Shell Canada quits pristine Arctic site; decision celebrated

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Lancaster Sound can now be declared a National Marine Conservation Area 

WWF-Canada has welcomed  Shell Canada’s decision to relinquish offshore oil exploration permits within the Inuit preferred boundary for the Lancaster Sound National Marine Conservation Area. An announcement of the decision was made at WWF-Canada’s Ocean Summit in London on Wednesday, which marked World Oceans Day.

The permits were granted more than 40 years ago and recently disputed in a lawsuit by WWF-Canada. By renouncing these permits, the most significant threat to the species and people in the region is eliminated. The stage is now set for the Government of Canada to protect a region larger than currently planned, as advocated by Inuit groups and WWF-Canada.

© Paul Nicklen-National Geographic Stock-WWF

David Miller, president and CEO of WWF-Canada, said : “This is an exceptionally important win for conservation. Our long-term efforts to create marine protected areas and expand protection for Lancaster Sound inevitably led to a focus on eliminating these offshore oil exploration permits and preventing the risk of a spill. The end of these permits improves the quality of the proposed protected area and allows for the boundaries to be expanded.

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“At the same time, this announcement is so much bigger than Lancaster Sound. This shows that business, local communities, Indigenous peoples, environmental organizations and the government can work together to achieve significant results as we shift toward a low-carbon economy.”

Paul Crowley, vice-president of Arctic conservation, WWF-Canada, said“Today’s announcement for Lancaster Sound is a credit to the local people and organizations who have been tirelessly defending the ecological integrity of the region for more than 40 years. It was these people and groups who identified the incredible biodiversity in Lancaster Sound and who spoke out against development that would compromise it.

“This Arctic region is far from the desolate place that southerners may imagine. Marine mammals, including narwhal, polar bears, beluga and bowhead whales, return each summer to feed in nutrient-rich waters. Now that there is nothing to stop the protection of this incredible region, we can move quickly to create the Lancaster Sound National Marine Conservation Area.”

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It is located between Devon Island and Baffin Island, forming the eastern entrance to the Parry Channel and the Northwest Passage. East of the sound lies Baffin Bay; to the west lies Viscount Melville Sound. Further west a traveler would enter the McClure Strait before heading into the Arctic Ocean. ancaster Sound was named in 1616 by explorer William Baffin for Sir James Lancaster, one of the three main financial supporters of his exploratory expeditions

About Lancaster Sound:

  • The proposed National Marine Conservation Area was initiated in response to an exploratory oil well proposal and has been under consideration by the federal government since the early 1970s.
  • 70,000 narwhals, three quarters of the global population, return often to their favourite locations within the area.
  • WWF-Canada has developed an interactive map that showcases the region, its people and species.
  • Inuit organizations and WWF-Canada have called for the region covered by the relinquished permits to be included in the NMCA designation as it is an important upwelling area with nutrient-rich water.
  • It’s at the southern edge of the Last Ice Area, the only Arctic region expected to retain its summer sea ice until 2050 as the world warms, making it a critically important zone for the future of ice-dependent life. – CNW
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