Arctic Encounter Symposium 2016 – Breaking the ice on the Arctic’s future

Written by Petty Officer 1st Class George Degener

Vice Adm. Charles Ray, commander of Coast Guard Pacific Area, delivers the keynote address at the Arctic Encounter Symposium 2016, held at the University of Washington in Seattle, Jan. 15, 2016. The Arctic Encounter Symposium is the largest annual Arctic policy event in the United States. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class George Degener.

Vice Adm. Charles Ray, commander of Coast Guard Pacific Area, delivers the keynote address at the Arctic Encounter Symposium 2016, held at the University of Washington in Seattle, Jan. 15, 2016. The Arctic Encounter Symposium is the largest annual Arctic policy event in the United States. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class George Degener.

Since 1867, Coast Guard men and women have carried out missions in the high latitudes of the Arctic, where tragedy is often only one mistake away. Diminishing sea ice and rising human activity mean an increasing Coast Guard presence and steadfast commitment to safe, secure and responsible maritime activity.

The Arctic Encounter Symposium, an annual event designed to raise awareness, address challenges and develop solutions for the region, was held this year on Jan. 15 and 16 at the University of Washington Law School in Seattle. Policy makers, industry leaders and scientific experts gathered to confront the leading issues in Arctic policy, innovation and development.

Vice Adm. Charles Ray, commander of Coast Guard Pacific Area; Rear Adm. Daniel Abel, commander of Coast Guard 17th District; Capt. Jason Hamilton, commanding officer of the Coast Guard Cutter Healy; and other active-duty, civilian and retired Coast Guardsmen comprised more than 60 speakers and presenters who offered insight and shared expertise in safe maritime operations and environmental stewardship.

“This is an invaluable symposium because it brings together stakeholders from the region, both internationally and nationally, to address the issues facing the Arctic,” said Ray. “It is vital for the Coast Guard to understand the perspective of the other stakeholders so that we can build on our partnerships in the region.”

Rear Adm. Daniel Abel, commander of the Coast Guard 17th District (left), and Mead Treadwell, former Lt. Gov. of Alaska, look on as Shirley Marquardt, mayor of Unalaska, Alaska, delivers remarks during a plenary session at the Arctic Encounter Symposium 2016 at the University of Washington in Seattle, Jan. 15, 2016. The AES convenes policymakers, industry leaders and leading experts to confront the leading issues in Arctic policy, innovation and development. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class George Degener.

Rear Adm. Daniel Abel, commander of the Coast Guard 17th District (left), and Mead Treadwell, former Lt. Gov. of Alaska, look on as Shirley Marquardt, mayor of Unalaska, Alaska, delivers remarks during a plenary session at the Arctic Encounter Symposium 2016 at the University of Washington in Seattle, Jan. 15, 2016. The AES convenes policymakers, industry leaders and leading experts to confront the leading issues in Arctic policy, innovation and development. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class George Degener.

Through keynote luncheons, expert plenary sessions, break out sessions, a networking reception and seated dinner, attendees were able to share their knowledge of the Arctic and outline plans for the future. During his keynote address on Jan. 15, Ray thanked the audience for its shared commitment to the preservation and protection of the Arctic and also addressed the way ahead for the Coast Guard and the variety of missions and responsibilities we have in the region.

“It’s not just icebreakers; on any given summer from ice-out to ice-in, we deploy each type of asset up there, from men and women operating boats and airplanes to cutters and helicopters,” said Ray. “Quite simply, there is a new ocean up there. America is a maritime Nation. America depends on the U.S. Coast Guard to defend our maritime approaches, and we will continue to do so.”

As the demand for resources increases, the eco-tourism industry expands and destination-focused and trans-Arctic shipping routes cross waters previously blockaded by sea ice, the Coast Guard must be ready to operate in the Arctic. The Coast Guard men and women serving in the Arctic today aboard platforms like the Coast Guard Cutter Healy, which recently completed a historic trip to the North Pole, do so with the same sense of professional pride and excellence that started with the Coast Guard Cutter Bear 150 years ago.

Gatherings like the Arctic Encounter Symposium are critical to our Nation’s future in the Arctic and the Arctic is critical to our Nation’s future.

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