Solutions exist for Chesterfield Inlet’s marine life concerns

Written by Andrew Dumbrille and Rachel Theoret-Gosselin
Nunavut’s current land use planning process has given life to many concerns about current and future development impacts in communities across the region. With leadership from Mayor Barnie Aggark, the community of Chesterfield Inlet, on the western edge of Hudson Strait, has been voicing concerns about shipping and its impacts on marine life.
Mr. Aggark invited WWF-Canada into the community to provide expert advice on shipping and land use planning by organizing a recent series of meetings with elders, the Hamlet Council, the Aqigiq Hunter and Trapper Organization and the public to discuss solutions for reducing the impacts of shipping in the region.

WWF-Canada’s Rachel Theoret-Gosselin presenting in Chesterfield Inlet, NU. © Andrew Dumbrille
WWF-Canada’s Rachel Theoret-Gosselin presenting in Chesterfield Inlet, NU. © Andrew Dumbrille

Among the many issues raised: over the past years, a significant decrease in seals, belugas and arctic char has been observed. The inlet and waterway into Baker Lake and the Meadowbank mine used to be home to a variety of sea life, which was part of daily life for residents. The hunting, fishing and cultural practices in this area are an important part of people’s connection to the land and sea.
Many in the community are linking the marine changes to the shipping associated with mining activity and the transportation of supplies in and out of the inlet and waterway. It’s not hard to see how this could be the case. The waterway is narrow, which means all vessel traffic, fuel transfer and anchoring is within a relatively short distance from the shore. Disturbance is inevitable.
Aerial view of Chesterfield Inlet, NU. © Rachel Theoret-Gosselin
Aerial view of Chesterfield Inlet, NU. © Rachel Theoret-Gosselin

Jobs and economic opportunities are a priority for residents, but not at the expense of marine health, they said. The risk that the community takes on from shipping has to be balanced with the benefits. These are among a number of measures that could achieve this without completely restricting shipping and choking off economic opportunities:

  • Ensure two community observers are on all ships transiting the area to provide local knowledge and keep vessel operators accountable.
  • Provide adequate training for community spill response. Currently there is no plan, no contact list and no inventory of resources.
  • Set speed limits for vessels transiting through the inlet and waterway to Baker Lake, allowing maneuverability and reducing emissions, conflicts with mammals and noise.
  • Implement clear restrictions on sewage discharge and ballast water exchange.
  • Develop a seasonal transit plan that avoids shipping in August, when the Arctic char harvest is important.
  • Transport mine materials overland to avoid shipping through the inlet and water altogether.
  • Place some restrictions on anchoring to avoid marine mammal corridors and important Arctic char spawning areas at the mouth of rivers flowing into the waterway and inlet.

The next few months are critical for Chesterfield Inlet and its residents. The Nunavut Planning Commission is holding public hearings in November into its Draft Nunavut Land Use Plan, which includes use zones for activities such as shipping. This plan, when in place, needs to set a high standard for how development occurs. Community voices in Chesterfield Inlet need to be heard. Shipping can be done right and it’s now time for us to listen.
This week in Nunavut, the future of Arctic shipping is being discussed as part of the Nunavut Land Use Plan. In advance of this meeting, Ocean’s North issued a report on responsible Arctic shipping. For more details on the report, visit: