When we think of ocean species, we most often envision whales, dolphins, and fish. Rarely do we think of polar bears—but they are also iconic species of the Arctic Ocean. Polar bears’ lives depend wholly on the sea, their main source of food, and they rely on sea ice as a platform to hunt seals, take rests, and breed.
But those sheets of sea ice that cover swathes of the Arctic Ocean—and are a necessity for polar bears’ survival—are disappearing. Summer Arctic sea ice has been dwindling for the past 20 years as a direct result of climate change. This means polar bears, who come ashore when ice melts, must wait longer for the ice to refreeze in order to hunt and eat. They face malnutrition and—in extreme cases—starvation.
“The greatest long-term threat to polar bears is the loss of their sea ice habitat in a warming Arctic, and reducing greenhouse gases is the only way to curb that threat,” said Margaret Williams, managing director of WWF’s Arctic program.
But it’s not all grim news for these unique and magnificent creatures. Experts around the globe are collaborating to develop a recovery plan for polar bears. In the past year, a team of more than 30 polar bear experts—including WWF’s Elisabeth Kruger—put their heads together with the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to map out a path toward polar bear resiliency in the Arctic.
The USFWS plan also struck a chord with citizens interested in stopping the threats that are causing the decline of polar bear populations. More than 268,000 people signed a WWF petition in support of the plan, applauding its acknowledgement of the need to reduce greenhouse gasses to help polar bears recover their numbers. Those signatories also called for the plan to offer additional focus on the threats associated with oil and gas development in the Arctic.
By working together—governments, experts and citizens alike—we can protect polar bears and their Arctic home.
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