Archive for the ‘Polar news’ Category

Wild strawberries in mild Arctic autumn (Sveriges Radio)

November 8, 2011

The Swedish wild strawberries (smultron) are a rare sight this late in the year. Photo: Scanpix

Winter is late, even in the Swedish Arctic.

The far northern city of Kiruna usually meets winter on the 10th of October, and the northern coastal city of Umeå usually has winter weather by the 4th of November.

But instead of winter, fresh wild strawberries are still growing.

Alexandra Ohlsson at the Swedish Meteorological Institute (SMHI) says to news agency TT that winter will probably be at least another week away.

As well as ripening strawberries, the mild temperatures in the northern part of Sweden are also good for pests like mosquitoes and ticks.

Winter is officially defined as an average temperature of below zero for five days in a row. It usually reaches Stockholm by the 1st of December, Gothenburg by the 29th, and Malmö by the 7th of January.

Radio Sweden, original article here

Retreating Arctic ice opens way to resources

May 24, 2011
By Joby Warrick and Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post
Updated: 05/21/2011 10:01:51 PM CDT
Original article here

Retreating Arctic ice has made Greenland's western coast accessible for oil exploration and drilling, which has created competition among rival nations. (Washington Post: Joby Warrick)

NUUK, Greenland – Here, just south of the Arctic Circle, where the sea ice is vanishing like dew on a July morning, the temperature isn’t the only thing that’s heating up.

Across the region, a warming Arctic is opening up new competition for resources that until recently were out of reach, protected under a thick layer of ice. As glaciers defrost and ice floes diminish, the North is being viewed as a source of not only great wealth but also conflict, diplomats and policy experts say.

In recent months, oil companies have begun lining up for exploration rights to Baffin Bay, a hydrocarbon-rich region on Greenland’s western coast that until recently was too ice-choked for drilling. U.S. and Canadian diplomats have reopened a spat over navigation rights to a sea route through the Canadian Arctic that could cut shipping time and costs for long-haul tankers.

Even ownership of the North Pole has come into dispute, as Russia and Denmark pursue rival claims to the underlying seabed in hopes of locking up access to everything from fisheries to natural-gas deposits.

The intense rivalry over Arctic development was highlighted in diplomatic cables released recently by the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks. Messages between U.S. diplomats revealed how northern nations, including the United States and Russia, have been maneuvering to ensure access to shipping lanes as well as undersea oil and gas deposits that are estimated to contain up to 25 percent of the world’s untapped reserves.

In the cables, U.S. officials worried that bickering over resources might even lead to an arming of the Arctic.

“While in the Arctic there is peace and stability, however, one cannot exclude that in the future there will be a redistribution of power, up to armed intervention,” a 2009 State Department cable quoted a Russian ambassador as saying.

Concern over competition in the Arctic was partly behind an extraordinary diplomatic gathering recently in Greenland’s tiny capital Nuuk. This year’s meeting of the eight-nation Arctic Council drew seven foreign ministers, including Russia’s Sergey Lavrov and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, the highest-ranking U.S. diplomat to attend an Arctic Council session. Accompanying Clinton was a second U.S. Cabinet member, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

Clinton and her aides sought to call attention to climate change during the visit, highlighting new studies that show Arctic ice melting far more rapidly than scientists had believed. But Clinton also promoted a message of international cooperation in the Arctic.

“The challenges in the region are not just environmental,” Clinton said in Nuuk following talks with her Danish counterpart, Lene Espersen. “The melting of sea ice, for example, will result in more shipping, fishing and tourism, and the possibility to develop newly accessible oil and gas reserves. We seek to pursue these opportunities in a smart, sustainable way that preserves the Arctic environment and ecosystem.”

Clinton’s presence at the Nuuk meeting was intended to show U.S. support for the Arctic Council as a critical forum for cooperation and to resolve conflicts. With strong backing from the Obama administration, the council approved the first legally binding treaty in its history, a pact that sets the rules for maritime search and rescue in the region. Although modest in scope, the treaty, authored mainly by Russia and the United States, was hailed as a template for future agreements on issues ranging from oil-spill cleanup to territorial disputes.

Significantly, the eight member nations voted to establish a permanent secretariat to the council, to be located in Tronso, Norway. Clinton asserted that the region’s powers must recognize the council as the “preeminent intergovernmental body, where we can solve shared problems and pursue shared opportunities.”

