A new Marine Conservation Area in Lancaster Sound

August 2017

This week, the SeaLegacy team travelled to northern Canada to assess a newly created marine conservation area.  At 110,000 square kilometers of ocean, Tallurutiup Imanga, or Lancaster Sound,  — an area double the size of Nova Scotia — is the largest marine protected area in Canada and represents almost two per cent of Canada's coastal marine waters.  This is also where SeaLegacy founder, Paul Nicklen grew up, and where he fell in love with the Arctic.

This is the continuation of a longer term project called "The Last Ice" that SeaLegacy has been working on with National Geographic and National Geographic Pristine Seas for the past two years.  Along with the DiCaprio Foundation, we have been documenting the importance of sea ice for Arctic communities of wildlife and people.  

Photo by Paul Nicklen, Lancaster Sound Marine Conservation Sound

Photo by Paul Nicklen, Lancaster Sound Marine Conservation Sound

"Since I can remember, the Inuit in the communities I grew up in, have been advocating for the protection of this territory.  To most people, this vast, icy landscape may seem barren, but it is a vital hunting ground for Inuit communities that have lived here for generations." In recent years, threats from climate change and oil and gas exploration have been increasing so this announcement comes at a critical time.

The new national marine conservation area, together with Sirmilik National Park, Prince Leopold Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary,  and the Nirjutiqavvik National Wildlife Area, now bring the total protected area in the region to more than 131,000 square kilometers.

What is a national marine conservation area, you may wonder? Well, it is very much like a national park, but on water. Now that the government has announced the boundaries of the area, management decisions will be made, based on Inuit traditional knowledge.

As we are witnessing during this expedition, Lancaster Sound is an area rich in biodiversity, encompassing major migratory routes for marine mammalsincluding beluga whqles, narwhals, bowhead whales, as well as polar bears, many species of seals and walruses. Around 75 per cent of the world's narwhals summer in the sound, and 20 per cent of the world's belugas migrate through.In addition, five Inuit communities are within the boundaries of the protection area.

For a lot of species, like polar bears, belugas and seals, this a nursery; this is where they have their calves, it is where they migrate, so this marine conservation area is really good news.

Photo by Paul Nicklen in Lancaster Marine Conservation Area

Photo by Paul Nicklen in Lancaster Marine Conservation Area

The fact that this protected area is so massive is significant,  as it actually allows for the protection of important migratory routes for those species.

The best part is that Shell Canada has voluntarily relinquished 30 oil and gas exploration leases that cover about 8,600 square kilometers of Arctic waters in the area.   This is really good news for the wildlife and the people that call this beautiful place, home.