In northeastern Canada, on the western edge of Baffin Bay, lies one of the most biologically rich marine places in the Arctic—the Tallurutiup Imanga National Marine Conservation Area (also known as Lancaster Sound). Soon Inuit who live in this region, at the eastern entrance to Canada’s Northwest Passage, will begin participating in management of the area and continue benefiting from its extraordinary ecological value.
This week, the Canadian government and the Qikiqtani Inuit Association, representing more than 14,000 Inuit from the region, announced the negotiation of a precedent-setting deal, the Tallurutiup Imanga Inuit Impact and Benefit Agreement (IIBA). This pact—once approved by the Canadian government—will complete the largest unified land and water protected area in Canada and, importantly, achieve one-fifth of the country’s goal of protecting 10 percent of Canadian waters by 2020.
The Tallurutiup Imanga IIBA would create significant opportunities for economic development, infrastructure, job training, and, ultimately, employment for Inuit—benefits that are on par in value with protecting marine mammals and scenery. In fact, one community in the region is developing a pilot Tallurutiup Imanga guardian program to provide training and environmental protection jobs.
Inuit have sought protections for these vital Arctic waters for 50 years, an effort that started after the government unexpectedly granted oil exploration leases for the area in 1968. Along the way, historic negotiations between the federal government and Nunavummiut created the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement (1993) and the territory of Nunavut (1999). The Tallurutiup Imanga IIBA, a new type of conservation deal that allows for Indigenous management of the area while providing jobs for Indigenous communities, comes at the right time. As climate change warms the Arctic waters at twice the rate of the rest of the planet, more ships and multinational industries are arriving in the region, posing increasing threats to the abundant waters, ice, and land that have sustained Inuit and their culture for millennia.
Tallurutiup Imanga covers 110,000 square kilometres (42,470 square miles) of ocean. Coupled with the adjacent 22,199-square-kilometer (8,570-square-mile) Sirmilik National Park, the IIBA will expand protections in the area to larger than the provinces of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia combined.
It has taken hundreds of years, but Inuit are making real progress in gaining management of their cultural and biological resources to better sustain them for future generations. This conservation area, including how it was developed, will serve as a model by Greenland and Canada in expanding Inuit management into additional marine protected areas in the adjacent North Water Polynya. The Pew Charitable Trusts will continue to work with conservation partners, local Indigenous communities, and the Canadian government to ensure that the Tallurutiup Imanga is preserved for generations to come.
Steve Ganey directs The Pew Charitable Trusts’ land and ocean programs and oversees Arctic marine projects.