“The opportunities for economic development in the Arctic must be weighed against the need to protect its environment and ecosystems. And governments will not always see eye to eye on how to achieve this balance,” Clinton said. “That’s why this council is so important.”

In the diplomatic cables obtained by WikiLeaks, there was no dispute about rapid warming under way. The predominant questions revolved around how the region’s newly accessible resources would be carved up.

Melt water washed oil into the White Sea in Russian Arctic.

May 21, 2011

Bellona, Barents Observer and RIA Novosti report on the early May 2011 oil spill now threatening the Kandalaksha National Park.
Hornfar.

Ecologists say too early to estimate impact of Barents Sea oil slick

(RIA Novosti 2011/05/12, original article here)

Ecologists have warned that it is too soon to judge what environmental impact an oil slick in the Barents Sea has had.

The oil spilled into the sea in the Kandalaksha Bay, off the northern Russian port city of Murmansk, after melt water carried oil from beneath the soil offshore on May 7.

Officials say the oil is up to 5 millimeters thick in places. An area of the sea covering 210,000 square meters is polluted, the latest satellite data indicates.

Scientists say it is too soon to gauge the full extent of the incident.

“It is still hard to assess the consequences of the oil slick for animals and birds of the Kandalaksha wildlife park,” Ivetta Tatarenkova, a scientist at the park, which is situated on the coast, told RIA Novosti on Wednesday.

“The spill may pose a threat to eider ducks,” she said.

“The invertebrates – mussels, small crustaceans and others – may also suffer at the hands of the spill,” she added.

Efforts are underway to clean up the slick.

MOSCOW, May 12 (RIA Novosti)

Oil spill threatens national park

Barents Observer 2011/05/18 Original article here

Oil spill on the shore near Kandalaksha on the White Sea Coast. Photo: Bellona Murmansk

An area of 200,000 square metres on the White Sea coast near Kandalaksha is polluted.

The oil spill that happened on May 7 has been traced back to Belomorskaya petrol bulk plant report the regional environmental group Bellona Murmansk. The storage tanks of the plant is located just outside the town of Kandalaksha south on the Kola Peninsula.

The oil spill now presents an immediate threat to the Kandalaksha Bay nature reserve located a kilometre and a half away, according to Bellona Murmansk.

The regional department of Rosprirodnadzor, Russia’s Environmental agency has stated investigation into the case and cleanup measures have been deployed.

Images from the coastal area clearly show how the shore is polluted with oil.

Text: Thomas Nilsen

Russia: White Sea oil spill of early May creeps up on Kandalaksha National Park

Bellona, 17/05/2011, original article here

Part of: Oil spills and accidents

MURMANSK – The May 7 oil spill in Kandalaksha Bay of the White Sea in Russia’s far northern Kola Peninsula now presents an immediate threat to a nearby nature reserve. Cleanup measures have been deployed, but the oil slick from a coastal petrol bulk plant is now approaching Kandalaksha National Park, only a kilometre and a half away, which is home to hundreds of protected wild species. Anna Kireeva, 17/05-2011 – Translated by Maria Kaminskaya

State environmental authorities in Russia’s Northwest Federal District say the polluted area totals around 200,000 square metres. An investigation has been started into the accident, the authorities say. Click here for a slide show on the progression of the spill.

The spill has been traced back to Belomorskaya (White Sea) petrol bulk plant, an enterprise based in the town of Kandalaksha, on the shore of the White Sea’s Kandalaksha Bay in Russia’s far northern Murmansk Region.However, Belomorskaya director Sergei Khmelyov says the circumstances at hand do not warrant for calling the incident an oil spill, much less attributing it to his company’s operations.

“Water emulsion with oil products mixed in has leaked out of the ground, from ground waters onto the surface, as a result of a [recent] flood,” Khmelyov told Bellona.Ru in an interview.

Khmelyov blames the culture of utter disregard for ecological safety that was prevalent during the Soviet times for what is now happening in Kandalaksha: Back in the Soviet Union, all oil spills from loading racks used to simply go into the ground and get absorbed by the soil and ground waters. The recent springtime flood has lifted this decades-old emulsion out of the ground with flood waters, according to Khmelyov.

“Since 1995, when Belomorskaya Oil Bulk Plant was created here, the loading racks have undergone complete renovation, and no leaks can possibly happen here from the equipment or the pipelines,” Khmelyov told Bellona.

