Kevin Harun, Arctic program director for Pacific Environment, praised the IMO for beginning to bring order before ship traffic gets out of hand. “Finally, decisionmakers are getting ahead of the curve to protect the environment and subsistence in advance of this increase in traffic,” he said.

Eleanor Huffines, senior officer with the Pew Charitable Trusts’ U.S. Arctic program, described the IMO action as “a significant step toward safer shipping in the Arctic.”

“These measures will keep vessels on the safest course and reduce the risk of them running aground, colliding or interfering directly with subsistence hunting,” Huffines said.

Coast Guard officials said the new shipping routes, developed in conjunction with the Russian government, will go a long way toward reducing the potential for marine casualties and environmental disasters.

“This is a big step forward as the U.S. Coast Guard continues to work together with international, interagency and maritime stakeholders to make our waterways safer, more efficient and more resilient,” said Mike Sollosi, chief of the Coast Guard’s Navigation Standards Division.The proposal to create shipping lanes grew out of the Coast Guard’s Port Access Route Study of the Bering Strait, which was completed last year. Sollosi said the study was the product of a decade of collaboration with international, interagency, industry and private stakeholders and extensive coordination with community residents along the coasts of Alaska.