The Arctic is ground zero for climate change and a critical habitat for polar bears, whales, seals, and migratory birds. Despite its ecological importance and vulnerability, the Arctic marine environment remains one of the least protected and most vulnerable places on Earth. As a result of the melting ice, the Arctic’s oil, gas, and minerals are more accessible, new fishing areas are reachable, and new shipping lanes have opened; all triggering increased interest and activity.
In September 2015, Ocean Elders sent a letter written by Captain Don Walsh to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to express our concern “about imminent plans by the five nations bordering the Arctic Ocean to explore and drill for hydrocarbons in that environmentally fragile region. These actions present tremendous ecological dangers, and would pose significant challenges in responding to a spill or accident, should one occur. In the United States, the decision to open up new areas for Arctic oil and gas stands in conflict with the Obama Administration’s strong recent announcements to shift to cleaner forms of energy and reduce the impacts of dangerous and escalating climate change.”
In November 2016, the Obama Administration announced a ban on new Arctic drilling until 2022. In the near future, Ocean Elders plans to lead an expedition to the Arctic to heighten awareness among key stakeholders on the imperative to halt extractive activities in the region altogether.