OTTAWA, Dec. 6 /CNW/ - The federal government today took a significant step towards the creation of the Arctic's first national marine conservation area in Lancaster Sound by proposing boundaries that encompass a sweeping 44,500 square kilometers, an area twice the size of Lake Erie.
"We are very pleased that the federal government is taking proactive steps to safeguard this globally significant marine ecosystem," said Chris Debicki, Nunavut director for Oceans North Canada. "This visionary plan will ensure that Lancaster Sound remains a thriving waterway, vital to Inuit of the High Arctic."
Environment Minister John Baird released the government's proposed boundaries for the new national marine park in the spectacular Lancaster Sound, at the eastern entrance to the Northwest Passage. The Sound is a major migratory corridor for most of the world's narwhal as well as bowhead and beluga whales.
The minister's announcement comes a year after Parks Canada, the Government of Nunavut and Qikiqtani Inuit Association signed an agreement for a joint feasibility study to develop the national marine park. Once created, Lancaster Sound will be the nation's fifth national marine conservation area and will protect this sensitive region from ocean dumping, undersea mining, overfishing and energy exploration.
The minister also confirmed today that no new seismic testing will take place but that existing data will be used in planning for the marine park. Last summer, Inuit successfully blocked the government's plans to do oil-related seismic testing in Lancaster Sound because of concerns that those activities could harm migrating whales.
"Today's announcement means that the federal government and Inuit now share a similar commitment to fully protect Lancaster Sound," Debicki said. "This development shows that Canada is willing to take a leadership role in Arctic conservation."
Over the past year, Qikiqtani Inuit Association has launched studies that will further the development of the national marine park, including gathering traditional knowledge, as well as scientific, ecological, cultural and socio-economic data.
Federal officials now need to negotiate with Inuit groups to finalize the park boundaries and develop a model for full participation by local Inuit communities in managing Lancaster Sound as required in the 1993 Nunavut Land Claims Agreement.
Lancaster Sound off the northern tip of Baffin Island is an area of stunning coastal beauty surrounded by steep ice-covered mountains, fjords and barrier islands. Huge schools of Arctic cod help support one of the planet's most productive Arctic marine ecosystems. These waters are also essential for the survival of millions of seabirds - from northern fulmar to ivory gulls - occurring in concentrations not found anywhere else in the Arctic.
Covered by ice for nine months of the year, Lancaster Sound is an ecosystem in transition as global warming causes the retreat of sea ice and dramatically affects local people and wildlife. The Inuit and their ancestors have relied for thousands of years on the sound's abundant natural wealth for food, clothing and shelter. Today, residents of the three Nunavut communities of Pond Inlet, Arctic Bay, and Resolute Bay continue this tradition, depending on its waters for their economic and cultural wellbeing.
The biological significance of Lancaster Sound was documented in the early 1980s in a "Green Paper" sponsored by Indian and Northern Affairs Canada after the 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. The project was put on hold until the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement was finalized.
About Oceans North Canada
Oceans North Canada promotes science- and community-based conservation of Canada's northern seas and the resulting wellbeing of indigenous Arctic peoples. For more information: www.oceansnorth.ca
For further information:
Chris Debicki, 204.890.2580 or Trevor Taylor, 613.290.4498