Iqaluit to host polar bear conservation meeting

Canada will discuss polar bear conservation with governments and scientists from four other Arctic nations at an international meeting this fall in Iqaluit.

Canada will discuss polar bear conservation with governments and scientists from four other Arctic nations at a meeting this fall in Iqaluit.

A polar bear watches a passing whaling crew near Barrow, Alaska, on the southern Beaufort Sea, in 2006. Arctic nations have agreed that climate change and shrinking sea ice are the biggest threats to polar bear conservation. ((Courtesy of Mary Sage, Joseph Napaaqtuq Sage/Associated Press) )

The meeting, slated to take place Oct. 24 to 26, will mark the first time the five signatories to the 1973 Agreement on Conservation of Polar Bears will meet in Canada's North, where two-thirds of the world's polar bears are based.

Delegations from Norway, Russia, the United States and Greenland, along with a Canadian delegation, will meet in Nunavut's capital city for the meeting.

"It's going to be a pretty large delegation from each of the five countries," said Andrew Derocher, a wildlife biologist with the University of Alberta in Edmonton, and a member of Polar Bear Specialist Group.

"We'll probably see about six to eight formal delegates from each nation, and along with that, there will be additional scientific advisors that will be coming from the various countries."

Delegates in Iqaluit will exchange information on the status of polar bear populations in their regions, how those populations are managed, and how countries can collaborate on research and monitoring, Derocher said.

"There's sort of a movement to try to get everybody on the same page about how we're going to deal with the changing climate and polar bears," he said.

Climate change a top concern

When the five nations behind the 1973 agreement last met in 2009 in Tromso, Norway, they agreed that climate change and the continuing loss of sea ice constitute "the most important threat to polar bear conservation."

In light of international concern about the future of polar bears in recent years, there is more urgency for the countries to meet more regularly, said Peter Ewins, director of species conservation with World Wildlife Fund Canada.

Ewins said Canadian delegates to the Iqaluit meeting will include "the responsible territorial governments and provincial governments, representatives thereof, and the certainly the major Inuit organizations."

Derocher said he hopes Canada and the other four countries will agree to conduct more frequent polar bear population surveys.

Such surveys currently take place every 12 to 15 years in Canada, but Derocher said they need to be done more often.