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Mapping Arctic corridors

The Pew Charitable Trusts suggests shipping corridors in the Arctic that could be classified by level of risk
  • Jul 06, 2016
  • 443 words
  • 2 minutes
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As the cruise ship Crystal Serenity prepares to set sail for its maiden voyage through the Northwest Passage this summer (accompanied by an icebreaker), it seems unlikely that any of its approximately 1,700 passengers (each of whom paid a minimum of nearly US$22,000) will be carrying a copy of a report that could one day help redefine how and where ships move through the Canadian Arctic.

To be fair, the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Integrated Arctic Corridors Framework report, released in April, probably isn’t something you’d throw into your suitcase alongside the binoculars and whatever book happens to be atop the New York Times best-seller list. Still, on a 32-day journey from Alaska to New York City that will include more than a dozen expedition experts offering “enrichment on board and guidance on shore, with numerous lectures, seminars and workshops during the transit,” according to Crystal Cruises, there’s plenty of time sink your teeth into 30-odd pages of a public-policy report to learn even more about the waters you’re sailing through, right?

Joking aside, the report, which addresses what it calls Canada’s lack of “a clear, cohesive vision for Arctic shipping policy” and suggests creating shipping corridors that would be classified as low, medium or high-risk, is a trove of maritime information that even those only mildly interested in the Arctic would find fascinating. For instance:

  • The Northwest Passage has seen a 166 per cent increase in vessel traffic since 2004;
  • To date, there has been no formal engagement with Inuit organizations vis-a-vis Arctic shipping routes;
  • The current corridor system “affects 45 per cent of regional ecological, biological, and Inuit areas of significance;”
  • Only one per cent of Canadian Arctic waters are adequately surveyed;
  • Only 10 per cent of nautical charts for the region meet modern standards;
  • Only two per cent of Canada’s navigational aids are deployed north of the Arctic Circle, and there are no deepwater ports;
  • Canada has 41 percent of the world’s Arctic coastline but only six icebreakers — the least amount of coverage per kilometre of Arctic coastline of the five Arctic nations (Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia, and the United States).

It’s the report’s 10 maps, though, that are perhaps the most fascinating, showing everything from what an integrated corridor system in the Beaufort Sea might look like to how current corridors overlap with critical habitat — something that those aboard the Crystal Serenity will no doubt be thinking about as the 250-metre ship noses its way through one of the world’s last truly wild frontiers.

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