Belomorskaya’s director said it is currently hard to determine precisely the area of pollution as there are also small local slicks only a millimetre or less thick.

However, Bellona has learnt from conversations with some of the company’s employees, who wished to remain unnamed, that oil leaks happen regularly at the enterprise – though they have never seen a spill as large as this most recent one.

“It is apparent that oil pollution in the area and part of the coastal line adjacent to the petrol storage depot is that of a chronic nature,” Nina Lesikhina, an expert with Bellona-Murmansk, said. “This may be due to an inefficient effluent water purification system at the plant, leaky storage tanks, or the accumulation of oil products in the soil over the many years, which then start seeping onto the surface, pushed by flood waters.”

Lesikhina said environmental authorities would yet have to establish the precise cause of this latest spill, but the responsibility for the accident would still lie solely and entirely with the owner of the storage depot.

“It is apparent that it was none other than neglect of the rules of environmental safety and lack of appreciation of ecological risks that has led to this pollution of the White Sea,” she added.

The spill is being investigated by the department for marine environmental safety supervision of the Russian Federal Service for the Oversight of Natural Resources (Rosprirodnadzor) in the Northwest Federal District, which includes Murmansk Region.

According to the department’s head, Nina Sukhanova, an inspection of the Kandalaksha Bay coastline revealed that a stretch of the basin between the first and fourth piers was polluted with oil products. The slick was two to five millimetres thick.

“It has been established from a detailed survey of the coastline and the basin of Kandalaksha Bay that 71,000 square metres of the basin of the bay has been polluted in the area around […] Belomorskaya Petrol Bulk Plant. The water in the port is polluted within an area of 128,000 square metres. The total area of water pollution comes to 199,000 square metres, and shoreline pollution totals another 400 square metres,” Sukhanova told the Russian news agency RIA Novosti.

Sukhanova said department specialists have attributed the oil spill to the spring flood, which caused oil products to seep out of the ground and spread from the territory of the storage depot across the adjacent area and into bay waters.

The experts drew up an inspection report, took soil and water samples, and determined the incident merited initiating an administrative violation case.

The ecological threat

Specialists are hard-pressed to assess at the moment the scope of resulting environmental damage, including to the nearby Kandalaksha National Park.

“Installing booms in the affected area is currently impeded by the ice conditions in the bay,” Sukhanova said.

Meanwhile, the spot where the oil products are leaking is just a kilometre and a half away from the territory of the Kandalaksha nature reserve.

“It is at this point difficult to estimate the consequences of the oil spill for the animals and birds of the Kandalaksha reserve,” said Ivetta Tatarenkova, an employee of the reserve’s. “The specialists will have yet to investigate the damage after this spill. There could be a threat to the eiders, which are not yet showing up on the shore.”

Kandalaksha is one of Russia’s oldest and northernmost nature reserves. Sprawling across 70,000 hectares, of which 70 percent accounts for part of the basins of the White and Barents Seas and includes over 370 islands, it is home to around 9,500 animal and bird species and was founded with the specific cause of protecting the invaluable eider population in the area.

According to Tatarenkova, these rare birds are currently staying in the water and, should the oil spill expand significantly across the bay waters, the birds will be at risk of smearing their wings with the oil. A slick has already been discovered by the Kandalaksha reserve’s specialists during an inspection of the area around one of the archipelago’s largest islands, Ryazhkov.

“The ice there is dirty, it’s black; the same can be observed near the island of Oleny. The invertebrates could come under harm, too – mussels, crayfish, and other families of the order,” Tatarenkova said.

Bellona-Murmansk specialists note that extensive oil pollution and generation of oil slicks on the surface of seawater prevents oxygen from entering the water, which impedes photosynthesis. The presence of oil and oil products in the water has thus a toxic effect on the animals and organisms inhabiting the sea.

Even insignificant amounts of pollutants can cause serious damage to the plant and animal life, environmentalists say. And in areas where low temperatures are prevalent throughout the year, the process of recovery from the stress of oil pollution is extremely slow for marine organisms and ecosystems.

Cleanup measures

Efforts are ongoing in the area to contain and clean up the spill; Belomorskaya petrol depot has deployed its coastal rescue brigade and the necessary equipment to handle the accident. More people and equipment have been engaged from the emergency rescue outfit called Navekoservice, a branch of Ecocentre group of companies, to assist in the efforts to prevent further expansion of the pollution.

