Lancaster Sound (Talluritup Tariunga) at the eastern entrance of the Northwest Passage, is home to Inuit communities with a long history of living in harmony with their environment. An area of stunning coastal beauty, it is surrounded by steep ice-covered mountains, river valleys, fjords, tide-water glaciers, barrier islands, lagoons, dramatic cliffs and vegetation-covered plains. It is also one of the Arctic’s most biologically productive marine areas.
Values: Today, residents of the three Nunavut communities of Pond Inlet, Arctic Bay, and Resolute Bay hunt and fish in these waters, depending on this traditional way of life for their economic and cultural wellbeing. Arctic cod is the lynchpin of the Lancaster Sound ecosystem, swimming in schools as large as 30,000 tons. Cod provide a primary food source for one of the richest marine mammal populations in the world. Most of the world’s narwhal, one-seventh of its beluga whales as well as bowhead whales, walrus and ringed, harp and bearded seals use the waters of Lancaster Sound for feeding, giving birth and migration.
These waters are also essential to the survival of several million seabirds that occur in concentrations not found anywhere else in the Arctic. Northern fulmar, dovekie, black-legged kittiwake, thick-billed murre, black guillemot, glaucous, Ross and ivory gulls, phalarope, brant and snow goose all thrive here.
A National Marine Conservation Area: The biological significance of Lancaster Sound was documented in the early 1980s in a “Green Paper” study sponsored by Indian and Northern Affairs Canada after Inuit raised concerns about proposed offshore oil and gas drilling. Following that process, Parks Canada proposed in 1987 that Lancaster Sound be protected and began a feasibility study of an area roughly 48,000 square kilometres (18,500 square miles) – or twice the size of Lake Erie. That project was put on hold at the request of Inuit until the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement was finalized.
The 1993 Nunavut Land Claims Agreement set up a process for Inuit to fully participate in designing the proposed national marine conservation area through the negotiation of an Inuit Impact Benefit Agreement. The Qikiqtani Inuit Association (QIA) signed a memorandum of agreement in December 2009 with the Government of Nunavut and Parks Canada to begin working on the national marine preservation area. A feasibility study will be completed over the next two to three years that will recommend boundaries and address other issues. A model will be developed for Inuit participation in its operation and management as required in the land claims agreement.
Under federal law, a national marine conservation area is protected from ocean dumping, undersea mining and energy exploration and overfishing. The Nunavut Land Claims Agreement provides additional opportunities for Inuit-designed conservation measures. According to federal records, Shell Oil has offshore oil and gas leases totaling 8,700 square kilometres (3,400 square miles) just east of Lancaster Sound.
Oceans North Canada supports the creation of the proposed Lancaster Sound national marine conservation area to foster a conservation balance in one of the Arctic’s most biologically rich regions – a region already stressed by climate change. Once completed, this Inuit-led process will make Canada a world leader in Arctic marine conservation.