Nowadays, most parts of the Canadian Arctic remain uninhabited, where snow and ice are the prevailing features for most of the year. However, climate change is an everyday reality, bringing more opportunities for human activities. These activities, in turn, lead to complex impacts on the fragile Arctic socio-ecological environments. Inuit, who have been continuously using these pristine lands and ocean for subsistence livelihood, will be very vulnerable to these changes.
To promote the health and prosperity of Arctic inhabitants and advance sustainable resource uses, the Arctic Council encourages Arctic states to adopt integrated approaches in their national policies. In Canada, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans has developed an integrated area-based management framework in the Arctic, as a part of fulfilling its commitment under the Oceans Act. Canada has taken a more diverse planning framework in the Arctic than that of the west and east coasts, which is a combination of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), Large Oceans Management Area (LOMA) and National Marine Conservation Area (NMCA).
Recently, integrated planning has been concentrated in the eastern Arctic. Increasing economic activities (e.g. shipping, extractive industries, tourism, fishing), including their impacts on marine environment and Inuit communities, have led to discussions about the potential for (and need of) establishing area-based measures in this region.
For example, the Lancaster Sound, known to Inuit as Tallurutiup Imanga, in Inuktitut, is of great historical and socio-cultural importance to Inuit. When sea ice forms, as a continuum between land and sea, Inuit can travel to hunt polar bears and other marine mammals for several months every year. As the eastern entrance to the Northwest Passage, this area is also considered to be of great economic significance.
Inuit have sought protection for Tallurutiup Imanga since 1970s. Their efforts finally paid off in 2017 when Parks Canada, the Nunavut Government and the Qikiqtani Inuit Association (QIA) jointly created the Tallurutiup Imanga National Marine Conservation Area (TINMCA). As of today, an Inuit Impact and Benefit Agreement (IIBA) is signed. An interim management plan, including a preliminary zoning plan, is being co-developed by Governments of Canada and Nunavut, and the QIA.
However, developing area-based plans or frameworks for the Arctic Ocean and coastal areas is no easy task. First, the framework should be integrated and holistic to take account of local and seasonal variations. Second, Inuit co-management boards and authorities should be involved as government partners. This is a practical way to apply Inuit values and knowledge in using marine spaces and resources. Furthermore, implementing and monitoring spatial plans in the Canadian Arctic can be challenging, considering its wide spatial scope, the fragility of the environment, lack of infrastructure, and geographic remoteness.
Currently, a new opportunity for applying spatial planning in Arctic waters evolves with the development of Northern Low-Impact Shipping Corridors initiative. These Corridors are designed to govern the fast-increasing marine shipping activities in an integrated way. These Corridors will not only facilitate better shipping performance through designated routes, but also enhance the government’s role in providing services and surveillance in Arctic waters. Most importantly, this initiative is involving Inuit and incorporating their observations and opinions into the Corridors’ design to reflect socio-cultural needs and respect local practices of Inuit and northerners.
Collaborated with other relevant departments, Transport Canada is now developing a governance model for the Corridors. Among a variety of frameworks, Marine Spatial Planning is a good candidate for its ability to address the interconnectedness among shipping, marine environment and Inuit communities. Looking ahead, it is likely that the Arctic will be included in Canada’s national MSP network to bring long-term benefits to the Arctic.