Marine life is abundant throughout the Arctic Ocean’s Beaufort and Chukchi seas. But a recent synthesis of the best available science supports the idea that certain areas—often those with distinct physical or oceanographic features—make exceptional contributions to ecosystem function and indigenous peoples’ way of life. These sites have characteristics that make them important migration routes; provide vital habitat for marine mammal breeding, spawning, or foraging; and offer ideal conditions for the microscopic organisms that form the foundation of the marine food web. They are also crucial to the long-term health of the wildlife that are the foundation of subsistence activities important to the spiritual, nutritional, and cultural well-being of the region’s communities.
Setting the most important marine areas aside from oil and gas development is a positive step toward striking a balance between those activities and conservation in the region. This work demands ongoing evaluation, in consultation with local indigenous communities and with scientists, to identify important areas in the U.S. Arctic Ocean that should be exempted from development to promote a healthy, sustainable, and resilient ecosystem for the long term.