According to Ecocentre head Alexander Glazov, what happened is an alarming sign indicating a broader syndrome that affects all petrol bulk plants on the Kola Peninsula: All of these enterprises are quite old and may well have accumulated spilled oil products in the ground and ground waters on their territory.

Specialists say the cleanup may take up to a month. Remediation measures will then have to be enacted to restore the soil and water in the polluted area. In order to rule out the risk of further pollution, a survey will then have to be conducted, followed by drilling a well to pump out the remaining oil. Save these measures, small and large slicks threatening local wildlife are bound to be observed in the bay each year that the spring season floods Kandalaksha with snowmelt waters after another snowy winter.

Bellona-Murmansk’s Lesikhina underscores the very high ecological risks of oil and gas operations in the Arctic territories, including dealing with the consequences, as the environmental danger is not just confined to the specific vulnerability of the Arctic climate to such impacts.

“Not only do the severe weather conditions precipitate the risk of accidents, but they also hamper timely and efficient emergency response to oil spills such as this,” she said.

Invasive Species Carried Steadily in the Antarctic

May 9, 2011

Softpedia news, April 29th, 2011 – original article here

Antarctica was until recently the most pristine continent in the world, but that situation is currently changing. Research scientists, tourists, and just about anyone who sets foot around the South Pole, are carrying bacteria and other organisms that are not indigenous to this area.

For all intents and purposes, we are promoting an invasion that could see the establishing of new species in this clean habitat. While the harsh conditions in Antarctica will take care of most intruders, there are those that will undoubtedly survive.

Some microorganisms are known for being able to survive in space for prolonged periods of time, so they can surely endure in a bit of ice, scientists say. The same holds true for plant seeds that are being involuntarily and steadily carried on the Southern Continent.

 The main risk with invasive species is that they tend to overtake a new habitat by killing off indigenous species. The latter spent millions of years adapting to their environment, and achieving an ecosystemic balance, only to have it all taken away by opportunistic organisms.

“We are still at the stage when Antarctica has fewer than 10 non-native species, none of which have become invasive. Unless we take steps now to minimize the risk of introduction, who knows what will happen,” says expert Kevin Hughes.

The investigator, who holds an appointment as an environmental scientist at the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), analyzed some 11,250 pieces of fresh produce in a new study. Together with colleagues, he was trying to determine how many new organisms make their way in the Antarctic via this route.

Experts found 56 invertebrates, which included aphids, butterflies, spiders and snails. Large amounts of soil were discovered on many produce, and more than a quarter of all were rotten due to microbes.

“Are these numbers surprising, or does it mean this is likely to be a problem? It’s pretty hard to say,” comments Daniel Simberloff, an expert who was not a part of the new research.

“The upshot is that there’s just enough people going to some parts of Antarctica nowadays that lots of organisms are carried there,” adds the scientist, who is a professor at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.

“I have to think this isn’t good, and some subset of them are going to pose environmental problems,” he goes on to say, quoted by LiveScience.

“To be quite honest, the only way we are going to stop the introduction of nonnative species is to stop going to Antarctica, to cut off all the pathways. What we can do is try and minimize the risk of introduction and we can do that by relatively simple steps,” Hughes adds further.

Shell expands Arctic exploration plans

May 9, 2011

By Tim Bradner
Alaska Journal of Commerce – original article here

Shell now has a more expansive exploration strategy for the Beaufort and Chukchi seas than what the company had previously planned.

The company intended to file plans of exploration in early May with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, or BOEMRE, for up to 10 exploration wells in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas in 2012 and 2013, a Shell spokesman said.

Two drillships would be used.

Previously Shell planned to use one drillship in 2012 in the Beaufort, with an expectation of drilling one to two wells.

“We believe the conversations we are having with regulators and government officials are more positive in view of the safeguards we have put in place, even prior to Macondo,” said Pete Slaiby, Shell’s Alaska vice president. “As a result, we are cautiously optimistic we will be allowed to pursue a multi-well drilling program in 2012 as we have always planned.”

Not all of the wells outlined in the new exploration plans will actually be drilled, company spokesman Curtis Smith said.

“We file for permits for more wells than will actually be drilled so there is flexibility in changing locations depending on new geologic information or ice conditions,” he said.

Smith said the plan is now to use two drillships, with a goal of drilling two wells per year in the Beaufort Sea and three wells per year in the Chukchi Sea, he said.

