© Erin Keenan Arctic Shipping

Arctic Shipping

In the Arctic, sea ice is shrinking and shipping is increasing. Shipping poses risks to both marine habitat and Indigenous and community food security.

Shipping in the Arctic

Sea ice is disappearing quickly in the Arctic. Development in the polar regions, from tourism to mining, also means increases in ship traffic and the risks associated with operating in this fragile environment.

While many remote communities in the North rely on ships to deliver necessities, shipping also brings pollution in the form of grey water , sewage, fuel spills, underwater noise, contaminated effluent, black carbon, greenhouse gases and invasive species. These impacts are felt most directly by Indigenous and local communities as well as the species that share these Arctic waters, including narwhals, beluga and bowhead whales.

© Erin Keenan Arctic Shipping

Managing Opportunities and Risks

Without question, a thriving shipping industry has the potential to drive prosperity in the North and contribute to Canada’s economy as a whole. But as shipping increases, so do the risks associated with operating in this remote and fragile environment. Potential oil spills and pollution could spell disaster for sensitive habitats already under significant pressure from climate change. And hazardous Arctic conditions increase the risk of accidents in a region where help may be 1,500 km away.

To manage those risks, government, industry, Indigenous and local communities, and environmental stakeholders need to work together. By establishing best practices and putting protection measures in place, we can ensure that development doesn’t come at a steep environmental cost. The time for action is now, before shipping traffic increases further.

Ensuring Sustainable Shipping Practices

In 2019, WWF collaborated with the Inuvialuit Game Council (IGC) and published the Western Arctic Mariner’s Guide to help identify and avoid marine mammals, minimizing shipping-related disruption to wildlife and Indigenous and local communities. WWF has also published an Eastern Arctic Mariner’s Guide and the Hudson Bay Complex Mariner’s Guide.

We are working with the federal government and Indigenous and local communities to ban heavy fuel oil in Arctic shipping. Heavy fuel oil is the most toxic, hazardous, and difficult to clean up of any ship fuel in the world. We are also working to improve oil spill response capacity in the North, pointing out the gaps in oil spill preparedness plans and working to help improve the state of oil spill response in communities.

WWF-Canada will continue to work with partners to better understand the risks posed by shipping, find ways to mitigate those risks — especially in areas of high conservation value — and create a more robust regulatory framework to protect marine wildlife and the habitat they depend on. We will also focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and black carbon from shipping, both of which contribute to the climate crisis.

© Erin Keenan Arctic Shipping

What You Can Do

Polar bear with cubs in the Wapusk National Park, Churchill, Manitoba, Canada

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Two narwhal surfacing to breathe in Lancaster Sound, Nunavut, Canada

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Learn More About Our Work in the Arctic

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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