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Executive Summary for August 19th

In this weekly roundup, we review and analyze the latest news and key developments in the Arctic, including climate refugees in Alaska and the departure of the Crystal Serenity on its Northwest Passage cruise.

Published on Aug. 19, 2016 Read time Approx. 3 minutes

Alaskan Village Votes to Relocate in Face of Climate Change

After years of watching rising sea levels and stronger storms eat away at the coastline, the village of Shishmaref, Alaska, has decided that it must relocate.

The decision for the community, located near the Bering Strait, was not an easy one. According to NPR, the vote was split, 94 in favor of relocation to 78 votes to stay in place with added safety measures to protect against further erosion.

Esau Sinnock, an Arctic youth ambassador, wrote in a blog post that his village of 650 people had lost “2,500 3,000 feet [750–900 meters] of land to coastal erosion,” forcing the relocation of 13 houses in 15 years. “Within the next two decades, the whole island will erode away completely,” wrote Sinnock.

The village had voted to relocate in a 2002 poll, but lacked resources to do so, the Guardian reported. This move is estimated to cost $180 million, it said.

By 2050, between 50 million and 200 million people may be displaced by climate change. In February, the U.S. federal government granted $48 million to relocate 60 people from Isle de Jean Charles, Louisiana, which was being subsumed into the Gulf of Mexico, the article said.

Crystal Serenity Heads for the Northwest Passage

The Crystal Serenity, a luxury cruise ship holding about 1,600 passengers and crew, set sail from Seward, Alaska, for a 32-day trip that will send it through the Northwest Passage on its way to New York.

It is the largest ship ever to attempt the transit of the Northwest Passage, a labyrinthine route through the rocky islands that make up the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. The passage was as good as blocked more than a century ago, reports National Geographic, but as the Arctic sea ice has retreated, it has been transited by smaller expedition-style cruises, cargo ships and research icebreakers. In 2012, 30 vessels made their way through the route.

The ship’s size could prove to be a problem in the Northwest Passage where rocks, shallows and sea ice could thwart its attempt. At times, coast guard aid will be more than 11 hours and 1,600 km (1,000 miles) away, reported the Telegraph. Canadian Coast Guard officials told the Nunatsiaq News that ice conditions for its transit are “extremely favorable.”

Many northern communities are eagerly anticipating the Serenity’s arrival, reports the Nunatsiaq News. They hope the tourists will boost local economies and learn about local culture.

The ship’s first stop in Canada will be in Ulukhaktok, Northwest Territories, on August 29, where preparations began in 2014, reported the CBC. But the picnic tables, portapotties and event tents the community ordered will not arrive until two weeks after the ship has passed through town, due to delays with the summer sealift.

Polar Bear Hides Microchipped to Prevent Smuggling

Conservation officers in some Nunavut and Labrador communities are inserting microchips into polar bear hides to track their provenance, reports the CBC.

The pilot project, which was launched this year, is part of an effort to stop the trafficking of wildlife and will provide additional information to wildlife officer to help manage a sustainable hunt. The officers are also collecting DNA samples, reported the Nunatsiaq News.

Wildlife officers say the microchips will help guarantee that only legally hunted polar bear hides go to auction, where they can fetch around CAN$20,000 ($15,500).

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