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They manage to paralyze a mining project that threatened the narwhal, the ‘unicorn of the sea’

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Canadian authorities they have rejected the expansion of a mining project in the Arctic that was going to operate in one of the last redoubts where the narwhal lives and that it was going to suppose its total disappearance in this region.

After four years of consultation and deliberation, the Impact Review Board of Nunavut (Canada’s northernmost region) rejected a request from Baffinland Iron Mines Corp asking to significantly increase mining on the northern tip of Baffin Island, located in said territory. The area is home to one of the richest iron ore deposits in the world and, at the same time, the densest population of narwhal in the world.

The news came as a surprise and a relief to conservationists working to protect narwhals and also to the Inuit, who depend on them for their livelihoods.

“I actually cried tears of joy,” admitted Chris Debicki, vice president and board member of the conservation organization Oceans North. The review board issued a statement Friday saying the Mary River mine expansion project had the potential to “significant and long-lasting negative effects on marine mammals, the marine environment, fish, caribou and other terrestrial wildlife, as well as on vegetation and fresh water“.

“In the Board’s view, these negative effects could also affect Inuit crops, culture, land use and food security,” he added.

Dan Vandal, Canada’s northern affairs minister, must now decide whether to side with the review board or the Baffinland company. He is expected to make his decision within the next three months, but the decision of this environmental body paves the way for the definitive annulment of the project.

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Baffinland CEO Brian Penney said in a brief online statement that the company was “shocked and disappointed” with the reportand urged the “federal government to consider all evidence and input to approve the Phase 2 application with fair and reasonable conditions.”

Its expansion project called for increasing the current 6m tonnes of iron ore a year to 12m tonnes from its northern Baffin Island port in Milne Inlet. He also wanted to build a second railway to another port, from which he intended to ship an additional 18 million tons.

The current volume of activity has already had a “devastating” impact on the narwhal populationSaid Enookie Inuarak, vice president of the Mittimatalik Hunters and Trappers Organization, in statements collected by The Guardian.

Narwhals are a type of whale recognizable by the long spear-shaped tusk that protrudes from its head. The animal is a major predator in Eclipse Sound and other Arctic waters, as well as a significant food source for Inuit in the region.

Inuarak added that successive generations of hunters have depended on hunting narwhals in the summer, when thousands of them usually go to Eclipse Sound. Because narwhal meat is rich in vitamin C, it helps keep members of the community healthy during the uninterrupted darkness of winter.

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Drastic descent of narwhals

“We depend on narwhals for diet, health and also economically,” Inuarak said, adding that their increasing absence from the region “means less of everything.”

Since Baffinland began mining operations at Mary River in 2015, the number of narwhals has drastically decreasedaccording to Arctic marine biologist Kristin Westdal.

If you look at the stats [desde 2014], you see this incredible and statistically significant decline in the narwhal population in this area. We see the numbers going down: 12,000, 10,000, 5,000, 2,000,” Westdal said.

Because narwhals use underwater echolocation to communicate with each other, noise and interference from mining transport ships force them to leave this area.

Known as the ‘unicorns of the sea’ for its beautiful fangs, which can grow up to 3 meters longthese mammals live in the arctic waters of Canada, Greenland, Norway and Russia.

Narwhals are hunted for their meat and blubber, as well as their beauties, and are on the red list of endangered species published by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The 80,000 copies in the world they face the threat of oil, gas and climate change.

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Environment section contact: crisisclimatica@prensaiberica.es

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