Climate Change, the Arctic Region and Preserving Endangered and Threatened Species

Michael Belanger, 1,2; Joanna MacNeil, 1; Nesime Askin, 1,2; Carin Wittnich 1,2,3.

(1) Oceanographic Environmental Research Society, 12 Burton Ave., Barrie, ON, L4N2R2, Canada

(2) Department of Surgery, University of Toronto, 1 King’s College Circle, Toronto, ON, M5S1A8, Canada

(3) Department of Physiology, University of Toronto, 1 King’s College Circle, Toronto, ON, M5S1A8, Canada

Global warming is expected to cause dramatic changes to the Arctic environment.  The increase of seasonal temperatures will result in a fluctuation of ice coverage causing the locations of inshore and off-shore microhabitats of northern marine life to vary. The seasonal fluctuations of ice coverage will also make marking and mapping the Northern Sea Route very difficult complicating its navigability for the large vessel traffic.   Inevitably as a result of these unpredictable changes there will be an increased risk of large scale oil spills and ship accidents with large marine mammals. 

These new environmental stresses will have deleterious impacts such as enhancing the number of threatened and endangered species and accelerating the rate of extinction of those already at risk.  The response and rehabilitation abilities of the countries boarding the Arctic will be examined with respect to such environmental challenges.  Having the ability to respond to events such as mass stranding can be integral to the future success of the species however, some countries believe that marine mammal rescue operations are not necessary or feasible in the Arctic and therefore have no rescue or response plans.  The Exon Valdez oil spill and more recently the events of Hurricane Katrina have shown that being unprepared for such events can cause greater damage thereby increasing the cost of restoration. 

The Arctic is still a relatively clean and undisturbed environment being unprepared to respond immediately to disasters could lead to the destruction of this fragile ecosystem, accelerating the loss of many of the already threatened species.

Presented as an oral presentation at Defenders of Wildlife’s Carnivores 2006