Each drilling vessel would provide backup for the other in drilling a relief well in the event of a blowout, Smith said.

In the Arctic, offshore drilling must be done during the summer when the ice recedes, creating open water. The exception to this is with wells in near-shore coastal waters, where the depth is shallow enough to build an artificial gravel island.

In the 1980s, drillship were used in several exploration wells farther from shore in the Beaufort Sea, and there also were offshore exploration wells drilled in the Chukchi Sea, including many by Shell in the early 1990s.

No commercial discoveries were made in the 1980s and 1990s, but oil and gas was found in both the Beaufort and Chukchi at locations that are now the prime targets for Shell’s renewed exploration.

The drillships planned for Shell’s 2012 and 2013 work are the Noble Discoverer, which is now under contract to Shell for Arctic exploration but is now being used elsewhere, and the Kulluk, a drilling vessel built for the Arctic that Shell owns.

The Kulluk is now in Dutch Harbor, where it is undergoing modification, Smith said.

The new more aggressive plan represents a change in Shell’s strategy. The company previously planned to drill one to two wells in the Beaufort Sea, with one drillship, in 2012.

Shell will have to file new applications for air quality permits for each ship and for each area of drilling.

An air quality permit for Shell’s existing plan of drilling one well in the Beaufort Sea with a single drillship, previously planned for 2011 or 2012, is still pending with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Region 10 office in Seattle.

EPA had previously issued the permit but it was appealed by environmental groups to EPA’s internal Environmental Appeals Board. The appeals board kicked the permit back to Region 10 last January with a request for modifications.

The Region 10 office has yet to resubmit the modified air permit back to the appeals board.

Smith could not comment on the status of the permit but said Shell “is having good conversations with EPA and we’re optimistic.”

The air quality permits are similar for both the Beaufort and Chukchi, Smith said. The effort to resolve issued with the initial permit should make it easier with permits that follow.

Shell holds 137 federal OCS leases in the Beaufort Sea and 275 leases in the Chukchi Sea. The company has spent over $3 billion so far in its efforts to secure leases, do environmental work and secure permits for exploring the leases. About $2.2 billion of that was spent in bonus bids paid to the federal government for the Chukchi Sea leases.

Tim Bradner can be reached at

tim.bradner@alaskajournal.com.

Experts from Shell and Dubai Airports join Robert Swan’s International Antarctic Expedition 2011, Al Bawaba reports

May 8, 2011

Hornorkesteret says: Hands off the Antarctic, Shell! We do not approve of your presence there, even if it is “enhancing the leadership skills and environmental awareness of its personnel”.
On the contrary, we see this as part of an environmental hoax on Shell’s part, since they are one of the the world’s worst environmental offenders. Go home, Shell!
Hornfar

Published May 5th, 2011 by Al Bawaba – Original article here

Shell recently appointed two of its young professionals to join the 2011 International Antarctic Expedition led by renowned polar explorer and environmentalist Robert Swan. The initiative forms part of Shell’s commitment to enhancing the leadership skills and environmental awareness of its personnel. The two Shell professionals were joined by two other Emiratis from Dubai Airports.

The Antarctic expedition organized in March 2011 by Swan, the first person in history to walk to both the North and South poles, complements Shell’s renowned environmental activism. Shell was one of the first energy companies in 1997 to actively call for actions by governments, industry and energy users against climate change.

The inclusion of Shell representatives in the voyage also reflects the company’s unique approach to leadership development. In a 2010 study, 75 per cent of respondent organizations cited leadership development as important and yet only 23 per cent said that they were effective at developing leaders internally.

Majid Fairooz, Head of Planning, Buti Qurwash, Head of Security, at Dubai Airports, and Mohammed Azzazi, Production Technologist and Abdulrahim Turkistani from Shell gained valuable knowledge on Antarctic wildlife, geology, history and geography. They were introduced to Swan’s advocacy of preserving Antarctica and combating climate change via recycling, renewable energy and sustainability. They were also oriented on renewable energy’s vital role in preserving the environment.

“Shell is highly committed to addressing many of the environmental challenges. This requires a better understanding of how our operations affect the world’s eco-systems. Our active participation in advocacies such as Robert Swan’s 2041 programme will provide us with the information and hands-on experience we need to ensure more sustainable approaches to managing CO2 emissions.” said Omar Al Qurashi, Director of Communications, Shell in Dubai.

