You can now go on a cruise through the Arctic passage -- and that's not necessarily a good thing

If the thought of spending a summer aboard a ship alongside 1,700 other passengers in freezing cold weather is your idea of a vacation, well, you’re in luck. But the environment may not be.

Starting in August, the Crystal Serenity will set sail from Seward, Alaska, transit Roald Amundsen’s fabled Northwest Passage through the Arctic Ocean, and dock in New York City.

It will be the largest and most luxurious ship to cross the passage — staterooms on the ship will start at $22,000 — and this summer’s journey is already sold out, reports The Guardian.

It took Amundsen and his hardy crew three years to complete same route. The Crystal Serenity will make the trip in only 32 days.

That’s because the Northwest Passage is melting.

Scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are predicting that the Arctic Ocean will be entirely ice free during the summer by 2040, according to The Guardian.

And, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center, Arctic sea ice hit area a record low for the second year in a row in 2015.

Because of all this warming, the Northwest Passage became accessible to shipping traffic (without ice-breaking hulls) in 2007. But the traffic is still low: In 2015, just 17 ships crossed the passage, the US Coast Guard told The Guardian.

This number is set to increase.

There are vast reserves of oil trapped under the Arctic Ocean, with huge geopolitical implications as Russia, the US, Canada, Norway, and Denmark compete to develop these resources, according to the Council on Foreign Relations.

“Yes, we are concerned about this cruise ship [Crystal Serenity] going through but we have been concerned for a number of years because during the summer time Shell has been going up there to drill, other companies have been exploring, there has been an increase even in recreational sailors or adventure sailors going up there,” Robert Papp, a former coast guard admiral and the State Department’s special envoy to the Arctic, told The Guardian.

And as sea ice further declines in the Arctic, these new shipping lanes will increase pressures on local communities and wildlife — not to mention rescue operators — to handle the influx of people.

The waters of the southern Arctic ocean are an important breeding ground for marine mammals, and the birds and fish they prey on. Shipping traffic will pose a huge threat to this “sensitive” ecosystem, according to the World Wildlife Fund.

“An oil spill would mean our main food source would be contaminated and not suitable for consumption,” Niore Iqalukjuak, the manager of the Clyde River (a community in Nunavut, Canada) Hunters and Trappers Organisation told Al Jazeera.
“It would mean our way of life would basically change forever.”

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