Shell gives away offshore rights near Lancaster Sound for marine conservation area

Shell has voluntarily contributed offshore rights to the Nature Conservancy of Canada to support the establishment of a national marine conservation area off the coast of Nunavut.

To remind, this is the area for which the validity of Shell’s permits was recently challenged by World Wildlife Fund Canada, the environment conservation organization. WWF Canada claimed that these permits were an obstacle to conservation efforts striving to finalize the Lancaster Sound National Marine Conservation Area.

According to the company’s press statement on Wednesday, Shell has presented the Nature Conservancy of Canada with more than 860,000 hectares (8,625 km2) of offshore exploratory permits in the waters of Baffin Bay, near Lancaster Sound. This represents an area larger than Banff National Park.

The Nature Conservancy of Canada has subsequently released the permits to the Government of Canada, thereby facilitating a marine conservation initiative of global significance.

A federal proposal for a national marine conservation area in Lancaster Sound currently includes 44,500 km2 of marine territory that encompasses most of Lancaster Sound. The contribution of Shell’s permits, located outside and east of these boundaries, could clear the way for a larger national marine conservation area. Expanding the proposed conservation area would positively respond to Inuit aspirations to protect their traditional territory, and support the federal government’s target of protecting at least 10 per cent of Canada’s marine and coastal areas by 2020 – an international target under the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity.

Lancaster Sound is the eastern entrance to the Northwest Passage, the legendary corridor through Canada’s Arctic Archipelago. It is an area of critical ecological importance to marine mammals, including seals, narwhal, beluga and bowhead whales, as well as walrus and polar bears. It is bordered by some of the most important seabird breeding colonies in the Arctic, with populations totalling in the hundreds of thousands.

Shell explained that the proposed Lancaster Sound Marine Conservation Area would protect a representative portion of Lancaster Sound’s vital marine ecosystem while also allowing human uses to continue in an ecologically sustainable manner. It would also support the sustainability of coastal Inuit communities and protect this marine heritage for present and future generations of Canadians.

In transferring these permits, Shell and the Nature Conservancy of Canada recognize the science and planning work of many non-governmental organizations that has set the stage for the long-term protection of an important piece of Canada’s natural and cultural heritage, the oil major said.

The Nature Conservancy of Canada works closely with all levels of government and many organizations, including Shell, to protect natural areas and the species they sustain across Canada.

Shell noted that, as a supporter of the Nature Conservancy of Canada’s conservation program, it has contributed more than $6.5 million in financial resources, land and mineral rights to the organization over the past 30 years.

“Contributing our offshore rights to the Nature Conservancy of Canada builds on 30 years of joint conservation efforts between our organizations. Through collaboration across sectors, we can achieve greater conservation outcomes together,” said Shell Canada President and Country Chair, Michael Crothers.

“The Nature Conservancy of Canada is pleased to be able to work constructively with government and business – to take meaningful steps towards achieving Canada’s global conservation commitments,” said John Lounds, President and CEO, Nature Conservancy of Canada.

“We are now one big step closer in a 40-year process to protect an area that’s been important to Inuit for millennia. Lancaster Sound, Tallurutiup Tariunga in Inuktitut, is one of the Arctic Ocean’s richest marine habitats – an area of stunning natural beauty and deep cultural significance. The inclusion of these lease areas helps complete what will be one of Canada’s boldest protected areas and will allow for boundaries that are consistent with community aspirations for Lancaster Sound,” said Christopher Debicki, Nunavut Projects Director, Oceans North Canada.


WWF welcomes Shell’s decision


WWF Canada has welcomed Shell Canada’s decision to relinquish offshore oil exploration permits within the Inuit preferred boundary for the Lancaster Sound National Marine Conservation Area.

WWF said that by renouncing these permits the most significant threat to the species and people in the region is eliminated. The stage is now set for the Government of Canada to protect a region larger than currently planned, as advocated by Inuit groups and WWF Canada.

David Miller, president and CEO of WWF-Canada, said: “Our long-term efforts to create marine protected areas and expand protection for Lancaster Sound inevitably led to a focus on eliminating these offshore oil exploration permits and preventing the risk of a spill. The end of these permits improves the quality of the proposed protected area and allows for the boundaries to be expanded.

Paul Crowley, vice-president of Arctic conservation, WWF-Canada, said: “Today’s announcement for Lancaster Sound is a credit to the local people and organizations who have been tirelessly defending the ecological integrity of the region for more than 40 years. It was these people and groups who identified the incredible biodiversity in Lancaster Sound and who spoke out against development that would compromise it.

“This Arctic region is far from the desolate place that southerners may imagine. Marine mammals, including narwhal, polar bears, beluga and bowhead whales, return each summer to feed in nutrient-rich waters. Now that there is nothing to stop the protection of this incredible region, we can move quickly to create the Lancaster Sound National Marine Conservation Area.”

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