A new report from The Pew Charitable Trusts says that more oversight and planning is needed to address the steady increase in ship traffic through the Canadian Arctic, including a proposal to the Canadian government to develop new shipping corridors with the aim of protecting vessel safety, ocean ecosystems, and local Inuit communities.
Over the past decade, the number of ships using the Northwest Passage has more than doubled, posing risks to areas that are vital to marine life and northern communities.
The new policy proposal, titled The Integrated Arctic Corridors Framework, contains eight recommendations to address these new shipping-related challenges and lays out a framework that emphasizes the need for Inuit to play a significant role in designating and managing vessel corridors. The framework would also establish special standards for ships traveling through biologically and culturally important areas, with science-based routes classified by risk.
“The melting of Arctic sea ice due to climate change has resulted in more ship traffic, heightening the need to develop better ways of managing vessels in this remote environment,” said Louie Porta, an author of the report and policy director for Oceans North Canada, a project led by Pew in partnership with Ducks Unlimited Canada. “The proposed shipping corridors would mean more efficient routes, more effective responses to large-scale emergencies, and less impact on the environment.”
The proposed framework expands on the Canadian Coast Guard’s Northern Marine Transportation Corridors Initiative, and the recommendations are based on a survey of vessel traffic data, spatial analysis of high-risk shipping areas, and a review of more than 170 previous policy recommendations to the Canadian government, most of which have not been implemented.
Increased shipping will have an impact on food sources that Inuit rely on, says Mary Simon, former president of the national Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and former Canadian circumpolar ambassador. “This report makes a concerted effort to understand and respect Inuit ownership and use of the coastal and Arctic waters. It places Inuit in the overall future planning, development, and management of the shipping corridors, and I think that’s very positive.”
The report’s proposed shipping corridors are an “adaptive governance approach that will continue to evolve in innovative and strategic ways,” said Dr. Jackie Dawson, a University of Ottawa expert in Arctic marine use and transportation.
“This is an opportunity for the Canadian government to bring stakeholders together to develop a national Arctic shipping policy that would be good for the environment, industry, and Inuit, who depend on a healthy marine ecosystem,” The Pew Charitable Trusts said.