Anita Mehra, Vice President of Marketing & Corporate Communications, Dubai Airports, said, “Environmental sustainability is a high priority area for Dubai Airports and our goal is to build a corporate culture that embraces sustainability in every aspect. We believe that by being part of this expedition Majid and Buti have managed to raise greater interest about environmental concerns among their peers and colleagues, which could lead to other worthwhile contributions towards conservation.”

“The Antarctic expedition was and still is a life changing experience. The purpose of going to Antarctica became clear the day we returned home. We have to change perceptions about the environment that we live in and that change starts inside each individual. All of us can contribute to a better way of living. Small things can make a big difference,” said Fairooz.

Shell’s Abdulrahim Turkistani said, “This expedition was certainly a surreal experience for us. Besides being awestruck by the beauty of Antarctica, I learnt that while our planet can take care of itself, the resources it has are limited, making it imperative for us to live sustainably. This is the only way we can ensure that our future generations can continue to enjoy nature’s many wonders.”

Mohammed Azzazi commented, “Born in the Middle East, it was hard for me to visualize how an increase in temperature by one or two degrees could impact our planet. However, all this changed after my Antarctic expedition, which was a genuine eye opener. I now perfectly understand our mission at Shell and I commit to powering the world responsibly.”

The representatives from Shell and Dubai Airports together with their co- travellers boarded the 90.6-metre ‘Sea Spirit,’ an exploration ship that regularly conducts Antarctic, Arctic and other special interest voyages. Their eco-adventure began from Ushuaia, Argentina, the southernmost city in the world, passing through Cape Horn, the most southerly point of the Americas and stopping by King George Island, the location of the 2041 E-Base – the first education station built in Antarctica of sustainable products and run on renewable energy.  The group visited the site of Robert Swan’s 2008 ‘E-Base Goes Live’ mission where the explorer became the first person in Antarctic history to live for two weeks solely on renewable energy.

Shell continues to develop innovative technologies and practices and engage in strategic partnerships to ensure that sustainability concepts are integrated into the entire energy value chain. The company also encourages governments to support policies covering the optimal management of CO2 and other greenhouse gases.

© 2011 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)

Beaufort Sea commercial fishing banned

April 21, 2011

CBC News Posted: Apr 15, 2011 5:32 PM CT – Original article here

Commercial fishing is off-limits in the Beaufort Sea, according to a new agreement between the federal government and the Inuvialuit people of the western Arctic.

An ulu, a traditional Inuit cutting tool, is seen on a table with Arctic char in Iqaluit in this 2009 photo. Like in the eastern Arctic, char is fished by the Inuvialuit people in the Beaufort Sea.

An ulu, a traditional Inuit cutting tool, is seen on a table with Arctic char in Iqaluit in this 2009 photo. Like in the eastern Arctic, char is fished by the Inuvialuit people in the Beaufort Sea. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

The memorandum of understanding, which both parties signed Friday in Inuvik, N.W.T., is the first step towards a comprehensive ocean management plan in the Beaufort Sea.

The agreement prohibits any new licences from being issued for commercial fishing in the Beaufort Sea at least until the management plan is developed and implemented — a process that could take years.

Commercial fishing does not usually happen in the Beaufort Sea, but melting sea ice have opened up Arctic waterways to more fishing and commercial traffic.

Preventing a fishing rush

For many years, Arctic char and other fish species in the Beaufort Sea and other northern waterways had been protected by thick layers of sea ice that were dangerous for fishing and other marine vessels.

‘We don’t want to wake up some morning … and find a big, rusty Korean fishing boat offshore.’—Burton Ayles

But the Northwest Passage has become more ice-free recently, which has led to more cruise ships, sailboats and commercial shipping and fishing vessels coming north.

The Beaufort Sea fishing ban is being put in place before there is a rush to create a new commercial fishery, according to federal and Inuvialuit officials.

“We don’t want to wake up some morning in [Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T.] and find a big, rusty Korean fishing boat offshore,” said fisheries scientist Burton Ayles, a member of the Fisheries Joint Management Committee, which consists of federal and Inuvialuit representatives.

With fish stocks in steep decline around the world, Ayles said Inuvialuit and others living near the Beaufort Sea do not want the region to be overfished.

Temporary commercial fishing permits that were issued in the Beaufort Sea over the past 10 years have not worked out well, Ayles said.

