Cherise Seucharan, Howl Staff
Earth Day 2012 was marked with concerning environmental news as a group of over 2 000 scientists have signed a letter calling to stop commercial fishing in the rapidly changing Arctic region. The scientists have noted that due to climate change over 40 per cent of permanent Arctic ice has diminished, opening up the possibility of industrial fishing which could further deplete the fragile ecosystem.
The letter also marks the beginning of a conference in Montreal of thousands of scientists from over 60 countries. They are convening discuss the findings of International Polar Year, an international research effort that resulted in many significant and surprising discoveries about the Arctic region.
The scientists found that rising global temperatures have caused alarming changes to the Arctic climate and ecosystem. David Barber, prominent Artic researcher at the University of Manitoba, commented on the changes in a recent report by CBC News. “I’ve been working in the Arctic for 30 years now and, personally, I’m amazed at the speed at which things are changing in the Arctic.”
The report indicates that permanent sea ice has been deteriorating, breaking off into icebergs, and this newly opened sea space is regarded as prime fishing areas by companies worldwide. The increasing economic demand for fish and other commodities is central to the motivation to explore these uncharted Arctic waters.
Scientists are primarily concerned about the use of large bottom trawlers by industrial fisheries, which take in massive quantities of fish at a time and disrupt the ocean floor. They could drastically change the balance of the ecosystem and deplete fish populations. The negative impact of these trawlers has already been observed in other marine systems. Trevor Taylor of Oceans North Canada told the Toronto Star that, “Atlantic Canada has experienced the damage that unregulated fishing can cause, even when it is outside the 200-mile (320-kilometre) limit.”
Additionally, the loss of ice also represents a habitat loss for Arctic wildlife. Many species have already been harmfully affected. For example, the seal population is diminishing as they have ever-decreasing sea ice to use to make homes to protect their young. Other animals such as walruses, lemmings and moose are also being negatively affected by the change.
Aboriginal populations that depend on the land are also being affected. They are unable to hunt and fish for food when the land and weather conditions are so unstable. In addition, animal migration patterns are being disrupted by the climate change.
There are currently no laws governing the central Arctic, an area out of bounds of surrounding nation-state borders. As the climate in this region has become less forbidding, the usually desolate area has become an unregulated global free-for-all. As both multinational companies and nations fight for control over the region, scientists assert that we must create regulations that protect the Arctic’s ecosystem, for the health of the planet.