With increased vessel traffic in the Arctic and the region attracting new attention from the tourist and industrial sectors, a new committee has formed to develop the best practices for managing Arctic waterways.
The Arctic Waterways Safety Committee held its first formal meeting this month in Juneau, electing its officers and meeting with the governor and Alaska's state committee on the Arctic.
"It is critical that we educate our state government on the importance of this effort to establish management principles for Alaska's Arctic waterways," said committee chairman Willie Goodwin. "Research, tourism and international commercial traffic increasingly are making use of the state's waters and we need to make sure all waterway users remain safe as this traffic grows."
For committee members from Arctic coastal communities, the committee's focus on protecting subsistence uses in the region is paramount.
"Our Arctic coastal communities rely heavily on the ocean for our food gathering," said George Noongwook of Savoonga on St. Lawrence Island. "In the Bering Strait region, the increases in large vessel traffic are becoming a very serious concern for our people on the water gathering food."
Other committee members have backgrounds in marine operations, such as offshore oil and gas development and tug and barge operations. Improved communication, mapping and marine policies have been hot topics as traffic over the north of Russia has drawn an increasing number of vessels from Asia and Europe to Arctic waters.
Meetings of the self-governing, multi-stakeholder committee are open to the public. The next meeting is scheduled for June 8 in Anchorage. Information will be posted on the AWSC's new website, arcticwaterways.org.