Feds to protect Fury and Hecla Strait in Nunavut

QIA approached about Nunavut marine protected areas


Waters and lands around key areas of the Northwest Passage may fall under new forms of protection if the federal government’s plans move ahead.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans approached the Qikiqtani Inuit Association recently to create a marine protected area in the Fury and Hecla Strait near Igloolik.

And a memorandum of understanding on this new protected area is already in the works, according to information distributed at last week’s QIA meeting in Iqaluit.

The Fury and Hecla Strait is a narrow channel of water between Baffin Island and Melville Peninsula, connecting Foxe Basin with the Gulf of Boothia.

Ships traveling the Northwest Passage could possibly use this strait, if global warming leads to better ice conditions.

As a marine protected area, the strait would be subject to measures designed to protect and conserve its marine resources and habitat.

Canada also wants to designate Lancaster Sound, at the eastern entrance of the Northwest Passage, as a national marine conservation area.

The 400-kilometre long Lancaster Sound between Devon Island and Baffin Island is expected to be a major shipping route as use of the Northwest Passage increases.

The federal and Nunavut governments and QIA were to sign an MOU on Oct. 15 on establishing Lancaster Sound as a national marine conservation region, but the official signing was postponed, delegates to the QIA meeting learned.

National marine conservation areas are established “to protect and conserve representative marine areas for the benefit, education and enjoyment of the people of Canada and the world,” says a Parks Canada website.

The Lancaster Sound supports up to 14 million black-and-white little auks.

The sound is also home to Arctic cod, beluga, bowhead whales, ringed, bearded and harp seals, walrus, polar bears, thick-billed murres, black-legged kittiwakes, northern fulmars, black guillemots, Arctic terns, ivory gulls and snow geese.

A national marine conservation area in Lancaster Sound would permit fishing and shipping, “with due regard for ecological limits.”

But ocean dumping, undersea mining, and oil and natural gas development would prohibited within the boundaries of a national marine conservation area.

Oil companies explored and drilled in Lancaster Sound during the 1970s and 1980s.

As a result, the Lancaster Sound Regional Land Use Plan was put in place in 1991 to regulate oil and gas exploration. This was later scrapped because it didn’t meet the requirements for land use plans established under the 1993 Nunavut Land Claims Settlement Agreement.

Plans for a fourth national park in Nunavut on northern Bathurst Island are also back on the table after being shelved for several years.

Creation of this park faced several hurdles because of some of proposed parkland is rich in mineral resources and also serves as an important calving ground for the Peary caribou.

The federal government previously proposed to exclude the eastern portion of proposed park in exchange for islands to the west.

A moratorium on mineral exploration and development was to be put in place on the excluded lands until the Peary caribou recovered.

Upon lifting of this moratorium, exploration and development would be subject to special management measures, to be developed during the moratorium.

A community plebiscite in June of 2004 showed that a majority of residents in Resolute Bay were in favour of establishing a national park on northern Bathurst Island.

But the plebiscite question made it clear that approval to advance towards the park would not mean approval of the proposal for a special management area.

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