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WWF in Action: Northern Lights

Managing change in the Arctic for people and for nature

By Riannon John

Everyone agrees that change is happening quickly in the Arctic. We have heard stories from Inuit people about new fish species entering Arctic waters, and the tragic loss of lives due to unpredictable sea ice. We have seen maps illustrating alterations spanning the past 30 years. Whether these changes should be a source of concern and what, if anything, should be done about it are some of the big questions WWF is tackling through the Last Ice Area project.

As WWF’s Martin Sommerkorn put it, “the world is knocking on the door” of the Last Ice Area, so now the time to start considering options for how to deal with and manage that change in this important region.

The importance of working together is the dominant theme – many of the hunters participating in WWF-led workshops were eager to share their experiences, including specific examples of the changes that they’ve seen, with government groups, NGOs and scientists. As their traditional knowledge, passed down through generations in an oral tradition, goes back much further than satellite records, their input is essential to planning for the future. Since they use the land, ice and water every day and want their children and grandchildren to do so as well, they really want the resources they depend on to have a healthy future.

There are still many knowledge gaps to be filled, particularly around possible impacts of development on Arctic peoples and ecosystems, and on the importance of open waters surrounded by sea ice (known as polynyas).

One thing that has become incredibly clear to me is that the lives of people in the north are inextricably linked to the health of the land and water, and all the creatures that call it home. As Clive Tesar, WWF’s Last Ice Area project lead, noted, WWF’s mandate is about ensuring people and nature can live in harmony – and in making sure nature is there for people to use, not just admire from a distance.

Riannon John is a communications specialist for WWF-Canada, working to share stories about WWF’s work to create solutions to the most serious conservation challenges facing our planet. She works closely with WWF-Canada’s Arctic, Climate and Energy, and Strategic Partnerships teams.

© Eric Rock/Natural Habitat Adventures

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