Arctic sea ice coverage is decreasing dramatically. As it does, human activity is expanding in the Arctic marine environment. The Arctic Climate Impact Assessment, prepared under the auspices of the Arctic Council, concluded that ocean warming and loss of ice is expected to accelerate, exacerbating the major physical, ecological, social and economic changes already underway in the Arctic marine environment.
Expansion of human activity in the Arctic marine environment will require certain new controls. While the United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea, in conjunction with other international agreements and national laws, provides a general legal foundation, new rules may be necessary to preserve and protect the Arctic marine environment in the face of new industrial activities. Examples of possible areas of attention include new standards for Arctic marine shipping, regulation of new or expanding Arctic fisheries, rules to protect the environment in the course of natural resource development, stricter regulation of Arctic tourism and procedures for the establishment of a representative network of protected marine areas.
Ecosystem based management has the potential to provide an organizing framework for decision-making about Arctic marine activities. Such an approach, which is generally accepted at the international level, includes definition of portions of ocean space for management purposes, based on oceanographic and ecological criteria, and the development of trans-boundary management arrangements.
A key element of ecosystem-based management is identification of ecologically significant or vulnerable areas that may require enhanced protection. New tools are now at hand to assist in defining important and vulnerable portions of ocean space. These include criteria adopted by the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) for identifying ecologically and biologically significant areas in the open ocean and deep sea in need of protection and FAO Technical Guidelines for the Management of Deep Sea Fisheries in the High Seas. New information and data stemming from the International Polar Year are now available to inform the development of these tools.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) are undertaking a cooperative project to explore ways of advancing implementation of ecosystem based management, and to begin the process of identifying specific ecologically significant and vulnerable marine areas that should be considered for enhance protection in any new management arrangements. Partners in the project include Ecologic Institute and the Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation (CMBC) at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego.
The main outcomes of the IUCN/NRDC Arctic Marine Ecosystem-Based Management Project will include:
1) Policy recommendations on management arrangements needed to advance ecosystem-based marine management in the Arctic region.
2) Scientific findings (including maps and reports) on areas of ecological and biological significance or vulnerability that should be considered for enhanced protection in the Arctic.
This project benefits from the support of the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation.