This summer, WWF is helping support two expeditions that will take on some of the world’s most difficult waters, to see first-hand the effects of Arctic climate change. One expedition is sailing across the top of Russia, a journey of 6000 nautical miles through the Northeast Passage, while another is attempting a west to east transit of the Northwest Passage, also by sailing boat, a journey of about 7,000 nautical miles.
Tom Arnbom of Sweden was on the ‘Explorer of Sweden’ though the Northeast Passage, as was WWF Arctic Programme Director Neil Hamilton for much of the trip, replaced near the end by WWF polar bear coordinator Geoff York. On the ‘Silent Sound’ Cameron Dueck of the Open Passage Expedition is filing regular stories from the Northwest passage. Come back for photos and stories throughout the summer, and follow the progress of the boats as they follow in the wake of some of history’s most intrepid explorers.
By Tom Arnbom
Late night, Alkehornet, Spitsbergen, Svalbard. The bright green grass below the classic ”bird cliff” is a byproduct of fish and small crustaceans! There is a continuous commuting from the rich sea to the breeding sites, when parents bring food to the newborn chicks. The droppings are full of nutrients which fall down from the cliffs to the ground 100 metres below – that is why it is so green and full of flowers beside huge colonies of kittiwakes and little auks. Here on Svalbard, you also often find an arctic fox family living off eggs, chicks and injured birds close to bird colonies. At Alkehornet too, reindeer can be found in large numbers. The driving force is the rich sea.
Several of the richest fishing waters in the world can be found in the Arctic. In America, Alaskan pollock is one of the largest American fisheries species and in Europe the Barents Sea is the source for an enormous amount of fish. It is very important to manage these populations well and not overfish them, like many other fisheries around the world which have totally collapsed.
However, another threat is the climate change which will increase the sea water temperature in the Arctic – which will then cause fish populations to move further north to colder water. In Alaska, if the pollock population moves north into Russian territory, America might lose a very valuable fishery. A similar problem could occur if the cod in the Barents Sea moves into Russian waters. There is a lot of money involved and political conflicts may arise from this.
In Alaska, the fishermen have decided not to fish in the areas which are now opening up in the Arctic as the summer sea ice melts away. The fishermen first want to know what fishing quotas are sustainable to fish, before a commercial fishery opens. Otherwise, the normal practice would be to start fishing as soon as possible – before any restictions are in place.