A draft mariner's guide for Hudson Strait wants to reduce the risk and impact of shipping in the Arctic by educating crews about sensitive areas for marine wildlife and Inuit hunters.

marine mammals of Hudson Strait

A bridge poster, part of the mariner's guide, helps crew spot marine mammals. (WWF-Canada)

The WWF-Canada project is intended to build on work started by Transport Canada and the Coast Guard for an Arctic shipping corridors initiative that can encourage the use of specific routes.

Since the Arctic ocean is so vast and largely uncharted, these routes can highlight priorities for hydrography, navigational aids, ice breaking and patrolling. The use of these corridors can help create safer shipping in dangerous waters particularly in light of increased marine traffic in the region.

Ocean's North added to this dialogue in the spring with a report highlighting the need to also include environmental protections and engagement with Inuit groups. Now WWF-Canada is advancing the drive towards low-impact Arctic shipping corridors by starting work on a mariner's guide.

Andrew Dumbrille

WWF-Canada's Andrew Dumbrille says there's no history in the maritime community to use information about wildlife habitat when choosing routes. (WWF-Canada)

As a first step towards a comprehensive guide, WWF-Canada has created a poster and two seasonal maps.

The bridge poster  — which shows images of what marine mammals look like when they're just above water — serves as a visual guide to help crews spot whales, seals, and polar bears.

The guide also provides environmental information, community contact numbers, and some operational guidelines about navigating through the Hudson Strait in ways that reduce conflict with marine mammals.

"There's a lot of education that's needed," says Andrew Dumbrille, a specialist in sustainable shipping with WWF-Canada.

Hudson Strait Mariner's Guide

The guide provides environmental information and some operational guidelines about navigating through the Hudson Strait in ways that reduce conflict with willife. (WWF-Canada)

"I don't think there's a culture or a history necessarily in the maritime community about using these environmental layers to determine where they go, how fast they go and what equipment they take on board their ship."

Dumbrille says the maps and posters are only the first step. WWF-Canada wants to continue to work with Inuit communities as well as other stakeholders to expand the project into a full voyage planning guide, which will include electronic charts and a marine mammal app to record what mariners are observing during their transits.

All this work will assist in making a case for a low-impact shipping corridor in the Arctic.

"The concept of a low impact corridor is more than just routing, and it's more than just search and rescue response, it can also include ships not using some of the most toxic fuels, like heavy fuel oil," says Dumbrille.

Smarter shipping not less shipping

Moses Nakoolak, the chair of the Coral Harbour hunters and trappers association, says more education for southern crews on how to minimize the negative effects of marine traffic is essential.

Walrus

'It's very important that walrus haul-outs and calving grounds are not disturbed,' says Moses Nakoolak, the chair of the Coral Harbour hunters and trappers association. (Niore Iqalukjuak)

"It's very important that walrus haul-outs and calving grounds are not disturbed," says Nakoolak.

Hunters in Coral Harbour rely on the marine wildlife for food. Nakoolak says July and August are important months for hunting in the region — but they also fall on the busy shipping season.

walrus hunt

Hunters across Nunavut rely on the marine wildlife for food. (Niore Iqalukjuak)

Nakoolak wants mariners travelling to Arctic waters to get trained on how to reduce the impact of their vessels on marine life with simple measures like lowering their speed in certain areas to minimize noise that scares away animals.

He also wants the hunters and trappers association to be given notice when a large vessel, like a cruise ship, is passing through their waterways, so that hunters can better prepare.

Barnie Aggark, the mayor of Chesterfield Inlet and chair of the local hunters and trappers organization, says his community needs the jobs and supplies that come with increased shipping.

Barnie Aggark and Rachel Theoret-Gosselin

Barnie Aggark and WWF-Canada's Rachel Theoret-Gosselin in Chesterfield Inlet working on ideas to improve marine shipping in the region. (WWF-Canada)

"We don't want to in any way decrease that area," says Aggark, but adds that better shipping practices are needed.

Aggark says he wants shipping schedules that take into account sensitive times of year, such as when char run up stream, when beluga migrate to nearby waterways or when caribou are passing through the Inlet.

Aggark says if shipping practices threaten hunting, it's not just a risk to food security in Inuit communities but also a threat to their traditional way of life.

"Hunting is one of the last bits of culture that we're trying to hold on to," says Aggark.

He adds that preserving the habitat of local wildlife is essential in keeping Inuit traditions alive.