“They didn’t always report back properly on what they were harvesting,” he said.

Fragile ecosystem

Nellie Cournoyea, chair of the Inuvialuit Regional Corp., said the Beaufort Sea ecosystem is too fragile to accommodate large boats with fishing nets.

The Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker Louis S. St-Laurent makes its way through the ice in Baffin Bay in 2008. Arctic waterways have increasingly become ice-free in recent years, opening them up to more marine traffic.

The Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker Louis S. St-Laurent makes its way through the ice in Baffin Bay in 2008. Arctic waterways have increasingly become ice-free in recent years, opening them up to more marine traffic. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

Cournoyea said not much is known about fish populations in the area, but people in the area do know that fish is a vital food source for other marine species.

“There’s a cautionary approach to this because it all has to come into balance,” she said.

“You wouldn’t want to create a fishery that would take away from that food stock of the whales or the seals or the other species that live offshore.”

Frank Pokiak of the Inuvialuit Game Council said people in the region would rather see Inuvialuit people participating in small-scale traditional fisheries than large-scale commercial fisheries.

“They’re willing to keep the doors open for Inuvialuit beneficiaries to do small-scale fisheries,” he said. “I know some people, at this time right now, they do harvest some of the fish species for selling … dry fish and things like that.”

Demand for polar bear hides soars: auction house

April 21, 2011

CBC News Posted: Apr 11, 2011 10:58 AM CT – Original article here

One of Canada’s largest fur auction houses says it cannot meet the soaring demand for polar bear hides, provoking concerns about overhunting in southern Hudson Bay and other areas..

Demand and prices for polar bear hides have been escalating over the past five seasons, says an official with Fur Harvesters Auction Inc. in North Bay, Ont. Russians are particularly interested in the hides, he said.

A polar bear and her cubs walk along the shore of Hudson Bay near Churchill, Man., in 2007. An estimated 900 to 1,000 polar bears live in the southern Hudson Bay region.

A polar bear and her cubs walk along the shore of Hudson Bay near Churchill, Man., in 2007. An estimated 900 to 1,000 polar bears live in the southern Hudson Bay region. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

“The supply does not even come close to meeting the demand,” Mark Downey, the auction house’s chief executive officer, told CBC News.

At the company’s most recent sale in January, polar bear hides sold for an average of $5,000, Downey said. One sold for a record high of $11,000.

Each buyer at the sale wanted all 80 of the polar bear hides on offer but had to settle for two or three hides each, he said.

“There’s a lot of interest for really top-quality specimens, 10-footers-plus, well-handled bears for the Russian market,” he said. “There’s a lot of Russian businessmen or what have you that would like to have a polar bear rug.”

Demand in Russia, Asia, Canada

Downey added that polar bear hides are also wanted for life-size mounts or displays for museums and airports.

“The top goods are ending up going to Russia, whereas the other ones are going basically all over,” he said. “They’re going to China, they’re going into Canada … could be into Japan.”

Hunters in Nunavik, a predominantly Inuit region in northern Quebec, have killed an unusually high number of polar bears this year, and demand has been cited as a reason.

Hunters in Inukjuak, Que., have told CBC News they have killed at least 60 polar bears since January in southern Hudson Bay. On average over the last five years, fewer than four polar bears a year were killed.

Quebec government officials have said the demand for polar bear hides is so high that buyers are purchasing hides with the fat still on them.

Wildlife group calls for management system

The demand for polar bear hides can result in overhunting, said Pete Ewins, a senior officer in charge of species for World Wildlife Fund Canada.

Ewins said Quebec needs a good polar bear management system, similar to one in Nunavut.

Unlike Nunavut, where each community is allowed an annual hunting quota for polar bears, Quebec does not have a fixed quota system.

Inuit hunters in Sanikiluaq, Nunavut, who also hunt from the southern Hudson Bay polar bear population, have said they are concerned the large hunt in Nunavik could result in fewer bears for them to harvest.

Ontario also has no fixed quota system for polar bears, but that province’s government has a management agreement with Cree people there.

Ewins applauded the Quebec government’s move to call a meeting of polar bear hunters and government officials from that province, Nunavut and Ontario in June.

“Although it’s driven, I think, by damage-control reasons, it probably will result in a shift in priorities and I think Quebec will catch up,” he said. “I’m an optimist.”

Polar bear experts have been calling for polar bear management agreements that are shared between jurisdictions.

