New marine protected area established in Beaufort Sea's Darnley Bay

The Darnley Bay area of the Beaufort Sea near Paulatuk, N.W.T., has been set aside to protect important habitat for several Arctic marine species.

New Anguniaqvia Niqiqyuam Marine Protected Area covers about 2,400 square kilometres

A pod of beluga whales swim in Darnley Bay. A marine protected area has been designated for parts of Darnley Bay, offshore from Paulatuk, N.W.T. (Pew Charitable Trusts)

The Darnley Bay area of the Beaufort Sea near Paulatuk, N.W.T., has been set aside to protect important habitat for several Arctic marine species.

The new Anguniaqvia Niqiqyuam Marine Protected Area covers about 2,400 square kilometres. The protected area status will prohibit activities within the area "that could disturb, damage, or destroy these living organisms."

"It's a general prohibition so it prohibits any activities that will impact marine organisms or habitat in the area," said Cal Wenghofer with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

The area of interest, called Anguniaqvia Niqiqyuam, borders the east coast of the Parry Peninsula, near the N.W.T. community of Paulatuk. (Department of Fisheries and Oceans)

Wenghofer says protection is essential because of the number of species in this location.

"This area is really ecologically important. It is highly productive. It provides important habitat for a number of species such as Arctic char, cod, beluga whales, polar bears, eels and a number of different bird species."

The area is also home to the only thick-billed murre bird colony in the western Canadian Arctic, and is a feeding ground for the nearby Cape Parry Migratory Bird Sanctuary.

Northwest Territories MP Michael McLeod and Dominic LeBlanc, minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, made the announcement Wednesday afternoon.

In a news release, the federal government said this is Canada's first Marine Protected Area with conservation objectives based specifically on Indigenous traditional knowledge.

The move was applauded by environmental group Oceans North Canada of the Pew Charitable Trusts, which said the language used bans oil and gas exploration and commercial fishing from the area, while still allowing the people of Paulatuk to fish and hunt.

"That really sends the message that Fisheries and Oceans understands that you can have marine protection… and excellent conservation initiatives while at the same time respecting Indigenous rights, and harvesting rights in particular," said Chris Debicki.

At a later date, there will be a official celebration in Paulatuk.

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