Ocean Currents » Arctic Ocean http://blog.oceanconservancy.org News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Thu, 27 Apr 2017 13:00:06 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 A New Year, a New Set of Rules for Polar Waters http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2017/01/06/a-new-year-a-new-set-of-rules-for-polar-waters/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2017/01/06/a-new-year-a-new-set-of-rules-for-polar-waters/#comments Fri, 06 Jan 2017 13:03:31 +0000 Andrew Hartsig http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=13581

It’s 2017, and a suite of new standards and practices are now in place for vessels operating in Arctic and Antarctic waters. The new set of rules—called the Polar Code—is designed to increase ship safety and environmental protection in high-latitude waters. Adopted by a specialized agency of the United Nations called the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the Polar Code sets standards for ship safety and for prevention of pollution from international shipping. The Polar Code took effect on January 1 of this year (with a one-year phase in period).

The Polar Code is so important because as sea ice continues to decline, the Arctic Ocean is becoming more accessible to vessel traffic. But as more ships operate in those remote and challenging waters, there are substantial safety and environmental risks—including possible impacts to food security of Arctic indigenous peoples.

The Polar Code includes both mandatory and recommendatory measures intended to mitigate the risk of Arctic shipping. For instance, vessels operating in polar waters must now apply for a Polar Ship certificate, which requires an assessment of the vessel’s suitability for intended operating conditions. The Polar Code also requires voyage planning that, among other things, helps to avoid aggregations of marine mammals and seasonal migration areas. It also bans discharge of oil or oily mixtures and noxious substances, and places relatively strict limitations on discharge of sewage and garbage.

While the Polar Code is unquestionably a major step forward, it does not address all the safety and environmental challenges related to Arctic vessel traffic. For example, use and carriage of heavy fuel oil—the dirtiest and most difficult-to-recover oil if spilled—is banned in Antarctic waters, but the Polar Code still allows vessels to use and carry it in the Arctic. Ocean Conservancy is working with partners to phase out the use of heavy fuel oil in Arctic waters.

The Polar Code does not address the discharge of harmful graywater, imposes no mandatory measures to reduce the threat of invasive species, and does not limit harmful air emissions from vessels traveling in Arctic waters. More broadly, the Polar Code only applies to certain types of vessels that operate in the Arctic, and does not fully address concerns about lack of infrastructure and maritime information in the region. There are also challenges with respect to enforcement of the Polar Code.

As you can see, there’s still plenty of work to do to increase safety and protect Arctic waters from the impacts of shipping. But, I’m optimistic that the Polar Code is a step in the right direction, and a good start to the new year. Ocean Conservancy will continue to work with the IMO and our partners to strengthen the Polar Code and ensure that new regulations protects the ecological heritage of this unique and fragile region at the top of the planet.



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Victory in the North http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/12/09/victory-in-the-north/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/12/09/victory-in-the-north/#comments Fri, 09 Dec 2016 19:25:08 +0000 Becca Robbins Gisclair http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=13479

Celebrate with me—I have some incredibly exciting news! President Obama just declared important protections for the northern Bering Sea and the Bering Strait by establishing the Northern Bering Sea Climate Resilience Area.

The Northern Bering Sea and Bering Strait is like no place on Earth. It is home to indigenous communities  who have relied on the rich resources of the area for millennia. The traditional subsistence way of life is inextricably tied to this rich marine ecosystem. President Obama responded to requests from over 70 tribes in the region to create the Northern Bering Sea Climate Resilience Area.

The Executive Order issued by President Obama establishes comprehensive management for the region that establishes a role for Alaska Native tribes and traditional knowledge into federal management. The order also provides important safeguards against threats from increased vessel traffic and oil and gas development, and maintains the current closure to bottom trawl fishing, while allowing existing commercial fishing and sustainable economic development to continue.

The Northern Bering Sea Climate Resilience area is one of the most historically, environmentally, and culturally significant places on our planet. It sustains one of the largest marine migrations on the planet. Bowhead and beluga whales, walruses, seals and over 12 million birds from all over the world pass through the waters of the Bering Strait every summer on their way to and from the productive Arctic feeding and breeding grounds. There are now crucial protections in place that will preserve this amazing region of our entire planet.

