Managing change in the Arctic for people and for nature

Did I mention that this is my first trip to the Arctic? It is, and it’s amazing.  I’ve been working with WWF’s Arctic program for two years now, and this has been a great opportunity to connect face-to-face with the people who live here, and who are largely responsible for deciding how the Arctic is governed.  Hearing first-hand the stories from Inuit who have spent most or all of their lives on the land was incredibly powerful.  Learning from world-leading experts in Arctic research and representatives from important government offices was really valuable.  With so many different perspectives, there are often very different beliefs and priorities.

WWF’s Clive Tesar, Mette Frost, and Vicki Sahanatien answer questions about the Last Ice Area © WWF-Canada/ Riannon John
WWF’s Clive Tesar, Mette Frost, and Vicki Sahanatien answer questions about the Last Ice Area © WWF-Canada/ Riannon John

Everyone agrees that change is happening quickly in the Arctic.  We heard stories from Inuit about new fish species entering Arctic waters, and the tragic loss of lives due to unpredictable sea ice.  We saw maps illustrating some of the alterations over the past 30 years.  Whether these changes should be a source of concern and what, if anything, should be done about it are some of the big questions tackled at the second day of the Last Ice Area Workshop in Iqaluit.
But, as WWF’s Martin Sommerkorn put it, “the world is knocking on the door” of the Last Ice Area, so now the time to start considering options for how to deal with and manage that change in this important region.  While the groundwork is still being laid for a full discussion of which management options could or should be considered, there were a few key points of agreement.
The importance of working together remained the dominant theme – many of the hunters participating in the workshop were eager to share their experiences, including specific examples of the changes that they’ve seen, with government groups, NGOs and scientists.  As their traditional knowledge, passed down through generations in an oral tradition, goes back much further than satellite records, their input is essential to planning for the future.  And since they use the land, ice and water every day and want their children and grandchildren to do so as well, they really want the resources they depend on have a healthy future.
Everyone also agreed that there are still many knowledge gaps to be filled, particularly around possible impacts of development on Arctic peoples and ecosystems, and on the importance of open waters surrounded by sea ice (known as polynyas).
But most importantly, everyone at the workshop appreciated the opportunity to learn more about the Last Ice Area project and region, and most look forward to continuing discussions and taking the next steps toward developing a management plan – one that will truly be sustainable for people, wildlife and ecosystems, and economies.
One thing that became incredibly clear to me during the workshop is that the lives of people in the north are inextricably linked to the health of the land and water, and all the creatures that call it home.  As Clive Tesar, WWF’s Last Ice Area project lead, noted in his opening remarks, WWF’s mandate is about ensuring people and nature can live in harmony – and in making sure nature is there for people to use, not just admire from a distance.  The different groups participating in the workshop may have different ideas about how to get there, but I am convinced we’re all working towards the same goal.