John Noksana Jr. can see the growing number of ships on the Arctic Ocean each summer from his home in Tuktoyaktuk, Northwest Territories, and dreads what would happen if one were to start spilling oil.
"It would devastate us as a people," he said. "Where would we get our food from? There's fish that migrate out of the Tuk harbour where people fish, there's seals and the caribou go down to the water, it's all of our staples."
Noksana, who estimates more than half his diet comes from — or is linked to the Arctic Ocean — is one of about 5,700 people living in the Beaufort Delta and the 2,800 people in northern Nunavut who could be devastated by a spill, according to a new report from the World Wildlife Fund Canada.
It says communities on the Arctic coast are ill-prepared to handle a potential spill and urges the federal government to increase funding to those communities before one happens.
"It's clear local spill response planning isn't happening," said Andrew Dumbrille, a senior shipping specialist with the WWF.
"Nationally and regionally there's been an effort to develop these strategies and plans, but locally connecting communities and community members with regulatory authorities and developing concrete spill plans isn't happening," he said.
Noting the remoteness of the Arctic Ocean, the report lists several areas where capacity to limit and clean up a spill is lacking.
Transportation to the spill site;
Storage and disposal of oil; and
Training local residents.
Dumbrille said training community members like Noksana could make a difference if a spill were to happen. The WWF is also calling on the federal government to follow through with its $1.5-billion ocean protection plan, which came last year after a tanker spill off the B.C coast.
"Community members are first responders and could be mobilized to prevent spills from spreading and reaching shorelines," he said. "Communities need to be engaged in the process and resources need to be allocated for training."
Though there hasn't been a spill in the Arctic in recent memory, there have been a few close calls, Dumbrille said.
With shipping only expected to increase, he said preparations for a spill need to be in place.
"We've been lucky and had some near misses," he said. "But we need the proper tools in place to handle development."