Will you join me in saying THANK YOU to President Obama?

Here are five reasons I’m applauding the President’s recent declaration! The Northern Bering Sea Climate Resilience Area is:

  1. One of the most historically, environmentally, and culturally significant places on our planet.
  2. A cultural and food security stronghold for the Yup’ik, Cup’ik, Saint Lawrence Island Yupik, and Inupiat peoples who have lived in the region and depended on its rich marine resources for thousands of years.
  3. Home to one of the largest marine mammal migrations in the world, as millions of animals, including beluga and bowhead whales, walruses, and seals, travel through the funnel of the Bering Strait every year on their way to and from feeding and breeding grounds in the Arctic.
  4. A critical seabird migration corridor where millions of seabirds, from multiple continents, make their way to the Arctic each spring to take advantage of the seasonal burst of productivity, which also supports invertebrates and fish.
  5. A key source for vibrant small-scale local fisheries. Communities along the coast engage in small-scale fisheries for salmon, crab, herring, and halibut. These commercial fisheries provide an important source of jobs and income in the mixed subsistence-cash economy. The protections in President Obama’s order will help ensure that these fisheries can endure.
  6. On the frontline of climate change. Climate change and the rapid depletion of sea ice in the Arctic Ocean are altering the ecology of the area, as the ice melts earlier in the year and freezes later. This impacts fish and wildlife populations, and traditional hunting and fishing practices. As Arctic sea ice melts, the area also becomes more accessible for ship traffic, industrial fishing and oil drilling, posing a threat to Arctic wildlife and the subsistence way of life.

This is such wonderful news! On behalf of the Arctic wildlife, and the entire planet, please join me in taking action and saying THANK YOU to President Obama and his administration.


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Leaving the Arctic http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/06/09/leaving-the-arctic/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/06/09/leaving-the-arctic/#comments Thu, 09 Jun 2016 17:44:53 +0000 Andrew Hartsig http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=12256

The news from the Arctic this week has been all about what’s leaving the Arctic. It’s good news when oil and gas companies leave the Arctic, but it’s really bad news when sea ice leaves the Arctic!!

First, let’s get to the good news. Repsol, an oil and gas company, just announced it’s abandoning 55 of its oil and gas leases in the Chukchi Sea and plans to abandon the remaining 38 over the next year. In addition, ConocoPhillips, Eni, Iona Energy and Shell have given up more than 350 leases covering more than 2 million acres in the Chukchi Sea. Soon, there will be only one lease remaining in the Chukchi Sea—and additional drilling on that lease is unlikely.

While oil and gas companies have largely given up their oil and gas leases in the Chukchi Sea, active offshore leases still threaten the Beaufort Sea off the coast of northeastern Alaska. What’s more, the Obama Administration is still considering whether to allow the sale of more offshore oil leases in Arctic waters.

But, you can do something about it! Join us in protecting our Arctic by taking action today! Please take action by asking the Obama Administration to drop Arctic leasing from the final version of the 2017 to 2022 leasing program.

What about the sea ice? That news is not so good: Arctic sea ice extent hit a depressing new low in May. The Washington Post described it in these terms: “The Arctic Ocean this May had more than three Californias less sea ice cover than it did during an average May between 1981 and 2010.”

That’s just the latest bad news. 2016 as a whole hasn’t been a good year for Arctic sea ice; there were record low levels of sea ice extent in January, February and April, too. As the affects of climate change continue to be felt all across our planet, the Arctic is ground zero.

Do we truly know how magnificent the Arctic is—or what’s at stake if we lose more habitat in this precious region of the Earth?

That’s why I want to invite you to join us this summer as we explore the Arctic Ocean in a new blog series. You’ll get to discover some of the world’s largest congregations of seabirds, and learn how iconic wildlife — like polar bears, beluga whales and ringed seals — live in this varied and rapidly changing ocean ecosystem.

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Four Things You Should Know About Polar Bears http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/11/02/four-things-you-should-know-about-polar-bears/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/11/02/four-things-you-should-know-about-polar-bears/#comments Mon, 02 Nov 2015 14:00:20 +0000 Erin Spencer http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=10992

The start of November can only mean one thing — it’s Polar Bear Week!

