Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Nunavut March 07, 2012 - 4:33 pm

More consultation needed on Lancaster Sound, QIA says

"It would be in everyone’s best interest to get back to the table as soon as possible"

SPECIAL TO NUNATSIAQ NEWS
Lancaster Sound, or Tallurutiup Tariunga, as it is called in Inuktitut, is home to thousands of species including seals, polar bears, walrus, beluga whales, killer whales and narwhals. (FILE PHOTO)
Lancaster Sound, or Tallurutiup Tariunga, as it is called in Inuktitut, is home to thousands of species including seals, polar bears, walrus, beluga whales, killer whales and narwhals. (FILE PHOTO)
The federal government’s proposed boundaries for the Lancaster Sound marine conservation area would include most of the waters of Lancaster Sound and waters surrounding Bylot Island, including all of Eclipse Sound. (PARKS CANADA HANDOUT MAP)
The federal government’s proposed boundaries for the Lancaster Sound marine conservation area would include most of the waters of Lancaster Sound and waters surrounding Bylot Island, including all of Eclipse Sound. (PARKS CANADA HANDOUT MAP)
You can find copies of the QIA's new report on Lancaster Sound online, at its Iqaluit office or through local community liaison officers.
You can find copies of the QIA's new report on Lancaster Sound online, at its Iqaluit office or through local community liaison officers.

TERESA SMITH
Postmedia News

The federal government should consult with Inuit who live in the High Arctic before finalizing the boundaries of a National Marine Conservation Area around Lancaster Sound, says a report, Tallurutiup Tariunga Inulik: Inuit Participation in Determining the Future of Lancaster Sound, released March 6 by the Qikiqtani Inuit Association.

“We want the government to commit to working with the local communities to co-manage the important waterway,” said QIA president Okalik Eegeesiak.

Lancaster Sound, or Tallurutiup Tariunga, as it’s called in Inuktitut, is home to thousands of species including seals, polar bears, walrus, beluga whales, killer whales and narwhals.

It serves as the eastern gateway to the Northwest Passage — both for large ships and migrating animals — so it is not only a strategically significant shipping area in a warming Arctic but also an important traditional hunting ground.

For that reason, Eegeesiak and the communities that the QIA represents want a prime seat at the table with the federal and territorial governments as they hammer out the boundaries of the proposed zone, where hunting and fishing would be allowed but oil and gas exploration would be forbidden.

Previous boundary options have primarily been based on physical geography, biology and resource potential, but the QIA said it hopes to arrive at a border that will include consideration for Inuit occupancy and conservation preferences.

Eegeesiak said she hopes the report will initiate boundary negotiations which she said have been stalled since a 2010 promise from former environment minister John Baird that the government was committed to preserving the region.

The area has been a hotbed of debate since 2009 when, after the government initially said it wanted to declare the northern waters a National Marine Conservation Area, environmental groups highlighted controversial plans by the Geological Survey of Canada to conduct seismic testing in the area — the kind of seabed survey that may pose risk to marine mammals and can serve as a prelude to oil exploration.

After the government contracted a German ship to conduct the survey, the QIA slapped the government with a court injunction, halting the survey in the summer of 2010.

Then, in an apparent about face in Dec. 2010, Baird made an announcement scrapping plans for further seismic surveys and laying out generous boundaries for the proposed conservation zone.

Said Baird at the time: “Our government is sending a clear message to the world that Canada takes responsibility for environmental protection in our Arctic waters.”

Eegeesiak says, apart from an agreement signed last week with Parks Canada to begin a feasibility study, not much has happened since 2010.

“If the federal government truly supports the creation of a marine park, then it would be in everyone’s best interest to get back to the table as soon as possible,” she said, warning that if the process is delayed further, there’s a threat of oil and gas exploration and development.

Before the boundaries of the Natural Marine Conservation Area can be finalized, a mineral and energy resources assessment — which is already underway to determine whether and how much oil, gas and other minerals lie below the waters — must be completed.

The report points out that Royal Dutch Shell continues to hold dormant offshore exploration leases just outside Baird’s proposed boundaries.

Digital copies of the report can be found on the QIA website.

There are also a limited number of hard copies of the report available at the QIA’s office in Iqaluit or with Community Liaison Officers.

with files from Randy Boswell and Nunatsiaq News

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