Sea ice in the Arctic.

Cooperation for a sustainable Arctic Ocean

With sea ice cover shrinking, the Arctic Ocean has taken centerstage in global discussions related to climate change and economic opportunities. While open waters may bring new opportunities to the region, increasing accessibility to the High North also presents risks for Arctic inhabitants and ecosystems, including through oil spills and shipping accidents.

The Arctic States hold a responsibility to safeguard the future development of the region and to develop models for stewardship of the marine environment. This requires both a better understanding of the drivers and effects altering the Arctic marine environment and enhanced cooperation amongst the Arctic States, local inhabitants, external actors and international legal frameworks.

How does the Arctic Council contribute to a sustainable Arctic Ocean?

To protect the Arctic marine environment and counteract possible detrimental effects of climate change and pollution, the Arctic States have recognized the need to work together closely – and they do so on a wide range of marine issues. These include issues related to marine pollution, sustainable shipping practices, search and rescue operations, marine cooperation and risk management.

Tackling marine pollution

Over the past years, marine litter has emerged as one of the most pervasive problems affecting the marine environment globally. The Arctic is no exception. The Icelandic Chairmanship (2019-2021) has thus placed plastic pollution in the Arctic marine environment high on its agenda and is drawing on the findings of the first Desktop Study on Marine Litter in the Arctic, which was developed by the Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment (PAME) Working Group. PAME is currently developing a Regional Action Plan on Marine Litter in the Arctic as a follow-up to the Desktop Study.

Another pollution risk stems from increased shipping and exploration activities in the Arctic: oil spills. In 2013, Arctic Ministers signed the Agreement on Cooperation on Marine Oil Pollution Preparedness and Response in the Arctic (MOSPA). Its objective is to strengthen cooperation, coordination, and mutual assistance on oil pollution preparedness and response in the Arctic in order to protect the marine environment from pollution by oil. The Emergency Prevention, Preparedness and Response (EPPR) Working Group has been tasked to implement the agreement and its operational guidelines.



Sustainable and safe shipping

Safe and sustainable shipping and operations in Arctic waters is another important component of safeguarding the Arctic marine environment – and a prerequisite has been to evaluate current and future use of the Arctic Ocean. One of the outcomes was the 2009 Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment (AMSA), developed by PAME. Its recommendations - such as the need to enhance Arctic marine safety, protect Arctic people and the environment and building the Arctic marine infrastructure - continue to guide activities of the Council. PAME projects and initiatives promote safe and sustainable shipping in the Arctic, such as a comprehensive shipping activity database; the development of the Arctic Shipping Best Practice Information Forum in support of effective implementation of the IMO’s Polar Code; and a number of projects on use and carriage of Heavy Fuel Oil in the Arctic and the development of a Regional Reception Facilities Plan. Outcomes from both have been communicated to the International Maritime Organization.

Cooperation amongst the eight Arctic States and other stakeholders is key to safe operations in the Arctic Ocean. EPPR collaborates with international bodies and fora to identify best practices, exchange information, and develop a repository for lessons learned in Arctic search and rescue exercises and incidents.

The Agreement on Cooperation on Aeronautical and Maritime Search and Rescue in the Arctic is an international instrument for cooperation on search and rescue operations in the Arctic that was negotiated under the auspices of the Arctic Council. It was signed by the Arctic States in 2011.

Enhancing marine cooperation

The Arctic Council’s Arctic Marine Strategic Plan 2015-2025 (AMSP) provides a framework to guide its actions to protect Arctic marine and coastal ecosystems and to promote sustainable development. The AMSP articulates how the Arctic Council can increase its understanding of the impacts of human activities, climate change and ocean acidification. The AMSP recognizes the importance of acquiring a better understanding of Arctic change so that actions can be taken that allow Arctic inhabitants, including Arctic Indigenous peoples to further adapt to the change. The strategic actions identified in the AMSP guide the work of the Arctic Council and its subsidiary bodies on marine-related activities.

