Could floating platforms be used to save polar bears from sea ice losses?
Answered by Dr. Steven C. Amstrup, chief scientist at Polar Bears International and Polar Bear Project Leader at the U.S. Geological Survey for thirty years.
Q: Why not place big rafts in the water to save polar bears from drowning?
A: A number of people have suggested transporting floating platforms to the Arctic to help save polar bears. While the suggestion sounds like it would be helpful in a melting Arctic, giving polar bears a place to rest doesn't solve their main problem. The rafts would not give polar bears a way to hunt, which is the main difficulty they face in a warming Arctic. Polar bears depend on the sea ice as a platform for hunting seals, the mainstay of their diet. They also rely on the sea ice for breeding and sometimes denning.
The sheer scale of the open water is also a factor. Keep in mind that the area we are talking about is vast—this summer's ice melt was equal to twice the size of Alaska! Even if we were to add rafts to the water, it is unlikely the bears would find them given the sheer size of the area.
And, finally, and perhaps most important, sea ice is far more than a platform--it's an integral part of the Arctic ecosystem. The salt in the ice creates bubbles in the ice where micro-organisms grow. These small organisms play a key role in the Arctic food chain, ending with seals and then polar bears.
We view the situation of diminishing sea ice in the Arctic as extremely serious but not hopeless. Our research shows that time remains to save polar bears and the Arctic ecosystem if we act soon to greatly reduce carbon emissions. We invite you to join us in these efforts by visiting our Take Action! page, taking part in our Save Our Sea Ice campaign, and donating to support our efforts on behalf of the bears.