Figures obtained from Environment Canada show the number of international export permits issued for polar bear hides has risen from 219 in 2005 to 320 in 2010.

Report warns of ‘crumbling’ Arctic

April 21, 2011

Big Pond News, Sunday, April 17, 2011 – Original article here

Arctic coastlines are crumbling away and retreating at the rate of two metres or more a year due to the effects of climate change, a report says.

In some locations, up to 30 metres of the shore has been vanishing every year.

The rapid rate of coastal erosion poses a major threat to local communities and ecosystems, according to a new report by more than 30 scientists from ten countries.

Two-thirds of Arctic coasts consist of frozen soil, or permafrost, rather than rock, and are highly sensitive to erosion by wind and waves.

Rising temperatures are melting protective sea ice fringing the coastlines and leaving them more exposed to the elements, say the experts.

The report, State of the Arctic Coast 2010, says ten-year average rates of coastal retreat are ‘typically in the one to two metres per year range, but vary up to 10 to 30 metres per year in some locations’.

Worst-hit areas include the Beaufort Sea, the East Siberian Sea and the Laptev Sea.

The study, led by scientists from the Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres and the International Arctic Science Committee (IASC), is published online and in the journal Estuaries and Coasts.

Information on more than 100,000 kilometres of Arctic coastline – around a quarter of the total – was collected for the report.

The scientists stressed that Arctic coastal habitats were the ‘prime lifeline’ for Arctic communities, supporting a large population of fish, birds and mammals, including an estimated 500 million seabirds.

They wrote: ‘In the face of unprecedented and jarring changes in the local environment on which traditional livelihoods and cultures depend, Arctic coastal communities are coping with rapid population growth, technological change, economic transformation, confounding social and health challenges and, in much of the Arctic, rapid political and institutional change.

‘It is evident that the coast is a critical component of the Arctic system requiring explicit attention.

‘As a focus of human activity with attendant hazards, the circumpolar Arctic coast is clearly a priority for monitoring and detection to support pro-active adaptation and sustainable development.’

They hoped the report would help to close information gaps and ‘mobilise the resulting knowledge in an effective way for the betterment of Arctic coastal ecosystems, the peoples of the north and the global community’.

Dr Hugues Lantuit, one of the authors from the Alfred Wegener Institute in Potsdam, Germany, said until recently little was known about what was happening to Arctic coastlines.

‘When systematic data acquisition began in 2000, detailed information was available for barely 0.5 per cent of the Arctic coasts,’ he said.

Top quality Barents Sea oil

April 21, 2011
Barents Observer 2011-04-12 Original article here
The Polar Pioneer jackup rig (photo: Harald Pettersen / Statoil)The Polar Pioneer jackup rig (photo: Harald Pettersen / Statoil)

This oil is like champagne, Statoil’s Helge Lund says about the newly discovered Skrugard field in the Barents Sea.

Talking at the Energy Conference in Bergen today, Helge Lund underlined that the oil which his company has found in the Skrugard field in the Barents Sea is of the very best quality.

-The Skrugard oil is almost like champagne, he said in his presentation, newspaper Dagens Næringsliv reports. –It is light and nice, and makes us very optimistic, he added.

Read also: Finally large Barents oil discovery

The Statoil leader does not exclude that his company now has found a key approach to understanding the geology of the Barents Sea. Over the last years, a number of wells have been drilled in the area, but only a couple of fields of significance found. Statoil already operates the Snøhvit gas field, and ENI is preparing for production at its Goliat oil field.

In his conference presentation today, Helge Lund showed a map depicting the Snøhvit, the Goliat and the Skrugard fields. –This could actually be a new industrial horizon with three building blocks, he maintained.

The Norwegian Ministry of Petroleum and Energy now intends to offer a number of new licenses to blocks in the area of the Skrugard field. The finding of Skrugard has a significance which can not be exaggerated, State Secretary Per Rune Henriksen said at the conference, DN.no reports. In the course of spring this year, new licenses will be issued as part of the 21th Norwegian license round.

Norway now also intend to start geological mapping of the newly delineated waters further east in the Barents Sea. As previously reported by BarentsObserver, Norwegian authorities have on several occasions confirmed that seismic studies of the waters will start as soon as the delimitation deal has been ratified by both Norway and Russia. Russia completed the ratification process last week.

Read also: It’s a deal!

Text: Atle Staalesen