A polar bear nursery, a Russian oil company and one of the most beautiful islands on earth

© Leonid Bove / Greenpeace

Wrangel Island in the Arctic Ocean is a distant land of polar bears and whales, northern lights and shining ice. It’s also a nature reserve and one of only two UNESCO Natural Heritage sites in the Arctic. It should be the most peaceful place on Earth, but in the last months this peace has been shattered. A Russian oil company has been sending giant ships through its waters, where grey whales migrate all the way from Mexico, threatening this UNESCO Natural Heritage site with noisy and disruptive seismic testing activities that can harm marine life. These ships are only the beginning, eventually the company plans to use heavy machinery to drill for oil nearby.

This is a really special place. Wrangel Island is home to the world’s largest population of Pacific walrus and the highest density of polar bear dens on earth. Experts call it the Arctic’s polar bear ‘nursery’, a place where hundreds of newborn cubs are carefully looked after. Thankfully, there’s still plenty of sea ice in this area – which is crucial for the animals to learn to hunt and thrive in the wider world.

But these growing bears and walrus also need a calm environment to live in. Even small disturbances are deeply confusing for them. And yet in the last few months, we’ve discovered that Rosneft’s ships have entered the reserve at least four times in their relentless hunt for oil. At one point they spent over three days in the area.

Swimmers protest by the seismic vessel Akademic Lazarev, unfurling a banner attached to a buoy that reads 'Save the Arctic' next to the Rosneft contracted vessel. 08/15/2013 © Will Rose / Greenpeace

The company is working alongside America’s ExxonMobil, and is desperate to start this dangerous work. Their ‘license blocks’ overlap with the Wrangel Island nature reserve. This shouldn’t be allowed to happen – it’s a clear violation of Russian Federal law.

We wrote to the Prosecutor’s Office asking what the company was doing there, because we doubted it was “nature conservation” – the only activity allowed here. We haven’t heard back yet, but if the violation is confirmed, Rosneft could face a fine of up to 10,000 Euro and the vessel could be confiscated.

We’re doing everything we can to protect this reserve and the vulnerable cubs, whale calves and young walruses who live there. But Rosneft, working hand in hand with ExxonMobil, has promised bring over 100 (yes, one hundred) exploratory and production vessels to the Arctic in the coming years.

We can stop them before it’s too late. Sign the petition and ask UNESCO to intervene to stop Rosneft and protect the habitat of these incredible animals forever.

Maria Favorsky is a Communications Specialist at Greenpeace Russia.

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