In the Wake of Climate Change

by Maggie on November 7, 2017 - 8:47pm

     In the wake of climate change and declining Arctic sea ice, the federal government has entered a partnership with the Inuit of Labrador to develop a marine management plan which will govern the first Indigenous protected area in Canada.  The plan will incorporate traditional knowledge to protect heritage and cultural sites in the Arctic landscape and address environmental concerns related to water quality and wildlife.

     To mitigate the impacts of reduced Arctic sea ice, Nunatsiavut officials will focus on a strategy to govern shipping and resource extraction.  The article indicates that two zones will be created, to encompass 17,000 km2 of shoreline and to extend 200 nautical miles from the coast.  Key players involved in signing the co-operative agreement are Catherine McKenna, federal environment minister and Daryl Shiwak, minister of lands and natural development of the Nunatsiavut government.  Louie Portia, vice president of Oceans North conservation group contends the agreement ensures that industry decisions will be informed by the traditional knowledge of a community with ancestries dating back thousands of years.

     The most profound effect of reduced Arctic sea ice is the opening up of the northern passage and the potential for increased shipping traffic, resource extraction, and oil and gas exploration.  Juggling the complexity of marine ecosystem protection and increased human activity will require an adaptive management strategy that accepts uncertainty and fosters resilience.  Achieving a cooperative agreement with the federal government and early involvement of the Labrador Inuit, indicates that the marine management plan will involve shared responsibility and authority using an adaptive co-management approach.

     During the first phase of development, traditional knowledge will be gathered from elders to provide awareness of heritage sites, wildlife habitat and breeding grounds.  The article proposes that local knowledge about bird habitat may identify areas of interest for tourism and offer additional employment in the region.  Incorporating both traditional knowledge and western science equips policy makers with a broader base of expertise to form the initial plan and to define management strategies that can be refined as new information becomes available.

     The uncertainty inherent in climate change and declining Arctic sea ice presents numerous challenges and opportunities for learning.  It may also offer surprises such as species interacting in a manner that alters the marine ecosystem in unexpected ways.  By accepting uncertainty, an adaptive co-management approach can be flexible and assess problems while promoting learning and experimentation.  Developing stewardship programs to monitor and assess water quality encourages community involvement and provides employment opportunities.  As people of the ocean living in close proximity to the marine environment, they will be in the best position to respond when environmental issues occur unexpectedly.

     Addressing the complexity of climate change impacts requires an adaptive co-management strategy that embraces the curiosity to experiment and the humility to adapt.  The marine management plan is a significant opportunity for the government of Canada and the Inuit of Labrador to mitigate the effects of declining Arctic sea ice in the north.  In the wake of climate change, now is the time to act. 


Diduck, A.P., Reed, M.G., & George, C. (2015). Participatory Approaches to Resource and

Environmental Management. In B. Mitchell (Eds.), Resource and Environmental

Management in Canada: Addressing Conflict and Uncertainty (pp. 153-160). Don Mills,

ON: Oxford University Press.


The Globe and Mail. (2017). Inuit to write marine-management plan. Retrieved from