Alaskan Marine Arctic Conservation Action Plan for the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas
The Alaska chapter of The Nature Conservancy developed a plan for the Arctic marine region of the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas, which identified priority conservation targets and stressors and delineated potential strategies for improving conservation and management actions. Climate change and its effects are identified as the primary threats to natural resources of ecological and cultural importance in the region.
The Arctic marine environment of Alaska is home to many species of ecological and cultural importance, including polar bears, bowhead whales, seals, seabirds, and fish. Climate change-related threats to the region include habitat and species loss, changes in community structure, habitat alteration, and the resulting effects on indigenous communities and the economy. Melting sea ice is of primary concern as its disappearance will lead to increased development and expansion of commercial fisheries, energy exploration and production, and transportation lanes, which may, in turn, increase the risk of oil spills, ship strikes, and habitat degradation or destruction. The Alaska chapter of The Nature Conservancy developed a plan to guide the chapter’s response to these threats. The plan covers coastal, nearshore, and marine environments of the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas within the Exclusive Economic Zone of the State of Alaska.
An expert advisory panel and stakeholder input were used to provide guidance for the development of the plan, which identifies conservation targets, stressors, and strategies. Six conservation targets were chosen:
- Bowhead Whale;
- Ice-Dependent Marine Mammals (e.g., Pacific walrus, polar bear, and ringed, spotted, bearded, and ribbon seals);
- Boulder Patch Communities (support rare Arctic kelp species);
- Benthic Fauna (e.g., sea stars, barnacles, sponges); and
- Arctic Fish.
Five stressors were identified that threaten the Arctic marine ecosystem:
- Climate Change;
- Energy Exploration, Development, and Production;
- Transportation and Shipping;
- Fisheries; and
- Cumulative Impacts.
The plan also provides recommendations to improve conservation and management in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas. These include:
- Promoting climate adaptation strategies and integrated ecosystem-based management;
- Investing in research and data collection, especially to establish baseline datasets;
- Encouraging collaboration between different sectors, including federal and state agencies, managers, industry, local communities, and conservation groups, especially around marine spatial planning opportunities in the region;
- Identifying and protecting climate refugia, especially for ice-dependent animals;
- Protecting the cultural practices of subsistence communities;
- Supporting precautionary approaches to planning and management; and
- Encouraging consideration of natural systems in future development of fisheries, energy exploration, and transportation lanes.
The creation of the plan was funded with grants from Shell Oil International and the Oak Foundation. The Alaska chapter worked with the University of Alaska-Fairbanks to develop climate scenarios to support the development of adaptation strategies.
Outcomes and Conclusions
This plan is an internal guidance document to direct the Alaska chapter’s actions. The plan identifies strategies for The Nature Conservancy to use to address climate change in their conservation efforts.
Gregg, R. M. (2021). Alaskan Marine Arctic Conservation Action Plan for the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas [Case study on a project of The Nature Conservancy - Anchorage]. Version 2.0. Product of EcoAdapt's State of Adaptation Program. Retrieved from CAKE: https://www.cakex.org/case-studies/alaskan-marine-arctic-conservation-action-plan-chukchi-and-beaufort-seas (Last updated July 2021)