A review of the planned shipping activity for the Baffinland Mary River Project: assessing the hazards to marine mammals and migratory birds, and identifying gaps in proposed mitigation measures
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Exploration for minerals, oil, and natural gas, as well as their exploitation and transportation, is heavily reliant on marine transportation. Global demand for these natural resources, as well as a rise in Arctic warming and a loss of ice-cover, has led to increased interest in the economic potential of the region. As a result, stronger ice-resistant vessels are being constructed to meet the growing commercial demand, designed to endure the hazards posed by the harsh northern operating conditions. However, the Arctic marine environment remains exceptionally vulnerable to disturbance from shipping activity. This project identifies and assesses potential threats to marine mammals and migratory birds from the proposed shipping activities of the Baffinland Mary River Project, specifically threats to the Bowhead Whale, Atlantic Walrus, Common Eider, and Thick-billed Murre. Specifically, this project assesses hazards including oil pollution, disturbance from vessel strikes, noise, light, and disturbance to habitat due to icebreaking. While it was determined that the possibility of an oil spill occurring along the shipping route represents the greatest risk to wildlife with respect to consequence, it is less likely that such an incident will occur compared to the other threats considered. Furthermore, while the immediate consequences of these other threats are not as high, the cumulative impacts of these hazards are a major concern. As such, several methods for minimizing the risks to marine mammals and migratory birds are proposed. The intent is to establish a benchmark for minimizing environmental risks from future development in the Canadian Arctic. Therefore, it is critical that legislation, policy, and enforcement be incorporated into risk management strategies, in order to minimize immediate acute disturbances as well as the cumulative impacts caused by shipping activity over the life of a project.