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Paulatuk, N.W.T., awaits creation of Darnley Bay marine protected area

Establishing the Anguniaqvia Niqiqyuam marine protected area in Darnley Bay would close parts of it off to development and shipping traffic that’s expected to increase in the coming years in the Beaufort Sea.

Anguniaqvia Niqiqyuam marine protected area would be aimed at protecting wildlife from increased shipping

Boats line the shore of Paulatuk, N.W.T. A marine protected area is proposed for parts of Darnley Bay and the Beaufort Sea, offshore from the community. (David Thurton/CBC)

People in Paulatuk, N.W.T., are awaiting the creation of a marine protected area off their shore, something they expect will happen after the federal election.

Establishing the Anguniaqvia Niqiqyuam marine protected area in Darnley Bay would close parts of it off to development and shipping traffic that's expected to increase in the coming years in the Beaufort Sea.

"People that say there will be climate change, there will be increased shipping. And obviously there will be," says Lawrence Ruben, the chair of the Paulatuk Community Corporation. 

Lawrence Ruben, chair of the Paulatuk Community Corporation, says a marine protected area in Darnley Bay would close parts of it off to development and shipping traffic that's expected to increase in the coming years in the Beaufort Sea. (David Thurton/CBC)

"[A marine protected area] doesn't remove the right for us to harvest in that area. The only impact we see would be to development."

A Fisheries and Oceans Canada report says the protected area could be as large as 9,500 square kilometres. It recommends the priority areas for protection be the migratory and feeding grounds of Arctic char along the coast.

It also recommends the protected area include a 30 kilometre radius near Cape Parry that's not only home to belugas and other aquatic life, but is also the feeding area of a number of seabird species including colonies of thick-billed murres and black guillemots that nest at the nearby Cape Parry Migratory Bird Sanctuary.

The report also says the area is home to kelp beds that are rare in that part of the Arctic.

Ruben says in preparing the proposals for the protected area, he was surprised how biologically diverse the area was.

"It just blew us away what the research found out there," Ruben says.

"What else was out there? Octopus, crabs, shrimps, krill, cod, herring, capelin, all those other things we don't usually see everyday."

Millie Thrasher's freezer is full of vacuum-packed fish she caught herself. Darnley Bay is an important source of food for residents of Paulatuk. (David Thurton/CBC)

For Paulatuk residents such as Millie Thrasher, the ocean is their grocery store.

"I can't go without eating fish," Thrasher says. Her freezer is full of vacuum-packed fish she caught herself.

She says she will be pleased when the bay is designated a marine protected area.

"It's a very good idea for the future, for our children. We cannot get this fish in the Northern Store."

It would be the second marine protected area in the Arctic after the Tarium Niryutait Marine Protected Area in the Mackenzie River delta, which was created in 2010.

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