Today, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) Maritime Safety Committee approved a United States-Russia joint proposal to implement voluntary ship routing measures in the Bering Strait. Ship traffic will now be guided into safer shipping routes in the U.S. and Russian waters of the Strait. Additionally, the new measures identify three environmentally sensitive areas to be avoided near King Island, St. Lawrence Island, and Nunivak Island.
The Bering Strait is a narrow pinch point that connects the Bering Sea and the North Pacific Ocean to the Arctic Ocean. This international waterway serves as a major migratory corridor for the marine mammals and seabirds that journey to and from the Arctic each year. Arctic communities rely on the abundant waters to sustain their traditional subsistence way of life. The route has seen an increase in shipping traffic as the Arctic sea ice melts away.
“The IMO’s action will help mitigate the risks that international shipping poses to the Arctic,” said Oceana’s Senior Scientist and Campaign Manager, Jon Warrenchuk. “We applaud the international cooperation that recognized that the Arctic is special and worthy of protection. This is a huge step forward in improving maritime safety and reducing the potential for negative interactions between industrial vessels transiting the Bering Strait, the Arctic ecosystem and communities that rely on the area’s diverse marine life.”
The new protections build on Oceana’s collaborative efforts to identify areas of high ecological importance for marine species such as whales, ice seals, polar bears, and walrus and advocate for their protection.