The Arctic

The Arctic faces unparalleled challenges with consequences not only for the region, but for our entire planet.

The Arctic is one of Earth’s last pristine ecosystems. Some of the world’s largest seabird populations congregate here and iconic wildlife thrives in this frigid white world, including: 

  • polar bears
  • white beluga whales
  • playful ringed seals

Vibrant human communities also rely on the Arctic’s resources. Many Alaska Natives live a traditional subsistence way of life and depend on a healthy marine environment to survive.

And the region’s key role in regulating climate as the planet’s air conditioner makes it critically important to all of us, no matter where we live.

Today the Arctic faces unparalleled challenges, from expanding oil and gas exploration and other industrial activity to increasing tourism and climate change impacts.

At Ocean Conservancy, we’re working to help citizens and decision-makers alike understand what’s at stake. We’re advocating for science-based solutions to ensure that Arctic waters remain healthy and clean.

The Threat of Oil and Gas Development

As the global demand for oil and gas continues to escalate, sensitive Arctic ecosystems and the wildlife that lives there face threats from seismic testing, exploratory drilling, and increased vessel and air traffic.

We know from our experience with the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico that more science is needed to inform decisions about whether, where and how to drill.

No proven methods exist to effectively clean up oil spilled in icy Arctic waters, yet the federal agency responsible for regulating offshore oil and gas drilling approved Shell Oil’s plan for exploratory drilling in the Arctic Ocean.

Setbacks and missteps forced Shell to give up its plans to drill into subsea oil reservoirs in 2012, and the company announced in early 2013 that it would it would suspend its attempts at further oil exploration in the Arctic for the rest of the year. Shell has clearly demonstrated that the company is not prepared to conduct safe and responsible operations in icy Arctic waters.

We need a time-out on Arctic drilling until we have improved our understanding of the Arctic ecosystem, protected important ecological and subsistence areas and developed effective methods to clean up an oil spill in icy Arctic water. 

Additional leasing and drilling should go forward only after we have improved our understanding of the region, protected important ecological and subsistence areas, and developed effective methods to clean up an oil spill in icy Arctic waters.

Ground Zero in a Warming World

The Arctic is experiencing the effects of climate change more than anywhere else, with air temperatures warming about twice as fast as the rest of the planet. Water temperatures are rising and seasonal sea ice is melting at a record-breaking pace.

Scientists predict that the Arctic could be ice-free during the summer months within 30 years – and possibly much sooner. That’s a huge problem for Native people who rely on sea ice as a platform for hunting and travel.

Polar bears, walruses and many other species that hunt, breed, rest and rear their young on the ice are also struggling as this key habitat melts from under them.

We’re fighting increased activity like oil and gas exploration in the Arctic so wildlife can be more resilient in the face of the changing climate.

Mitigating Risks Posed by Shipping

Melting sea ice is leading to increased vessel traffic in Arctic waters. As winter sea ice recedes, vessel traffic through the Arctic increases. Arctic shipping routes can significantly reduce the distance, sailing time and cost of shipping compared to existing alternatives. At the same time, additional vessel traffic exposes wildlife and native communities to new risks such as a higher probability of ship strikes and cargo spills, greater noise pollution and the introduction of invasive species. As ocean advocates, we are working with our partners to better understand these risks and develop strategies to make shipping safer. Our efforts today will be critical to the future of the industry and the Arctic region, and there is a window of opportunity to get things right before commercial shipping escalates dramatically.

Acidic Waters Threaten the Arctic

The ocean absorbs carbon emissions from the atmosphere. But as our carbon emissions have increased, the ocean has become increasingly acidic. This change in the ocean’s chemistry is happening so quickly that it makes it difficult for shellfish and other marine organisms to build their shells. Because colder water is more susceptible to ocean acidification, the Arctic is among the first regions to experience its effects. Fishermen in Alaska are concerned enough that they’re partnering with University of Alaska – Fairbanks to monitor these changes in ocean chemistry.

Scientists are concerned about the impacts of ocean acidification to Arctic species. Many of the shell-building animals that are feeling the impacts today are food for much bigger species, like whales. Ocean acidification could cause a radical reshuffling of ocean life in the Arctic.

Sensible Solutions

The Arctic needs our help today. Thoughtlessly expanding activities like oil drilling and industrial uses in a poorly understood region already under enormous stress could have dire consequences not only for the Arctic but for our entire planet.

Help Ocean Conservancy protect the pristine Arctic, including its wildlife and those who depend on the abundance of Arctic waters to support their subsistence way of life.


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