Aarhus Universitets segl

No. 61: Analysis of possible ecosystem approach to the management of maritime traffic in the Disko Bay and Big Hellefiskebanke

Christensen, T., Mosbech, A., Geertz-Hansen, O., Johansen, K.L., Wegeberg, S., Boertmann, D., Clausen, D.S., Zinglersen, K.B. & Linnebjerg, J.F. 2015. Analyse af mulig økosystembaseret tilgang til forvaltning af skibstrafik i Disko Bugt og Store Hellefiskebanke. Aarhus Universitet, DCE – Nationalt Center for Miljø og Energi, 102 s. - Teknisk rapport fra DCE - Nationalt Center for Miljø og Energi nr. 61


The Danish Ministry of Environment requested the Danish Centre for Environment and Energy (DCE), Aarhus University, to prepare this report clarifying needs and to suggest relevant management initiatives in the Disko Bay and Store Hellefiskebanke area with regards to potential environmental consequences from shipping. DCE was asked not to analyse impacts caused by activities other than shipping, but to include these impacts as components that together could cause possible cumulative effects. DCE was also asked to apply an Ecosystem Based Management (EBM) approach in the analysis of potential needs for future management initiatives, when appropriate.

This study  It builds on research carried out as a part of strategic environmental impact assessments (SEIA´s) developed by DCE e.g. for the Disko West area (Boertmann et al. 2013). 

Rising global temperatures and estimated decreases in Arctic sea ice are likely to increase access to new sea areas and general extent the navigation season. These changes facilitate new possibilities for shipping, including transport of passengers and freight, fisheries and activities related to natural resource development. 

Environmental impacts from shipping include noise in the underwater environment, disturbances to marine mammals and seabirds, introduction of invasive species, accidental or illegal regular discharge of oil, chemicals, and waste. In this context a large oil spill is regarded as the most serious threat to the Arctic marine environment.

The report provides an overview of the ecosystems, key habitats of importance, and sensitive species including their abundance, occurrence and population size. Disko Bay and Store Hellefiskebanke contain many areas of biological significance which are of critical importance for several species.

Forty one map-layers describe the spatial distribution of important marine species and ecosystem components. These maps are combined to show the biologically most important areas according to a set of criteria which incorporate those used by the Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD) to identify Ecologically or Biologically Significant Marine Areas (EBSAs) and by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to identify Particularly Sensitive Sea Areas (PSSAs) (see appendix 8, figure 23). Each of the biological layers are further assessed and ranked according to their specific sensitivity to potential environmental effects caused by shipping. 

The report demonstrates that a number of smaller areas around Disko Bay and Store Hellefiskebanke are sensitive or very sensitive to the environmental impacts that shipping may cause. Five sub-areas are identified where there may be a need for heightened awareness in relation to impacts from shipping (see appendix 8, figure 28).

Environmental impacts from shipping in the area can potentially include oil spills, disturbances of wildlife through noise over and under water, collisions between ships and marine mammals, light induced collisions between ships and seabirds. These impacts can potentially act together with impacts from other activities in the area, i.e. fishing, hunting, mineral exploration and tourism, as cumulative impacts.

The report recommends that ecosystem based management (EBM) should be applied in the study area, inspired by current work in the Arctic Council and Norwegian integrated ecosystem-based management plans.

The report also concludes that there is no immediate need for further regulation of shipping in the study area. However, a more thorough analysis in relation to oil (and chemical) spill should await the conclusions of the marine environmental risk assessment concerning waters in and adjacent to Greenland, being conducted by the Danish Defence Acquisition and Logistics Organization. Further the effectiveness of the IMO Polarcode and IMO Ballastwater convention should be assessed when the initiatives are ratified.

The report finds that in the longer term the regulatory framework of IMO´s PSSA designations, especially in relation to "route and reporting measures", may be relevant instruments to consider. Monitoring of developments in (1) shipping, (2) changes in impacts and (3) status of the ecosystem is suggested to ensure that additional regulations are introduced when needed.

Due to a lack of knowledge on potential environmental impacts from heavy fuel oil in Greenland, it is suggested that a detailed study investigate this further.