arctic communities to new risks, including increased pollution, ship strikes on marine mammals, the introduction of invasive species, oil spills and interference with local hunters and fishermen using small boats.

The Solution

At Ocean Conservancy, we work in the United States and across the Arctic to help citizens and decision-makers alike understand what’s at stake in this region. We advocate science-based solutions to ensure that Arctic waters remain healthy and clean.

Ocean Conservancy has long been active in the fight against risky offshore oil drilling in the Arctic Ocean. We’ve seen great success: President Obama set aside nearly 10 million acres as off-limits to oil and gas companies, and Shell and other oil and gas companies have abandoned their drilling prospects in the U.S. Chukchi Sea for the foreseeable future.

Protecting the Arctic should be an immediate priority for all nations of the world!

Whit Sheard

Senior Director, Shipping Emissions

But there are still live oil leases in the Arctic Ocean, and the threat of offshore drilling remains—along with the threat of new oil and gas lease sales in the region. As a result, we continue to oppose new leasing in the U.S. Arctic Ocean, to fight to preserve important marine areas off-limits to oil and gas companies and to preserve the environmental and safety rules that govern offshore drilling in the Arctic Ocean.

Similarly, while we have seen some advances in the regulation of shipping throughout the Arctic Ocean, there remains a lot to be done. We continue to work at the International Maritime Organization, where we are working with the nations of the world, shipping industry, and others to address shipping emissions in the Arctic, greenhouse gas emissions from shipping across the planet, and stringent Arctic-specific regulations related to navigation and safety.

The Arctic’s future is uncertain, and the management choices we make today will affect the region for years to come. We must make sure those decisions are based on sound science.

Andrew Hartsig

Director of Arctic Program

Finally, we are working with the Arctic nations and permanent participants at the Arctic Council to address the need for international protections for the Arctic Ocean. This includes working towards treaties designed to ensure cooperation on marine management, the development of a network of marine protected areas, and ensuring we have the best scientific information available to develop management plans for this remote and rapidly changing region.

The Arctic needs our help today. Without careful planning, management and regulation, industrial activities like oil drilling and shipping could have dire consequences for a region that is already under enormous stress from global climate change and increasing acidification. And that could affect all of us, no matter where we live.

Sunsetting Harmful Shipping Emissions

Shipping emissions are dirty and dangerous for our ocean, our climate and the frontline communities living near ports. Tell President Biden it’s time to eliminate these harmful emissions.

Help Protect the Arctic and Beyond

Donate now to help us continue our critical work in Arctic waters and beyond. Your support aids careful planning, management and regulation to protect the Arctic and all our ocean’s special places.

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Make a Difference for Our Ocean

Support from donors like you is critical to develop solutions to our ocean’s greatest challenges, like plastic pollution, risky drilling and the climate crisis. Make a gift today to this essential conservation work and be a part of our vision for a healthier ocean. We can’t do it without you.

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