Environmental Policy News

OSPAR Mulling Arctic Marine Protected Area

Official representatives across the European community are meeting 2-6 March 2015 for the OSPAR Convention’s Biodiversity Committee (BDC) in Cork, Ireland. According to early reports, they are considering designating part of the central Arctic Ocean as a Marine Protected Area (MPA), due to the ecological and biological significance of the region.

The OSPAR Convention is the legal instrument for the protection of the marine environment of the North East Atlantic in accordance with the United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea. The Convention covers an area of about 13.5 million sq. km stretching from the North Pole to just south of the Azores. It includes the international waters of the central Arctic Ocean, represented as Region 1 in the Convention. The Charlie-Gibbs Marine Protected Area, and six additional MPAs, established by OSPAR in 2010 and 2012 to protect the unique natural features associated with the Mid-Atlantic Ridge were the first set of conservation areas ever to be established in international waters in the North Atlantic, and the world’s first network of High Seas Marine Protected Area.

Region I constitutes approximately 40% of the OSPAR maritime area. The region is characterized by a relatively harsh climate with extreme variations in light, temperature and ice cover. The flow of oceanic water through Region I is dominated by the so called "Global Conveyor Belt" with warmer surface water arriving in the region in the East, sinking at high latitudes and dense cold deep water flowing southward through the Denmark Strait in the West.

Region I is characterized by its low population density. As a result, impacts of human activities related to settlements are relatively small and mostly local. Fishing and petroleum production are the most important human activities in Region I. Ocean fisheries are among the major industries in Iceland, The Faroe Islands, Norway and the north-western part of the Russian Federation. The offshore industry is of importance both in the Norwegian and Russian sectors of Region I.

In parts of Region I ice-cover occurs seasonally. The ice and ice-melt have a large influence on ecological conditions. When the ice melts, there is typically a sudden increase in light and a burst of plant growth in the form of an ice edge bloom in spring and summer. This supports large populations of fish, marine mammals and birds.

In Region I there are six species of fish that support the major fisheries in the Nordic and Barents Sea: cod, saithe, haddock, blue whiting, herring and capelin. The continental shelves along the Nordic countries are the spawning areas for many commercially important fish species. The European Arctic is one of the most important seabird regions in the world. The breeding population of seabirds is more than 25 million. In the European Arctic seabird species may be grouped into surface feeders (such as gulls, or fulmars) and pursuit diving subsurface feeders (such as Brünnich's guillemot).

In Region I the following whale species can be found: minke whale, fin whale, blue whale, pilot whale, sperm whale. The northern right whale and the bowhead whale are among the most endangered whale species in the area. Six species of seal, as well as the walrus, are found in the region: the common harbour seal, the grey seal, the harp seal, the hooded seal, the ringed seal and the bearded seal.

The OSPAR Commission was set up by the 1992 OSPAR Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic, which unified and updated the 1972 Oslo and 1974 Paris Conventions. It brings together the governments of Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, together with the European Community. More than 30 international non-governmental organizations are involved in OSPAR as official Observers.

For more information, visit www.ospar.org.


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