Arctic Beringia lies at the juncture of the eastern and western hemispheres, encompassing an area of tundra and shallow marine shelf areas that extend from the Kolyma River in the Chukotka region of the Russian Federation, across Alaska, and to the Banks Island in the Inuvik Region of the Northwest Territories, Canada.
The region’s tundra, coastal, and marine habitats are home to most of what we would imagine as quintessential Arctic wildlife – polar bears, bowhead and beluga whales, walruses, ringed and bearded seals, muskoxen, arctic foxes, and caribou. The numbers of wildlife that migrate through this region each year are staggering – hundreds of thousands of caribou, over a hundred and fifty thousand walruses, thirteen thousand bowhead whales, and millions of shorebirds, waterfowl, and seabirds. For species like the Western Arctic bowhead whale and Pacific walrus, this represents their entire global population. A diverse array of indigenous cultures – including the Chukchi, Siberian Yupik, St. Lawrence Island Yupik, Central Yup’ik, Iñupiat, Inuit, Athabaskan, and Aleut – are closely connected with and reliant upon this region’s wildlife and environment for food security and cultural continuity and vitality.
The WCS Arctic Beringia Program was initiated in 2011 to promote effective conservation solutions across the Arctic Beringia region of the United States, Canada, and Russia.
Although most of our projects are based in North America, we also work on the Russian side of the Bering Strait. This is essential for addressing the conservation needs of shared populations of wildlife, and for sharing expertise and information more broadly.
Avian Research: We collaborate with Russian ornithologists in Chukotka, Kamchatka, and Sakhalin to collect data on shorebirds and waterfowl to better understand their seasonal movements within this region as well as their migratory and wintering habitats. The data we collect is used to inform conservation across the EastAsian-Australasian and Americas Flyways.
Near-shore Ecological Research: We collaborate with Russian fish biologists to investigate the phylogeography of salmonids in the coastal waterways, particularly lagoons. This work has parallel components on both sides of the Bering Strait, where we are assessing connectivity and strategies to respond to oil spills in these highly productive areas that support local ecosystems and the food security of local peoples.
Large Mammal Research: We have since 2013 worked on Wrangel Island to better understand the impacts of climate change on musk oxen. We have also supported annual monitoring of Pacific walrus at sites such as Cape Vankarem and Cape Serdtse Kamen, the latter haulout boasting as many as 100,000 walruses at one time.Capacity Building: We work with the WCS Sikhote-Alin Research Center to identify and train the next generation of wildlife biologists and conservationists in the Russian Far East. We have completed trainings on science writing, avian research techniques, and have plans for activities focused on large mammals and nearshore fish ecology.