Sirmilik National Park and Lancaster Sound (proposed) National Marine Conservation Area is an exceptional representation of the high Arctic coastal ecosystem. The proposed property illustrates the outstanding cultural heritage of Paleo-Eskimo, Thule, Inuit and European peoples over the last three thousand years and exhibits a living culture that is integral to the surrounding marine environment. It is a vast land-, sea-, and ice-scape of glaciers, wetlands, coastal, marine, and freshwater environments. Ice is the predominant feature, providing ecological and cultural connectivity across the entire region.
Polynyas play a crucial role in the development of ice edge ecosystems. Intense primary production by algae creates biological 'hotspots' that marine mammals and birds rely on as overwintering sites, migratory stop-overs and spring feeding areas. The incomparable abundance and productivity of the region has ensured the survival of Inuit culture and traditional subsistence living.
Approximately 3600 people live in five adjacent communities (Pond Inlet, Arctic Bay, Resolute Bay, Grise Fiord and Clyde River). Primarily Inuit, they continue to use the travel routes and hunter gatherer traditions of their seasonal round.
The proposed property is one of the most productive and diverse Arctic marine areas in the world. It is an exceptional representation of human integration with high Arctic coastal ecosystems and a vast land-sea- and ice-scape that tells the story of human occupation over millennia. It is also a living cultural landscape where Inuit are integral to the ecosystem.
Lancaster Sound is incomparable in the Arctic in that it remains ice-free most of the year. Nutrient rich, it is a polar oasis and a major migratory corridor for beluga, bowhead, walrus and harp seal. Home to 75% of the world’s Narwhal population it is critical habitat for iconic species such as the polar bear and IUCN red-listed “near-threatened” species like Narwhal, Ivory gull and Beluga.
The region has supported the Inuit seasonal round for millennia as demonstrated by forty-six known archaeological sites and continued subsistence living use to this day. Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit carries the collective experience and harvesting traditions used at these same hotspots for generations.
Criterion (v): Sirmilik National Park and Lancaster Sound (proposed) NMCA, together, is an outstanding example of land-, sea-, and ice-use which is representative of Inuit culture and Inuit interaction with the Arctic environment as it becomes vulnerable under the impact of climate change, nearby industrial development and “modernization”.
Criterion (ix): The remarkable size and distinctive ecosystems processes of the site make it one of the most productive Arctic coastal regions in the world. It contains an exceptional diversity of Arctic terrestrial and marine ecosystems and fully supports all essential ecological processes in the region.
Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit (traditional knowledge) passes on the cultural heritage and subsistence living traditions across generations, resulting in remarkable authenticity. All major groups and time periods spanning more than 3000 years of indigenous occupancy are represented. Centered on the traditional land- sea- and ice- use of the Paleo-Eskimo, Thule and Inuit communities as well as European exploration are forty-six known archaeological sites, including four temporary camps, a quarry, whaling and exploration sites, a shipwreck, caches, a cairn and a flagstaff. Together they establish the sea mammal harvesting and travel routes used from ancient times through to present.
The proposed property is an exceptionally intact high Arctic coastal ecosystem, containing all elements necessary to ensure continuity of key ecological processes, cultural heritage and traditional use of land, sea and ice over at least 3000 years. The vast size of the area supports the needs of Inuit and provides ecological resilience, especially in the context of climate change. The lack of development provides a very high degree of natural integrity. The proposed property has maximum legal protection, including the prohibition of oil, gas, and mineral extraction. Further consultation is required as Inuit-owned land parcels could enhance the integrity of the area.
This comparative analysis provides a review of similar sites. Sirmilik National Park and Lancaster Sound (proposed) NMCA would be the only site in the world to represent a high Arctic cultural land –sea and –icescape with outstanding Arctic marine productivity and ecosystem representation including distinctive Inuit heritage.
Pimachiowin Aki (UNESCO World Heritage List – nomination in progress)
Pimachiowin Aki is a cultural landscape of Ojibwe people in the boreal shield of Canada. The cultural tradition is tangible in harvesting sites, habitation sites, travel routes, named places, and pictographs. The proposed property is similar in that Inuit are an integral part of the ecosystem; however, it is an Arctic marine environment and the cultural heritage is Paleo-Eskimo, Thule and Inuit.
Papahanaumokuakea UNESCO World Heritage Site
Papahanaumokuakea (USA) is a mixed site with marine ecosystems and deep traditional significance for living Native Hawaiian culture. One of the largest marine protected areas in the world, the geomorphologic history of the archipelago has led to an extraordinary range of habitats and features. The proposed property also exhibits a living culture that is integral to the surrounding marine environment. Again, the major distinction is that the environment is an Arctic ecosystem and the culture is Inuit.
Ilulissat Icefjord UNESCO World Heritage Site
Ilulissat Icefjord, one of only two inscribed Arctic sites, is the world’s largest and fastest moving glacier ice field. The natural criteria for which it is inscribed focuses on earth’s geological history. Sirmilik National Park and the Lancaster Sound (proposed) NMCA focuses on large intact Arctic ecosystems and exceptional marine productivity.
Wrangel Island UNESCO World Heritage Site
Wrangel Island is a Russian island ecosystem with the highest level of species biodiversity in the Arctic. By contrast, the proposed property focuses on large intact Arctic ecosystems, outstanding marine productivity and cultural criteria. Moreover, the state of conservation for the Wrangel Island site is questionable due to military base development.
Quttinirpaaq National Park (Currently on Canada’s Tentative List)
Quttinirpaaq is a Canadian site with exceptional cultural testimony to Paleo-Eskimo occupation in the Arctic. Sirmilik represents a more recent period of human occupation. Quttinirpaaq is predominantly a polar desert whereas the proposed property represents large intact Arctic ecosystems with a predominantly coastal component and outstanding marine productivity.