/ ©: Paul Nicklen/National Geographic Stock / WWF-Canada

Shipping in the Arctic

Driven by an ever increasing global demand for commodities like energy and mining products, and the continuing shrinkage of Arctic summer sea ice, ship traffic is likely grow significantly over the next few decades -- a trend that will increase the pressure on this relatively pristine area.
Two major Arctic routes are increasingly navigable in the summer:
  • The Northwest Passage (Canada) would save two weeks in travelling time versus the Panama Canal.
  • the Northern Sea Route (Russia) is already in use by commercial ships.
Although the routes will not be open year round, companies are already investing billions of dollars in tankers capable of going through ice.
 / ©: WWF
Shipping routes in the Arctic and 2011 summer sea ice extent.
© WWF

What WWF is doing

  • Mapping data on Arctic species, ecosystems, cultures and industry that will help us make concrete policy recommendations pertaining to Arctic ship traffic.
  • Advocating for a strong Polar Code, currently under discussion in the International Maritime Organization, which will set legally binding environmental requirements for all ships in the Arctic.
  • Working to establish PSSAs (particularly sensitive sea areas) to protect vulnerable areas from shipping activities


Our vision for Arctic shipping

  • Ships venturing into Arctic waters must be prepared for Arctic conditions, especially those carrying ecologically hazardous cargos.
  • Operational practices for ships operating in Arctic waters should include measures forbidding the discharge of ballast waters in Arctic areas to prevent the introduction of alien species.
  • These measures need to be backed up with monitoring and enforcement.

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