Inuit and native populations, both in and out of the water in Lancaster Sound, have a lot to celebrate with the major legal victory scored for them by a Nunavet Court today! Just one day before it was set to begin, a territorial judge granted an injunction that blocks a major seismic program in the Arctic Experiment from continuing this summer, much to the relief of local communities and, surprisingly, avid environmentalists too. Why, you may wonder?
Serengeti is one of Tanzania’s most famous national parks, and also one of the largest, with 14,763 square kilometres of protected area that borders Kenya’s Masai Mara Game Park. With endless plains of savanna grass, acacia trees and large stone kopjes home to rich ecosystems and staggering annual migrations of wildlife, the Serengeti has conjured the classic image of a wild and untarnished Africa.
Closer to home for those of us in North America, especially Canadians and Inuit communities living up in Oceans North, we have Lancaster Sound – often referred to as the “Serengeti of the Arctic.”
[Here is an excerpt from Sharon Oosthoek’s article in Saturday’s Globe and Mail, (Published on Friday, Aug. 06, 2010 6:19 PM EDT, Last updated on Monday, Aug. 09, 2010 7:00AM EDT)]
“Lined with steep ice-covered mountains and deep fjords, Lancaster Sound lies between Baffin Island and Devon Island, covering 40,000 square kilometres, more than twice the area of Lake Ontario.
Seemingly desolate to the untrained eye, it is, in fact, home to an unusual abundance of wildlife. Extensive polynyas – stretches of open water surrounded by sea ice – make the area so creature-friendly that it has come to be known as the Arctic Serengeti, inhabited by most of the world’s narwhals and one-third of North America’s belugas, as well as massive bowhead whales, an array of seals (ringed, bearded and harp), walruses, thick-billed murres (cousins of the long-vanished great auk) and one of the highest densities of polar bears in Canada.
This natural bounty has long sustained the Inuit, who look at the $200 the Northern Store charges for a turkey no bigger than a soccer ball and worry about what impact the testing will have on their traditional source of food.
The Polarstern will drag air guns in its wake and measure what happens to the sound waves they blast out every 60 seconds. Hunters says all this noise is bound to drive off the animals, and this week, the Qikiqtani Inuit Association, which represents residents of Arctic Bay, Pond Inlet, Clyde River, Resolute Bay and Grise Fiord, petitioned the Nunavut Court of Justice to call the whole thing off.
The move has drawn support from a surprising source – environmentalists, who rarely see eye to eye with hunters, says Chris Debicki, who works in Iqaluit with Oceans North Canada, a branch of the U.S.-based Pew Environment Group. But they also oppose the testing, both in the short run and because of what it could lead to down the road: drilling for underwater petroleum and the prospect of a spill like the one that sent an estimated 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.
If history is any indication, there is cause for concern. Four decades ago, a crew looking for gas on Melville Island, more than 400 kilometres west of Lancaster Sound, sparked a blowout that lasted 485 days – five times what it took to contain the gulf spill.”
No wonder mapping the seabed of Lancaster Sound has the Arctic in a Fury. It’s time we look further than our short lives, experiments, economics, politics and comforts; and do all we can to protect the Arctic’s precious oceanic life and those communities who have learned to co-exist with it… in a sustainable manner.
Our future all over the world, is intrinsically linked to that of the Arctic. If we want to continue to enjoy the natural resources and environments that make living in our world possible, we first have to preserve it… Destroy the Arctic, and the domino effect begins – we destroy ourselves!