Aarhus University Seal / Aarhus Universitets segl

No. 43: Identifying ecologically valuable and sensitive marine areas

Bedes citeret: Christensen, T., Falk, K., Boye, T., Ugarte, F., Boertmann, D. & Mosbech, A. (2012). Identifikation af sårbare marine områder i den grønlandske/danske del af Arktis. Aarhus Universitet, DCE – Nationalt Center for Miljø og Energi. 72 pp.


The Danish Ministry of the Environment has requested DCE – Danish Centre for Environment and Energy (DCE), Aarhus University, to develop a technical report identifying ecologically valuable and sensitive marine areas in relation to increased shipping activities in Greenlandic waters. The report is used as the basis for the work in the national working group I, in order to provide the biological and technical platform for identifying areas that are ecologically valuable and vulnerable in the Arctic waters of the Kingdom of Denmark.

The estimated losses of Arctic sea ice are likely to influence shipping activities and routes in the future with natural resource development and regional trade as key drivers. Impacts from shipping are potentially more hazardous in the Arctic than at lower latitudes due to special adaptation of the species and due to the low temperatures and presence of ice which hamper degradation and removal of pollutants and recovery of habitats.

Impacts from shipping may include noise in the underwater environment, disturbances of sea mammals and seabirds, introduction of invasive species, accidental or illegal regular discharge of oil etc. A large oil spill is probably the most serious hazard to the Arctic environment.

This report provides a preliminary overview of ecologically valuable and sensitive areas in relation to the risks posed by shipping activity in Greenlandic waters based on existing scientific information: Over the past decades considerable effort has been invested in identifying sea areas and coastlines vulnerable to oil spills as well as key habitats, migration routes, population size and ecology of sensitive species and resources in Greenland and elsewhere in the Arctic. A range of maps selected from the available documents are reproduced here (section 8), providing examples on current knowledge applicable for delineating sensitive areas.

In this report, the identification of areas that are ecologically valuable and vulnerable is made by assessing the marine areas around Greenland in relation to ecological criteria developed by relevant conventions. For shipping activities the 11 criteria for designating Particularly Sensitive Sea Areas (PSSA) in line with the International Maritime Organisation’s (IMO) guidelines are particularly relevant and are used as the platform for the identification in this report. The outcome of that assessment is given in Table 1 (see annex III). In addition, Table 1 also lists areas proposed as Ecologically and Biologically Significant Areas (EBSA) or “Super EBSA” by IUCN/NRDC in their interpretation of UN Convention on Biodiversity (CBD) designation.

Most of the coastal and offshore waters around Greenland host sensitive marine resources at least part of the year. In Figure 4 (see Annex III for an English version of Fig. 4 and associated Table 1) the broad areas of importance to sea mammals (Fig. 4a) and seabirds (Fig. 4b) are outlined, and in Figure 4c the information is combined together with other relevant information to delineate 12 sensitive areas. Within each area, particularly critical ‘core areas’ are identified based on regular seasonal ‘hot spots’ for sea mammals and seabirds (breeding or staging/moulting) combined with information on areas mapped as sensitive to oil spills.

Subsequently, the 12 areas have been ranked in four priority categories (Fig. 4c and Table 1). Half of the areas meet all 11 PSSA criteria, but two areas – V1, the North Water Polynya and V5, Disko Bay and Store Hellefiskebanke – stand out, and are ranked Priority 1. Four areas are priority 2, three areas are priority 3 and three areas are ranked as Priority 4.

The identification of the sensitive marine areas shows that the identified areas are vulnerable at different degrees to impacts from ships. It is not the purpose of this report to consider how the described potential impacts can be mitigated or regulated.