North Stars: Meet WWF-Canada’s northernmost scientist

North Stars is a WWF blog series about people and partners in the North that we work with and who inspire us.
Colleen Parker lives in Inuvik, N.W.T. and leads WWF-Canada’s conservation projects for the Beaufort Sea region. When you support our Arctic Home campaign, you are supporting Parker’s conservation work with species and communities in the western Arctic. If you donate before March 31, 2016, you will have double the impact thanks to an anonymous donor who is matching all donations up to $137,000. Please donate now.
Name: Colleen Parker
Title: Specialist, Western Arctic, WWF-Canada   
Age: 25
Number of years in the Arctic: 1.5
Favourite Arctic Species: Arctic cod (Arctogadus glacialis)

Colleen holding an Arctic char she caught with a fishing rod, in Ulukhaktok, NT. © Colleen Parker
Colleen holding an Arctic char that she caught with a fishing rod, Ulukhaktok, NT. © Colleen Parker

What is your area of Arctic research expertise?

Colleen: After earning an undergraduate degree in environmental biology, I completed a masters in geography that focused on food security in Ulukhaktok, N.W.T., a small community on the west coast of Victoria Island in the Beaufort Sea. Expensive imported food from the south is used to supplement the Inuit diet of country food – that’s food that’s hunted, fished or gathered locally. Climate change, pollution and industrial development can have negative impacts on fish and mammal populations, which in turn impacts availability, access and quality of country food.
Through my work cleaning up historically contaminated sites in the Arctic, my studies on food security, and most importantly, traditional knowledge, I have learned so much from the people of the North. I have learned that their culture ties them very closely to the land. I saw how developments and projects can impact the well-being of northern communities, and have learned that future projects and plans need to account for these impacts. Maintaining the biodiversity of the region is paramount to survival.

Can you share an experience that demonstrates how just how important species biodiversity is to northern communities?

Colleen: Last summer there was a record number of beluga whales harvested in Ulukhaktok and it was very exciting for the whole community. I was especially excited when I got to go boating with my friend to look for whales. Not long into our hunt for whales, we came across a muskox. People here are opportunistic hunters so it wasn’t long before we were up in the hills and hauling muskox meat back to the boat, to be cut or ground only a short time later, then shared with family members and friends. It was an example for me of the strength of the active sharing network in the community, which supports food security in the region.

What are you working on with WWF?

Colleen: I lead a number of projects with the overall goal of working with communities to protect Arctic ecosystems and species while building a sustainable economy. Specifically, I am working with communities in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region (ISR) to help protect key community values. The ISR spans across the Yukon North Slope and Northwest Territories and is home to the Inuvialuit. I also work with communities, industries and regional, national and international governments to support ecosystem-based management in the Beaufort Sea – meaning that new developments and plans must take into account the full array of interactions within an ecosystem. For example, in 2014 we shared our research on the potential impacts of an oil spill on communities and species in the Beaufort Sea to add to the conversation about oil exploration in the Arctic.
Finally, we also have a program called “Clean Camps, Clean Coasts” which supports cleanup activities in remote areas to support local wildlife and ecosystems.

What do you like about living in the North?

Colleen: Coming from the south I find it’s really nice living in a small community where the people are very friendly and there’s always lots going on.

Community of Inuvik, Northwest Territories, Canada. © Peter Ewins / WWF-Canada
Community of Inuvik, Northwest Territories, Canada. © Peter Ewins / WWF-Canada

North Stars is a WWF blog series about people and partners in the north that we work with and who inspire us.