Climate change has already removed at least 75 percent of Arctic summer sea ice volume at rates never before experienced in human history. Soon, the Arctic Ocean will be like other oceans for much of the year: open water that is exposed to exploitation and environmental destruction.
Despite the Arctic Ocean’s unique vulnerabilities, it is still the least protected of all the world’s oceans. Less than 1.5 percent has any form of protected area status. The high seas of the Arctic — which belong to no single nation — are under no form of protection.
A strong Global Ocean Treaty will enable us to finally protect the Arctic Ocean, as part of a network of sanctuaries.
And we aren’t the only ones who want this: a Greenpeace survey revealed that 74 percent of people across 30 different countries support the establishment of a global sanctuary in the international waters around the North Pole. More than 70 percent of those people believed that the Arctic should be free of oil drilling and other heavy industry.
How do we envision an Arctic Sanctuary?
The Arctic ocean is vast, and its ecosystem depends on that immense size. An Arctic Sanctuary would need to be large as well. The Arctic high seas make up an area the size of the Mediterranean Sea.
Within the Arctic Sanctuary, there would be no fishing, no military activity and no exploration for or extraction of fossil fuels or other minerals from the seabed.
Strict environmental controls would apply to all shipping in this area, although not all shipping activity would be prohibited. Heavy fuel oil use, for example, would not be allowed — a practice that is already adopted in Antarctic waters.
We will be pressuring the international community every chance we get. And our effort in collaboration with many organizations and indigenous peoples’ to collect signatories for an Arctic Declaration in solidarity with Arctic peoples was a big step in this direction.
When we set out to protect the Arctic from destructive oil drilling and commercial fishing people told us it was impossible. Now after years of pushing millions of us have secured an enormous area protected from commercial fishing in the center of the Arctic Ocean, and we’re getting closer every day to an Arctic safe from oil drilling too.