Up north in Churchill, Manitoba, polar bears are undertaking their annual migration to Hudson Bay, where sea ice is reforming after summer melts. After a long few months of fasting, the migration marks the bears’ return to their icy seal-hunting grounds where their favorite snacks are ringed and bearded seals. Polar Bear Week is specifically timed to coincide with this migration (meaning you’ll be distracted all week, watching the live polar bear cam!).

Join Ocean Conservancy in celebrating Polar Bear Week. We can’t think of a better way to start the week off right than by brushing up on your polar bear knowledge with these four furry factoids below.

1. Polar bears are superbly adapted to their environment

Polar bears thrive in the Arctic’s harsh climate. A protective outer fur coat paired with a dense undercoat help the bears stay warm in winter temperatures that regularly plunge to below -30° F. They even have fur coating the bottom of their paws, which gives them better traction on the ice and protects them from cold. A dense layer of fat, which can be 2-4 inches thick, further insulates polar bears from the freezing Arctic waters while also helping them stay buoyant as they swim.

Although polar bear fur appears white, it’s actually transparent. The hollow hair shafts reflect light much like ice does, making polar bears appear white or yellow. Beneath their thick coats, polar bears have black skin that better absorbs the sun’s warmth.

2. Polar bears are amazing athletes 

Polar bears have swimming skills that would make any Olympic athlete jealous. Their large, slightly webbed paws allow them to swim at a pace of six miles per hour (for comparison, Michael Phelps clocks in around 3.92 miles per hour). Polar bears can also swim more than 60 miles without rest.

Although they spend about 50 percent of their time hunting for food, only 2 percent of their hunts are successful, and they often travel great distances searching for their next meal. One study tracked a female over a nonstop nine day, 426-mile swim – approximately equivalent to driving from Washington, D.C. to Ann Arbor, Michigan.

3. Polar bears are clever hunters 

Considered by biologists to be one of the smartest land animals in North America, bears exhibit intricate social structures and can perform complex tasks. Polar bears are incredibly smart and patient hunters, and can remain motionless for hours above a seal’s breathing hole in the ice, waiting for the seal to emerge. They also search for seal lairs, where they will crash through the icy roof and attack the seals inside.

But polar bears are not just crafty hunters; they are also quite playful, and have been observed wrestling with fellow bear “friends” and sliding repeatedly downhill on ice for fun. It’s not all fun and games though—play is an important part of cub development and helps them practice skills they will later use to hunt and protect themselves.

4. Polar bears are in trouble (but you can help!)

Global climate change is bad news for polar bears. Since 1979, sea ice cover in the Arctic has decreased by about 30 percent, meaning polar bears are being pushed ashore (and away from their prey) for longer periods of time. For example, in the Hudson Bay population, polar bears spend about 30 days longer on land than they did 30 years ago. Some polar bears have to walk almost 900 miles in search for smaller food items like berries and kelp that don’t fully meet their nutritional needs. This means less food and more strain on the bears, especially young cubs. Since 1987, the Hudson Bay population has declined by 22 percent. With their habitat melting away beneath their feet, the U.S. Geological Survey predicts that two-thirds of all polar bears could be gone by 2050 if nothing changes.

As if climate change weren’t troublesome enough, the Arctic ecosystem is still not safe from risky offshore drilling. There are no proven methods to effectively clean up oil spilled in Arctic waters, meaning a spill could have devastating and long-lasting impacts on polar bears. Although Shell Oil recently announced that it is retreating from drilling offshore of Alaska for the foreseeable future, the Obama administration is deciding whether to include new Arctic lease sales in a future drilling program. Let’s not go down that road again. Will you help speak up for polar bears – this Polar Bear Week? Please take action by joining myself and Ocean Conservancy in protecting the Arctic from risky drilling.

Can’t get enough of polar bears? We’re spending the next seven days celebrating our favorite Arctic predator with facts, photos and more goodies on our social media sites, so be sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Also, check out Polar Bears International for more ways you can help the polar bears.

