It is especially important to practice responsible travel methods when taking an Arctic cruise. The Arctic Ocean and surrounding area are made up of the extremely fragile tundra ecosystem. Compared to the rest of the earth, there are relatively few plant and animal species, and those that have adapted to the harsh climate live together in a delicate balance that can far too easily be disrupted. Because of its extreme sensitivity, the Arctic is considered an early warning system as far as climatic change is concerned. The ecosystem is both slow to change and slow to recover, and the disruptions caused by global warming, over-fishing, and pollution have had severe impacts in the region. Walruses and certain whales that make their homes in the Arctic are endangered species, and the polar icepack is shrinking due to rising global temperatures. At certain times during the year, there is also a hole in the ozone layer above the North Pole.
While the number of plants is sparse compared to the Amazon Rainforest, those enjoying an Arctic cruise will find the tundra is home to such flora as birch and willow shrubs; berry plants including lingonberries, bilberries, and blueberries; heath, bake-apples, and arctic poppies; and grasses such as cottongrass, lichens, and moss. South of the arctic treeline is the boreal forest, which is made up of trees such as spruce, fir, larch, mountain ash, and birch. The Arctic may consist of a spare, harsh environment, yet it is also a place of stunning beauty. Ice stretches in every direction, the white dazzling beneath bright sunshine.
Resources in this chilly region include sand and gravel aggregates, placer deposits, polymetallic nodules, fish, marine mammals such as seals and whales, and oil and gas fields. Disputes have arisen between the U.S., Canada, Russia, Norway, and Denmark over who owns which territory—and who has the rights to the coveted non-renewable resources.