Until recently, most populations of polar bears were considered healthy, even growing. But in recent years, climate change has begun to take a serious toll on these impressive animals. To make matters worse, there’s another threat lurking in the waters around polar bear habitat: Oil.
Polar bears spend much of their time on Arctic sea ice, sometimes hundreds of miles from land. Surrounded by water, they share this region with ever-increasing vessel traffic. Ships and tankers of all kinds make their way through the Bering Strait (home to a wide variety of marine species) and around the Arctic, holding millions of gallons of fuel between them. Most of these ships use something called heavy fuel oil — a specific type of oil that produces more harmful emissions, would be nearly impossible to clean up in the Arctic environment, and is carried in such large quantities that a leak or spill could be catastrophic. This type of fuel has already been banned in Antarctic waters.
The remote Arctic, with its dramatic and unpredictable weather, is no place for this kind of fuel. It makes each ship a possible environmental disaster, with the potential to harm or even kill polar bears and other wildlife throughout the region. And there are safer alternatives — distillate fuels and natural gases that don’t carry the same potential risks.
Vessel traffic through the Arctic will only increase as a warming climate means less and less sea ice. This is a threat we must address now. Ask officials to place a ban on heavy fuel oil use in the Arctic, and reduce this threat to a pristine environment and the polar bears and other wildlife that depend on it.