© Thorsten Milse / WWF-Canon Sea ice, Greenland

Last Ice Area

In the coming years, the Last Ice Area will be the last refuge for ice-dependent species in the Arctic.

What is the Last Ice Area?

A changing climate is shrinking the extent of Arctic summer sea ice. A vital habitat for Arctic marine life, summer sea ice is crucial to local Inuit communities and also plays a role in regulating the global climate. Scientific projections show that summer sea ice will last the longest above northern Canada and Greenland. Some call this essential region “Similijuaq,” meaning “place of the big ice” or Tuvaijuittuq, which means “the ice never melts” in Inuktitut. WWF-Canada was the first to call it The Last Ice Area. Together, we must safeguard this globally significant region that will be a last refuge for ice-dependent species as the world warms.

Shrinking Sea Ice

The Last Ice Area is where summer sea ice will persist the longest in the face of climate change, providing refuge for ice-dependent species. Thanks to the thickness of multi-year pack ice and North America’s last remaining ice shelves, this region could become a final refuge for sea ice-dependent species like narwhal, polar bear, walrus, seal and beluga, as well as the under-ice algae that fuels the entire Arctic food web. But sea ice can only continue to play this pivotal role if we act now to protect it.

Even with effective action on limiting greenhouse gas emissions, the sea ice will shrink and last shorter periods in winter. Canada and the world must address the causes of climate change and work to limit it. Addressing climate change is the most important thing we can do for ice-associated life. Taking action locally means we can avoid additional threats from activities such as oil and gas exploration, commercial fishing, tourism and shipping.

What WWF-Canada is Doing

WWF is committed to supporting the conservation of the LIA region by advocating for the establishment of protected areas, supporting Inuit-led management and conducting research to advance understanding of this region. Beyond the LIA, WWF works to identify the most critical areas for biodiversity conservation and how they are interconnected — both within Canadian waters and through the circumpolar Arctic. Advancing knowledge of Arctic habitats and species is key to planning and managing activities across the region, helping ecosystems stay resilient in the face of climate change.

Protecting the Last Ice Area

WWF has been concerned about conservation management in the Last Ice Area for years and has worked to establish protected areas.

© Lee NARRAWAY / WWF-Canada Sea ice on the coast of northeast Ellesmere Island, Nunavut, Canada.

Tallurutiup Imanga

Lancaster Sound, known as Tallurutiup Imanga to the Inuit, is a unique Arctic ecosystem located between Baffin Island and Devon Island. Polar bears, narwhals, belugas, bowheads, walrus, seals and seabirds all call this region home. In 2019, the Government of Canada and the Qikiqtani Inuit Association, along with the Government of Nunavut, announced the completion of the Tallurutiup Imanga National Marine Conservation Area through an Inuit Impact and Benefit Agreement.

© Clive Tesar / WWF-Canada Polar Bear tracks frozen on snow surface


Tuvaijuittuq is a 322,000 sq. km area in the Canadian High Arctic that exists off the northwest coast of Ellesmere Island in Nunavut. In 2019, plans moved forward to establish Tuvaijuittuq as an interim Marine Protected Area. This movement was led by the Qikitani Inuit Association, and WWF celebrates and supports their efforts to work with the governments of Canada and Nunavut to protect it.

© Clive Tesar / WWF-Canada Sea weed under ice melt spot

The Pikialasorsuaq

Inuit in Canada and Greenland are looking at the future management of an important feature in the Last Ice Area: the North Water polynya, which is called the Pikialasorsuaq in Greenlandic. A polynya is an area of water that remains ice-free in the winter due to wind and water currents while surrounding waters freeze over. Inuit from communities in Canada and Greenland continue to rely on the polynya. The North Water polynya is also critical to the well-being of many birds and animals. WWF-Canada supports the Inuit Circumpolar Council, which created the Pikialasorsuaq Commission to bring together Inuit leaders from both sides of the polynya to guide the future management of the region. In 2017, the Commission recommended the identification of a protected area (including the polynya) and Inuit-led management of the entire region. We continue to work toward seeing protections for the Pikialasorsuaq.

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WWF-Canada is planning for an Arctic future that conserves wildlife, establishes direct partnerships with local communities and promotes the responsible development of resources.

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