Canada's Arctic 101

Walruses, Lancaster Sound (Photo by Mario Cyr)

Walruses, Lancaster Sound (Photo by Mario Cyr)

Canada’s Arctic extends from the tree line, through the Arctic Archipelago to the North Pole. It is a vast, diverse ecosystem that is unfamiliar to most Canadians. Habitats include expansive plains, rugged coasts, glaciers and high mountains.

Vegetation includes mosses, lichens, wildflowers, grasses and shrubs that grow close to the ground. The Arctic region starts at the treeline, and only stunted patches of black spruce occur in its southern areas. Much of the Arctic is underlain by permafrost.

Why NCC protects this habitat

There is nowhere on the planet quite like the Arctic. It is a place of uncommon beauty and natural richness.

Polar bear mother and cub, Jones Sound, Nunavut (Photo by NCC)

Polar bear mother and cub, Jones Sound, Nunavut (Photo by NCC)

Many parts of the Arctic support a high variety and abundance of large mammals, including polar bear, muskox and caribou. The Arctic also has a diversity of whales and seals, and supports millions of seabirds, shorebirds and waterfowl.

Conservation needs

Canada’s marine and land ecosystems are rapidly changing as a result of climate change. Climate change is impacting the Arctic faster than any other region in Canada.

Over the past 50 years, the amount of summer sea ice in the Arctic has decreased by almost seven per cent each decade. This loss impacts the marine ecosystem in a number of ways, including increasing water temperatures and reducing areas where seals and walruses can rest. A warming Arctic sea will also open up this region to increased shipping and expand opportunities for resource extraction.

Canada's Arctic region fact sheet (NCC)

Canada's Arctic region at a glance (Click on the image to download fact sheet)

Tallurutiup Imanga/Lancaster Sound

In Canada’s high Arctic, the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) has accelerated the protection of Tallurutiup Imanga/Lancaster Sound, located north of Baffin Island, at the eastern entrance to the Northwest Passage. In 2016, Shell Canada voluntarily released to NCC 30 offshore exploratory permits near Tallurutiup Imanga/Lancaster Sound, covering 860,000 hectares (more than 8,600 km²). NCC then released the permits to the Government of Canada. This removed the last major hurdle for this region to be designated as a National Marine Conservation Area.
Inlet around Lancaster Sound, NU © Parks Canada/Diane Blanchard

Inlet around Lancaster Sound, NU © Parks Canada/Diane Blanchard

Habitats in this region include polynas, which are large areas of open water surrounded on all sides by sea ice. Polynas are critical feeding areas for many marine mammals, including harp and ringed seal, narwhal, beluga and bowhead whales, walrus and polar bear. The Arctic Ocean’s surrounding islands and coasts are important nesting habitat for seabirds.

Five facts about the Arctic region

1.    Fifty per cent of Canada’s population in this area consists of Indigenous communities.
2.    Water is the Arctic’s largest resource. This region holds about 20 per cent of the Earth’s fresh water in the form of ice.
3.    Whales that live here year-round include beluga and bowhead, with humpback, grey and killer whales visiting only in the summer.
4.    The Arctic has been described by scientists as the canary in the coal mine in terms of the impacts of global warming, as this area has been greatly impacted by rising temperatures.
5.    Several species at risk that depend on the Arctic landscape for survival, including beluga whale, polar bear, narwhal and ivory gull.

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