Inuvialuit excited, concerned and prepared as cruise ships plan return to Arctic

·4 min read
A screenshot of the cover image for the Inuvialuit Cruise Ship Management Plan 2022-25. As the Northwest Passage remains clear of ice for longer throughout the year, Inuvialuit communities anticipate more cruise ship traffic and are preparing to the protect the environment and take advantage of potential economic opportunities.  (Inuvialuit Regional Corporation Cruise Ship Management Plan - image credit)
A screenshot of the cover image for the Inuvialuit Cruise Ship Management Plan 2022-25. As the Northwest Passage remains clear of ice for longer throughout the year, Inuvialuit communities anticipate more cruise ship traffic and are preparing to the protect the environment and take advantage of potential economic opportunities. (Inuvialuit Regional Corporation Cruise Ship Management Plan - image credit)

After a nearly two-year standstill, cruise ships will be returning to the Arctic Ocean, bringing both opportunity and concern to the communities there.

Several cruise ships have applied to pass through the Northwest Passage into the N.W.T. in 2022, according to the environmental impact screening committee's website.

The Inuvialuit Regional Corporation (IRC) released a three-year cruise ship management plan earlier this year which details how there will be an inevitable increase in traffic as the climate continues to warm and the ice on the Northwest Passage melts.

The plan acknowledges the reality of climate change and the danger it brings, but also the opportunities.

"Visiting the Inuvialuit Settlement Region by cruise ship showcases our remarkable coastal communities in a unique and memorable way," IRC Chair Duane Smith writes in the plan.

Mackenzie Scott/CBC
Mackenzie Scott/CBC

The plan outlines policies that ensure vulnerable Arctic Ocean ecosystems aren't damaged, traditional lifestyles aren't affected, beneficiaries will benefit financially and the community is protected from illnesses like COVID-19.

Pandemic fears

Ulukhaktok is among the most popular stops in the N.W.T. for cruise ships, and visitors often buy the local art.

Donna Akhiatak, an artist in Ulukhaktok and manager of the hamlet's art centre, remembers just a few years ago when tourists would arrive.

"The art centre is jam-packed full — you can barely move around in the art centre, and non-stop purchasing ... until they leave," she said.

Akhiatak is excited to see tourists again, as the fall — the usual time of year for cruise ships — has been quiet these past few years.

But she's also worried about the risk visitors could bring.

"At the same time, we have to be cautious because we're still in a pandemic," Akhiatak said.

The art centre is jam-packed full, you can barely move around in the art centre, and non-stop purchasing ... until they leave - Donna Akhiatak, Ulukhaktok artist

This was a concern shared by Paulatuk Mayor Ray Ruben Sr.

"I'd be probably put in the hot seat if I had to make the decision of a cruise ship coming or not. If I said yes, I think I'd be in hot water from a lot of people," he said.

Ruben Sr. said he thinks it's too soon and that the risk of COVID-19 entering the community would outweigh any benefits.

As a result of these concerns and others, the IRC is requiring tourists to receive permission from communities before entering. The permission will need to be proven before anyone steps ashore.

There will also be health and safety restrictions in place, including assurances no one with COVID-19 will enter any communities. That means no one aboard can have had any COVID-19 symptoms for 14 days prior to arriving.

Economic impact

The plan also outlines how anyone who disrupts someone who is fishing, hunting or trapping would be financially liable for any losses resulting from the cruise.

It also outlines opportunities for Inuvialuit.

"Operators will be expected to support the local economy," the plan reads.

This includes hiring local guides for community tours, engaging local performers for cultural tourism experiences, and purchasing arts and handicrafts from local artists.

"Local artisans express their culture and traditions through their work, and their handmade products inspired by the land provide sustainable and respectful souvenirs," the plan reads.

Inuvialuit Regional Corporation Cruise Ship Management Plan
Inuvialuit Regional Corporation Cruise Ship Management Plan

Environment impact

A major fear with the increase in boat traffic is environmental damage that could be devastating to ocean life and those who live off it.

The plan outlines federal legislation that is in place to prevent any damage to the delicate ecosystem in the Arctic Ocean.

This includes a law that prevents wastewater from being discharged from ships.

Ships often need to discharge water that can be contaminated with toxins either from the engine, or that can accumulate at the bottom. However, dumping of waste in Canadian Arctic waters is prohibited under the Arctic Shipping Safety and Pollution Prevention Regulations.

There are also zero-waste rules around garbage being left in the ocean or on land, meaning proper disposal will be enforced.

The plan also discusses establishing an Inuvialuit monitoring program, where photos would be taken before and after a cruise ship visits a site.

Caroline Cochrane/ Twitter
Caroline Cochrane/ Twitter

Cruises for the North in the North

N.W.T. Premier Caroline Cochrane said in a press conference last week that the impact of cruise ships was discussed at the Arctic Encounter Symposium in Anchorage, Alaska.

They bring "huge opportunities in tourism," she said.

Cochrane said she had a conversation with leaders from Iceland and Greenland about establishing local cruise lines between the nations that could be mutually beneficial.

"Instead of letting people come from the south and bring cruises up and not having a lot of benefit to us ... Can we look at that so cruises come from our countries and we gear them towards the communities that we want so that we can bring economic benefit to our people?" she said.

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