Does anyone live in the Arctic Circle?

Who Lives in the Arctic?

Around 12.5 percent of the four million people belong to indigenous peoples, for example the Alëuts, Athabasken, Gwich’in, Inuit, Sami and the many indigenous peoples of the Russian Arctic. The indigenous peoples live on three different continents, mostly in the coastal areas, and are separated from one another by their natural habitat. Climate change threatens the original habitat of many indigenous peoples:

Higher temperatures mean melting ice surfaces and thawing permafrost soil. This endangers the basis of life for people, animals and plants. Dwindling ice surfaces, for example, make traditional seal hunting more difficult and thus deprive many locals of a valuable source of income. At the same time, with the fishing, new sources of food and income are opening up through the water bodies that are being formed.

Life in the arctic ice

Many indigenous peoples still live in isolation today, but already in solid and modern houses. However, they still keep some traditions: For the Sami, reindeer farming is still an important basis for their independence. In the past they followed the herd on their hike, but now they own modern snowmobiles. These make the original nomadic life largely obsolete, because they can cover greater distances faster and transport more at the same time.

In addition to humans, the Arctic is also populated by many animals: around 75 species of mammals live there today - 16 of them alone on or under the ice. Animals in the Arctic Circle include seals, walruses, arctic foxes, mountain hares, reindeer and musk oxen. Probably the best-known inhabitant of the Arctic is the polar bear, next to the Kodiak bear the largest land predator on earth. However, it is also one of the mammals most threatened by climate change.

Because with the ice, its hunting area also melts: In winter and spring, the polar bear is busy building up a fat reserve for the summer months. This is usually done by hunting seals from ice floes - but the hunt, especially young animals, is made more difficult by dwindling ice surfaces. If the bears are stranded on the mainland due to the receding ice, they sometimes have to starve for several months or feed on other animals and grasses. Because here they are seen much faster by seals, who can then get to safety in good time.

Habitat for animals is dwindling

While many other living beings could not survive at temperatures as low as minus 50 degrees Celsius, the animals in the Arctic are dependent on precisely this circumstance. Climate change is not only changing the habitat of polar bears, seals and co., It is also making it more difficult for bears to hunt as the basis of their diet. At the same time, animals actually living in the south are spreading in the Arctic and are challenging their original inhabitants for their habitat.

Challenges and new perspectives

What means smaller hunting areas and greater competitive pressure for animals, poses greater challenges for people in terms of food supply and the transport of people. Settlements are literally on the brink, paths and streets are sinking: The melting of the sea ice cover and rising sea levels lead to coastal erosion, which is also favored by the thawing permafrost. As a result, not only the settlements and houses lose their stability, but also the infrastructure.

At the same time, however, other perspectives are opening up for the Arctic inhabitants: New schools of fish are entering the Arctic from the south as a result of changing currents. They provide new foundations for nutrition and sales.

Can Tourism Help the Arctic?

Tourism in the Arctic is also increasing - not always to the delight of the locals. The Arctic ecosystem is sensitive and can be disrupted by large tourist groups. However, tourism also offers new sources of income and employment opportunities for the Arctic people. This is particularly important in view of the fact that traditional life support measures such as seal hunting are already made more difficult by climate change and may soon be eliminated altogether. In order to protect the Arctic as a residential and travel destination over the next few years and decades, everyone needs to work together: (Indigenous) groups of peoples must make their interests clear and represent them and tour operators must respect nature and living beings. In this way, the fascination of the Arctic can continue to inspire people in the future.