Protect the Arctic

The Arctic is warming faster than any other region on the planet. Scientists predict the region will be ice-free in the summer within decades, and polar bears, narwhals, walrus, and other ice-dependent species are already suffering from the accelerating loss of Arctic sea ice. Oil companies and other industries, meanwhile, are bent on exploiting places long sheltered in ice, bringing the risk of spills, ocean noise, chemical pollution, and overfishing along with them.

NRDC fights for long-term protections that will protect the Arctic and its unique wildlife in the face of climate change and industrial development.

A polar bear on a thin ice floe off the northern shores of the Svalbard Archipelago
Chase Dekker Wild-Life Images/Getty Images

Scientists believe marine protected areas—the equivalent of national parks, but underwater—are critically important when it comes to preserving Arctic ecosystems. Research shows that marine protected areas harbor more and bigger fish, healthier habitats, and more diverse life than unprotected areas. These safe havens also have a spillover effect, as abundant marine life gradually populates waters beyond the reserves.

Only a tiny fraction of the Arctic Ocean has been protected, and NRDC is working to change that. We participated in a key workshop convened by Finland under the auspices of the Convention on Biological Diversity to identify biologically significant areas in the Arctic marine environment. To continue building the scientific basis of a network of marine protected areas, we also began a project with scientific modelers to update key habitat maps and the ecological connections among them. And we have led a cooperative project with UNESCO’s Marine World Heritage Program and others to identify marine World Heritage site candidates in the Arctic.

In 2015, NRDC convinced the State Department to include advancing an international network of marine protected areas in its agenda for the U.S. Chairmanship of the Arctic Council, a confederation of the eight Arctic nations and indigenous peoples’ representatives. NRDC continues to build support for this network of marine protected areas at the Arctic Council and within the U.S. and other Arctic governments. 

Arctic waters outside protected areas could still be vulnerable to the hazards of offshore drilling. Not only would drilling endanger whales and other marine mammals with toxic chemicals and seismic blasts, but it would also accelerate the climate change threatening the region. NRDC also works with local and national partners to push for an end to offshore drilling in U.S. Arctic waters.

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