When you conjure up an image of an Arctic gateway between Russia and the United States, your first thought might not be of a rich marine world filled with life. If your thoughts went to barren, snow-covered tundra, you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the amazing biodiversity of the Bering Strait.
Named after Danish explorer Vitus Bering, the Bering Strait is the only Arctic waterway between Asia and North America. Whales, walruses, seals, and polar bears - this pathway links the Bering Sea to the Arctic Ocean and is home to some of the worlds’ most unique and protected species.
Where Is The Bering Strait?
The Bering Strait connects Cape Dezhnev, Russia (Asia's easternmost point), to Cape Prince of Wales, Alaska (North America's westernmost point). The strait is bordered by the Bering Sea and Chukchi Sea to the south and north respectively. Ocean Conservancy calls the Bering Strait is both a “bottleneck and a pathway” - meaning that while it restricts movement over land, it also provides a system for the marine and land species of the area to migrate.
How Wide Is The Bering Strait?
At its narrowest poin between Cape Dezhnev and Cape Prince of Wales, the Being Strait is 82 km or 51 mi wide.
How Deep Is The Bering Strait?
The average depth of the strait is around 30 to 50 m or 98 to 164 ft. It is 90 m or 300 ft deep at its deepest point.
The Bering Strait has long been a majority source of commercial fishing, accounting for half of the overall marine harvest in US waters. Beluga whales, gray whales, humpback whales, sperm whales, porpoises, and many other marine species use the Bering Strait as a migratory path each year. This marine gateway connects them with their Arctic ecosystem, a fragile and beautiful environment that is one of the earths’ most sensitive areas to climate change. As the earth warms and the Arctic ice recedes each year, more and more fishing and cargo vessels are able to access the Bering Strait, and for more time each year. While this may be good for industries that can capitalize on this increased availability, it is dramatically impacting the wildlife in the area. Freighters bring more activity, noise, and pollution along with the increased risk of oil and chemical spills. The marine population of the Bering Strait is extremely sensitive to these changes, and evidence of negative impact is on the rise.
The Bering Strait is home to the two Diomede Islands. These unique features of the strait are notable for a few reasons - first, they are only 3.8km apart, but the International Date Line bisects them, meaning that there is a 20-hour time difference between Big Diomede and Little Diomede. The larger of the two islands is Russian territory, and the smaller, American. They gained awareness during the Cold War because with tensions between the Soviet Union and the US running so high, just 3.8km of separation was uncomfortably close for both states.
Big Diomede is largely unpopulated today. The USSR depopulated the island during the Cold War, and the island did not return to its pre-war status. Little Diomede, however, is a hub for Alaskan ivory carving, and home to 170 residents, the majority of whom are First Nations. Little Diomede is extremely remote, with provisions delivered by helicopter only once a year. There are no seaports due to the very hazardous ocean conditions year-round.