Two major conservation wins at WWF-Canada’s Ocean Summit

As the home of the Last Ice Area, Lancaster Sound in Canada’s Far North is uniquely important: Right now, polar bears are out with their cubs feeding after a long winter in shoreline dens; walruses and seals are diving for smaller fish in the open water areas near the ice edge; and the receding floes are creating openings for thousands of belugas, bowhead and narwhal whales to come for the summer. The local people, meanwhile, are out harvesting to put traditional foods on their table.

Aerial view of Narwhal group migrating, Lancaster Sound, Canadian Arctic. © / Doug Allan / WWF
Aerial view of Narwhal group migrating, Lancaster Sound, Canadian Arctic. © / Doug Allan / WWF

It’s habitat, species and communities such as these that we at WWF-Canada – and you with your support – work so hard to protect. And we’re celebrating major, recent conservation wins, particularly in Lancaster Sound, Nunavut.

For it’s in that part of the Arctic that Shell Canada has relinquished 30 oil and gas exploration permits that were the subject of a lawsuit launched by WWF-Canada. Now, after decades of struggle, nothing stands in the way of finally creating a National Marine Conservation Area in Lancaster Sound,  with all the significant protection measures that includes. That proposed conservation area can even be expanded to the boundary preferred by the Inuit, which includes the site of those permits.

This result matters.

It matters for people in the Lancaster Sound area, and especially for ice-dependent species such as the polar bear.
Young man on Students on Ice trip to Lancaster Sound. © Jessica Park / WWF-Canada
Young man on Students on Ice trip to Lancaster Sound. © Jessica Park / WWF-Canada

Our oceans are under threat. WWF’s Living Blue Planet report found that nearly 40 per cent of species populations have disappeared since the 1970s due to overfishing, pollution and climate change. It’s a frightening figure. We rely on the ocean for food and for the planet’s ecological health.
Before last fall’s federal election, WWF-Canada brought together the environmental non-governmental organizations fighting for ocean protection to hammer out the marine conservation policies we all agreed were necessary. That meeting resulted in a co-ordinated oceans policy “ask” for each party. The Liberals incorporated the recommendations in their election platform, and then in mandate letters to government ministers after they were elected.

At WWF-Canada’s Oceans Summit in Ottawa last week, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard Dominic LeBlanc announced a five-point plan to achieve these ambitious ocean protection goals, listing tools such as fisheries closures to protect fragile species like cold water corals and sponges.
Creating protected areas, where human activities such as mining, drilling for oil and gas, and large-scale fishing are limited or banned altogether, will help bring balance back to our oceans. On its own, the creation of an NMCA in Lancaster Sound would double the amount of ocean space protected by Canada. This represents a significant step forward for the federal government, which is committed to increasing the amount of protected ocean space from about one per cent currently, to five per cent next year and 10 per cent by 2020.
These developments will have a profound effect on the health of Canada’s oceans.
As we confront the biggest problem of all, climate change, we can now do so knowing that we can have a meaningful conversation about environmental protection in this country between an oil company, environmental organizations, Indigenous peoples, communities and the government: one that produces strong, meaningful results. An important door has opened.
It was our great privilege to help make it happen. We couldn’t have done it without your support.