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Tell Secretary Kerry: Stand Up for Arctic Wildlife http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/04/14/tell-secretary-kerry-stand-up-for-arctic-wildlife/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/04/14/tell-secretary-kerry-stand-up-for-arctic-wildlife/#comments Tue, 14 Apr 2015 14:09:55 +0000 Whit Sheard http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=10079

Polar Bears, ringed seals and beluga whales are seeing their home disappear. Protecting the Arctic Ocean would give them and all the animals who call the Arctic home a fighting chance.

In just two weeks, Secretary of State John Kerry is taking part in an Arctic Council meeting of leaders from every country with territory in the Arctic. The U.S. will take over as Chair of the Arctic Council that week.

He has already agreed that the Arctic Council should focus on protecting the Arctic Ocean. We need Secretary Kerry to keep his commitment and use the Arctic Council meeting to ensure that Arctic nations come together to conserve the Arctic Ocean.

The Arctic is at risk, and we need international cooperation to protect it. The vast Arctic region spans parts of Alaska, Canada, Northern Europe and Russia. Rising temperatures, loss of sea ice, increased shipping and ocean acidification threaten wildlife and people across the circumpolar Arctic. It’s not too late though. Protecting important habitats throughout the Arctic can ensure a clean and healthy Arctic for future generations.

Thousands of animals from polar bears to whales to sea birds depend on a safe and healthy Arctic. The Arctic is warming twice as fast as anywhere else on Earth, and they can’t afford for us to wait. Please join us in asking Secretary Kerry to protect the Arctic.

Click here to tell Secretary Kerry to protect the Arctic.

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Rallying for the Arctic 26 Years After the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/03/26/rallying-for-the-arctic-26-years-after-the-exxon-valdez-oil-spill/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/03/26/rallying-for-the-arctic-26-years-after-the-exxon-valdez-oil-spill/#comments Thu, 26 Mar 2015 16:41:41 +0000 Brett Nolan http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=10021

In honor of the 26 anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill off the coast of Alaska, dozens of Arctic lovers gathered in front of the White House to show their support for a clean and healthy Arctic Ocean. Individual ocean supporters, people from groups like Ocean Conservancy, Greenpeace USA, Sierra Club, Alaska Wilderness League, and Friends of the Earth US all stood together to tell the Obama Administration to protect the Arctic from risky oil drilling. I was fortunate enough to be able to join these Arctic advocates.

The Exxon Valdez disaster took place in Prince William Sound in south-central Alaska. Over the course of three days, nearly 11 million gallons of oil spewed into the ocean. Now, more than a quarter of a century later, Alaska’s Arctic Ocean is threatened by risky oil drilling. Shell Oil has proposed drilling exploration wells in the Chukchi Sea off the northwest coast of Alaska as soon as this summer. That’s why people chanted, held signs and demonstrated outside of the White House.

A recent Bureau of Ocean Energy Management report found that there’s a 75 percent chance of a spill if companies, like Shell, are allowed to develop oil in the Arctic. Cleaning an oil spill in Arctic waters would be nearly impossible due to lack of infrastructure, extreme weather and rapidly forming sea ice.

Were you not able to attend the rally? Not to worry – there’s still a lot you can do to fight for the Arctic! Join us in telling the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to protect marine mammals from risky Arctic drilling.

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Breaking Arctic News http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/01/28/breaking-arctic-news/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/01/28/breaking-arctic-news/#comments Wed, 28 Jan 2015 13:00:26 +0000 Andrew Hartsig http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9767

Yesterday, President Obama issued permanent protections from future oil and gas drilling for some of the Arctic Ocean’s most significant marine areas. The President’s action is an important and positive step to limit risky drilling, and will help protect the Chukchi and Beaufort seas, including vital walrus habitat at the Hanna Shoal.

At the same time, however, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) issued a draft proposed program that calls for additional oil and gas lease sales in other areas of the Arctic, even though oil companies have not shown they are able to operate safely and responsibly in the Arctic. Extreme conditions like changing sea ice, fog, and high winds make meaningful cleanup all but impossible. A disaster like the Deepwater Horizon in the Arctic would devastate marine wildlife and jeopardize food security in Alaska Native communities.

Join us in sending a message to BOEM: No Arctic Ocean drilling.

Stand against reckless drilling in the Arctic Ocean. Tell BOEM not to sell Arctic oil and gas leases in the 2017-2022 program.

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