Oceans North Canada Applauds Agreement for Arctic National Marine
Conservation Area

OTTAWA, Dec. 8 /CNW Telbec/ - An Inuit organization today signed an agreement with the governments of Nunavut and Canada to work towards establishing a National Marine Conservation Area in Lancaster Sound at the eastern edge of the Northwest Passage.

"We commend the Inuit in Nunavut for taking the lead to protect biologically rich Lancaster Sound for future generations," said Chris Debicki, Nunavut Projects Director for Oceans North Canada. "This process will help Inuit achieve an important conservation goal in their traditional territories at a time when rapidly melting ice is opening the Arctic to new industrial expansion."

The memorandum of understanding between Qikiqtani Inuit Association, the Government of Nunavut and Parks Canada paves the way for a joint feasibility study that will recommend boundaries and management of the marine conservation area. A model will be developed for full participation by local Inuit communities in operating and managing the project as required in the 1993 Nunavut Land Claims Agreement.

If established at the end of the process, Lancaster Sound would be Canada's fourth national marine conservation area and its first in the Arctic. Such regions are protected from ocean dumping, undersea mining and energy exploration and overfishing.

Lancaster Sound off the northern tip of Baffin Island is an area of stunning coastal beauty surrounded by steep ice-covered mountains, fjords and barrier islands. Huge schools of Arctic cod, most of the world's narwhal and 40 percent of beluga whales frequent the sound, one of the planet's most productive Arctic marine ecosystems. These waters are also essential for the survival of millions of seabirds - from northern fulmar to ivory gulls -- occurring in concentrations not found anywhere else in the Arctic.

Covered by ice for nine months of the year, Lancaster Sound is an ecosystem in transition as global warming causes the retreat of sea ice and dramatically affects local people and wildlife. The Inuit and their ancestors have relied for thousands of years on the sound's abundant natural wealth for food, clothing and shelter. Today, residents of the three Nunavut communities of Pond Inlet, Arctic Bay, and Resolute Bay continue this tradition, depending on its waters for their economic and cultural wellbeing.

The biological significance of Lancaster Sound was documented in the early 1980s in a "Green Paper" sponsored by Indian and Northern Affairs Canada after the Inuit raised concerns about proposed offshore oil and gas drilling. Following that process, Parks Canada proposed in 1987 that Lancaster Sound be protected and began a feasibility study of an area roughly 48,000 square kilometres - or twice the size of Lake Erie. The project was put on hold until the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement was finalized.

"We welcome Canada's commitment to the Inuit in the Lancaster Sound region," said Trevor Taylor, Policy Director for Oceans North Canada. "This process ensures that Inuit maintain their leadership role in the protection of this special place and, if successfully concluded, will put Canada on the forefront of Arctic conservation."

About Oceans North Canada

Oceans North Canada promotes science-and-community-based conservation of Canada's northern seas and the resulting wellbeing of indigenous Arctic peoples. Coming soon: www.oceansnorth.ca

SOURCE OCEANS NORTH

For further information: For further information: Chris Debicki, (867) 222-2654; or Trevor Taylor, (613) 290-4498

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