Protecting vulnerable ecosystems in the melting Arctic

21 September 2010 | News story

Ocean warming and loss of ice is expected to accelerate in the Arctic in the coming years, due to the dramatic impacts of climate change. New approaches are needed to anticipate and mitigate these changes on the unique and vulnerable plants and animals living in the Arctic.

Summer sea ice retreat caused by climate change is already affecting the Arctic ecosystems. This retreat will also increase human activity, putting additional pressure on the environment. This will require new ways of managing and protecting the natural resources in the region.
 
IUCN and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) are now exploring, starting by identifying opportunities to enhance Ecosystem-based Management (EbM) through regional cooperation in the Arctic marine environment. Other partners joining these efforts include the Ecologic Institute, the Center for Ma­rine Biodiversity and Conservation (CMBC) from the University of Cali­fornia and Shell. Shell signed a long-term partnership agreement with IUCN in 2007 to work more effectively with experts to reduce its environmental impact and support conservation. The Arctic Marine Ecosystem-based management project gives Shell an opportunity to deliver on the partnership objectives by contributing to better conservation while helping to lay the foundations for addressing issues for governments, conservationists and industry.

A first meeting was held last June in Washington, DC. IUCN brought together a wide range of key stakeholders from the Arctic, including gov­ernment officials from Canada, Swe­den, Iceland and the United States, indigenous people representatives, NGOs and industry leaders, with the aim of taking the right decisions for the future of the Arctic. Par­ticipants identified fishing, tourism, shipping, oil and gas development, mineral development and the arrival of invasive species as the key driving forces for environmental change within the Arctic. In particular, climate change will affect the Arctic region dramatically.

To face these challenges, participants envisioned the creation of an ecosystem-based management strategy overseen by the Arctic Council, a body that has a good track record in the region. This new regional strategy will complement the already existing national plans from Arctic States by providing a transboundary approach based upon geographical extents of ecosystems. A monitoring system will be set up to assess the health of the ecosystems and to track the the effective implementation of the Strategy by member states, using practical tools such as marine protected areas categories, marine spatial planning and pilot projects. A second meeting on ecosystem-based management in the Arctic marine environment will be convened in Europe in spring 2011 to fine-tune the strategy.

An additional workshop will take place in November 2010, gathering scientific experts to identify the most ecologically significant and vulnerable marine areas in the Arctic that need enhanced protection. The final report will present both policy recommenda­tions on ecosystem-based management in the marine Arctic, and scientific findings and maps on the most valuable and vulnerable ecological areas, two critical outcomes for the policy-makers and experts trying to save the treasures of the Arctic.

For more information contact: Tom Laughlin, email: thomas.laughlin@iucn.org