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State-of-The Art Mapping Tool Advances Understanding of Oil Spill Response and Conservation in the Arctic


Reporter Contact:

Haley McKey, 202-772-0247, 571-480-2113 hmckey@defenders.org

Allison Dunbar, Alaska Associate: 404-694-5776

Rhonda Sparks, Arctic Community Liaison: 907-717-7306


State-of-The Art Mapping Tool Advances Understanding of Oil Spill Response and Conservation in the Arctic

WASHINGTON (January 19, 2016) – Defenders of Wildlife, working in collaboration with Axiom Data Science and the Alaska Ocean Observing System (AOOS) launched the Bering Strait Response Teaching Tool (BSRTT) today to advance conservation of marine life and habitat in the Bering Strait region.  

The BSRTT is designed as both a teaching tool and a pathway for sharing information and resources amongst Bering Strait indigenous communities, spill response organizations, agencies, scientists and the public to respond to threats posed to Arctic marine life from oil spills. This tool will be available to all state and federal and tribal spill response agencies and organizations in the Arctic. With an appropriate internet connection speed, anyone can view and use the BSRTT.

Statement from Defenders of Wildlife Alaska Program Director Karla Dutton:

“Mapping applications like the Bering Strait Response and Teaching Tool are the future of conservation, and Defenders is creating and expanding the use of these tools to change the way we achieve conservation in the Arctic today. We developed the tool for the Bering Strait region because is a globally significant marine mammal migratory area faced with declining sea ice due to climate change increased vessel traffic and heightened spill risk.

“The Bering Strait Response and Teaching Tool integrates a massive amount of data into a focused map experience that clearly reveals the risks to Pacific walruses, polar bears and other marine life from oil spills in the Bering Strait. It can also help people better understand their training options ahead of a spill, so they can respond quickly to spills and reduce the risk in the first place.”

Statement from Defenders of Wildlife Arctic Community Liaison Rhonda Sparks:

“Alaska Native communities have extremely valuable indigenous knowledge of marine wildlife and habitat, yet they remain poorly integrated into spill response and preparedness throughout the region. Defenders is taking this tool out to indigenous communities to bridge this information gap and ultimately help protect polar bears, Pacific walruses and other marine wildlife in the Bering Strait. We’re excited to work with communities to think through spill response and emergency preparedness together.”

Statement from AOOS Director of Administration and Outreach Holly Kent:

“Making marine safety and spill response information more accessible to the public is a main concern for AOOS. The more data available about the landscape and its features, the easier it will be for people, to make informed choices that reduce risk to people and wildlife alike. Anyone with sufficient internet connection speed can use the BSRTT.”

To learn more about the BSRTT, what it's for and why it's needed, check out our video

Learn more about Defenders of Wildlife's conservation work in Alaska. 

Check out our blog on the BSRTT. 


What it’s for:

  • The Bering Strait Response Teaching Tool focuses on the marine mammal populations and communities in the Bering Strait region that are at higher risk to oil spills due to increased vessel traffic climate change-induced sea ice melt.

  • The BSRTT is a realistic first step in bridging the gap between spill preparedness and response agencies and the 15 at-risk Bering Strait communities by providing an easily accessible pathway for data sharing. Better local engagement is identified as a major need to reduce impacts and mortalities to marine mammals in the event of a spill.

  • The BSRTT will serve as a tool to improve local engagement and will also become part of the region-wide Northwest Arctic Mapping Portal Tool that will be utilized by all state, federal and tribal spill response agencies and organizations in the Arctic.

Why it’s needed:

  • Increased shipping in the Arctic due to longer ice-free seasons greatly increases the odds of a spill impacting marine wildlife and the communities that depend on them.

  • However, Alaska Native communities and their indigenous knowledge of marine wildlife and habitat remain poorly integrated into spill response and preparedness throughout the region.

  • To help narrow this gap and improve spill response, Defenders of Wildlife developed an interactive mapping application that helps incorporate indigenous knowledge of marine wildlife into spill preparedness, planning and drills.

How Defenders will use the BSRTT to help Arctic marine wildlife:

  • The BSRTT will be utilized with the Arctic Marine Mammal Spill Response and Preparedness Synthesis (Synthesis), which will include a review of relevant documents covering oil spill response plans and efforts in relation to Arctic marine mammal wildlife and at-risk local communities.

  • The Synthesis will focus on the Alaska Arctic region, and will highlight gaps and key recommendations and actions to improve Arctic marine wildlife response in the Arctic. The Synthesis will be used a resource for the Arctic Marine Mammal Spill Response 101 Training (101 Training). The Synthesis will be completed in summer 2017.

  • The BSRTT and Synthesis will frame a Defenders-sponsored 101 Training being developed with 15 Bering Strait communities, beginning January 2017. The Bering Strait community engagement and the 101 Spill Training development work is led by Rhonda Sparks, our Arctic Community Liaison in Nome, Alaska.

  • The BSRTT, the Synthesis and 101 Training are significant components of Defender’s Alaska offices’ multi-year Arctic marine mammal work. Improved early response and engagement of local communities into current state and federal spill response plans is the major goal of Defenders’ multiyear work and has been identified and confirmed as a major need by the U.S. Coast Guard, NOAA, Department of Interior and numerous other regional spill response entities.


Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With more than 1.2 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. For more information, visit www.defenders.org and follow us on Twitter @DefendersNews.

The Alaska Oceanic Observing System strives to increase access to existing coastal and ocean data, package information and data in useful ways to meet the needs of stakeholders, and increase observing and forecasting capacity in all regions of the state, with a priority on the Arctic and Gulf of Alaska. AOOS programmatic focus areas are safe marine operations, coastal hazard mitigation, tracking ecosystem and climate trends and monitoring water quality. Visit www.aoos.org to learn more.