- Date: April 10, 2012
- Author: Margaret Williams, Managing Director, Arctic Program
When I tell people I work in the Arctic, they often ask why I’d want to live in such a cold, dark and remote place. So, I love to surprise people with stories of what this amazing region is really like. Yes, the Arctic is remote. But it is also rich, colorful, vibrant—and teeming with life.
There are so many places where you can experience the Arctic’s amazing abundance. There’s the breathtaking view of the ocean off the eastern Aleutian Islands, where you can sometimes see the air sparkling with the sun-filled mist of over 40 spouting humpback whales.
Or you might find thousands of northern fur seals gathered on the beaches of the Pribilof Islands, barking and snorting in the sea air. Or thousands of walruses resting on the northern coast of Russia’s Chukotka Peninsula.
If you visited tiny Hall Island during the short summer in the Bering Sea, you’d be surrounded by hundreds of crested auklets rising into flight around you.
And that’s just a sample of the sheer abundance of Arctic wildlife. Over 200 bird species and 50 marine mammals live just in the Bering Sea region alone—many in large concentrations. It’s one of the last places on Earth where it’s possible to literally be surrounded by crowds of wildlife.
Sometimes you can find life in very unexpected places too, like deep at the chilly bottom of the Bering Sea where cold-water coral as colorful as tropical coral has been discovered. Or under stretches of sea ice where tiny plankton live and are released into the ocean, nourishing the food chain.
Another remarkable example of the Arctic’s vibrancy is the astounding wildlife migrations that occur here. Gray whales from Mexico, humpbacks from Hawaii, and birds from every continent travel to this region to feed and breed. And let’s not forget wild Pacific salmon, which swim up to 1,000 miles to spawn and fill the rivers. That migration benefits humans too—the Arctic’s rivers and oceans are among the world’s largest sources of seafood.
And of course, there is life and inspiration to be found in the Arctic’s people—especially its indigenous people. For thousands of years they have survived and thrived here, creating a respectful balance between nature and human needs.
All of this amazing life right here in America’s “backyard,” is why I work at WWF. We have a huge opportunity for conservation here. The Arctic still has relatively little development and vast areas of intact habitat. We need to protect its productive ecosystems from the impacts of climate change and the growing development pressures that are rapidly transforming the region.
That is why we need Americans to care about the Arctic and be willing to support conservation efforts here. If that happens, we can protect this extraordinary place for both wildlife and many generations of people living in and beyond the Arctic.