The plight of the polar bear is so dire due to the shrinking of sea ice crucial to its habitat that some scientists are musing about moving them to a “last ice area” in the high Arctic.
The belief is that polar bear survival is reaching a tipping point because of the retreating sea ice. Currently, there are 150 to 160 ice-free days in the Arctic each year. Once that number reaches 170, Andrew Derocher, a University of Alberta polar bear researcher, frets the bear population will decline by up to 40 per cent.
That prediction has Derocher calling for drastic action.
“It’s very clear that populations in the southern regions of the polar bear range are going to disappear,” argues Derocher. “The best thing we can do is have areas set aside where they can live relatively undisturbed.”
And it isn’t just academics who are worried. Soft drink giant Coca-Cola is teaming up with the World Wildlife Fund to raise awareness about the Arctic icon’s fate.
This Christmas, Coke will change 94 million of its iconic red cans to white to raise awareness about the fate of the polar bear. The company will also donate up to $3 million to WWF over the next five years.
“They [WWF] bring the know-how to us on what needs to be done. And it’s science-based. And we bring them the reach and the marketing on how to create awareness of the program,” said Nicola Kettlitz, president of Coca-Cola Canada.
The money is going to fund two WWF efforts. One will be a series of conservation projects in the North. The other will focus on the science of sea-ice retreat and pin-pointing the location of the last year-round ice. This will be where the WWF hopes to create a “last ice area,” a final natural home for wild polar bears.
The most likely spot for the ice reserve is near the northern tips of Ellesmere Island and Greenland. When a final location is agreed upon, industry will need to be told what it can and cannot do in that area.
A “last ice area” may sound somewhat depressing, but WWF doesn’t think so.
“We look at it as one of the more optimistic things that has come out of the Arctic in a long time. I think it has been unfortunate that in the last 10 years most of the news about the Arctic has been bad,” said Gerald Butts, president and CEO of WWF Canada.