In an effort to enhance strategic and policy guidance, as well as collaboration and coordination of marine activities in the Arctic Council, the Senior Arctic Officials have been assigned a central role. As government representatives from the Arctic States, Senior Arctic Officials are well positioned to engage in holistic discussions on marine issues of which the AMSP plays an important role. Going forward, they will do so jointly with marine experts that bring in both scientific findings and indigenous expertise. The objective of this mechanism is – amongst other tasks – to give strategic guidance to the Council’s Working Groups on marine issues, to provide policy guidance, and to develop a unified marine workplan for the Arctic Council.



The 18 Large Marine Ecosystems of the Arctic

  1. Faroe Plateau
  2. Iceland Shelf and Sea
  3. Greenland Sea
  4. Norwegian Sea
  5. Barents Sea
  6. Kara Sea
  7. Laptev Sea
  8. East Siberian Sea
  9. East Bering Sea
  10. Aleutian Islands
  11. West Bering Sea
  12. Northern Bering-Chukchi Seas
  13. Central Arctic Ocean
  14. Beaufort Sea
  15. Canadian High Arctic-North Greenland
  16. Canadian Eastern Arctic-West Greenland
  17. Hudson Bay Complex
  18. Labrador-Newfoundland

Featured marine projects

Marine Biodiversity Monitoring
Arctic marine environments are experiencing, or expected to experience, many human-induced and natural pressures.
Integrated Ecosystem Assessment (IEA) of the Central Arctic Ocean
PAME has teamed up with the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) and the North Pacific Marine Science Organization (PICES) to investigate the current state of the Central Arctic...
Underwater noise in the Arctic
PAME's State of Knowledge Review on Underwater Noise in the Arctic report provides a baseline understanding of underwater noise in Arctic regions, including ambient sound levels, underwater noise...
Circumpolar Oil Spill Response Viability Analysis (COSRVA)
The COSRVA project investigates the potential of different oil spill response systems for the Arctic marine environment.
Региональный план действий по морскому мусору
The Regional Action Plan will address both sea and land-based activities, focusing on Arctic-specific marine litter sources and pathways that will play an important role in demonstrating Arctic States...
Circumpolar Oil Spill Response Viability Analysis Phase II (COSRVA II)
The COSRVA is intended to provide more science-based decision-making in Arctic oil spill response contingency planning. An additional benefit of the study is the identification of components or method...
Данные по судоходству в Арктике
PAME's Arctic Ship Traffic Data (ASTD) project has been developed in response to a growing need to collect and distribute accurate, reliable, and up-to-date information on shipping activities in ...
Cod drying. Photo: iStock
Blue Bioeconomy in the Arctic Region
The sustainable and intelligent use of renewable aquatic natural resources, with a focus on improving utilization and creating higher-value products.
Murres on cliff. Photo: iStock
Coastal Biodiversity Monitoring
Arctic coastal ecosystems include those areas within the Arctic region where fjords, glaciers, rocky coasts, coastal wetlands, estuaries, rivers, lakes, and coastal ocean ecosystems meet and interact ...
Prevention, Preparedness and Response for small communities
EPPR has been working with small communities to improve their safety in case of an oil spill event.
Boat in ice. Photo: iStock
Risk Assessment methods and metadata
A common approach to marine risk assessment in the Arctic region.
Plastic litter on an Arctic coast. Photo: iStock/sodar99
Arctic Marine Microplastics and Litter
AMAP is developing a monitoring plan for microplastics and litter in Arctic waters.
Арктический судоходный информационный форум по наилучшим практикам
The Arctic Shipping Best Practice Information Forum facilitates an exchange of information and best practices on shipping topics like hydrography, search and rescue logistics, industry guidelines and ...

The Arctic Ocean making headlines

Report on Heavy Fuel Oil in the Arctic launched

The Arctic Council's Working Group on the Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment (PAME) issued its second Arctic Shipping Status Report – Heavy Fuel Oil (HFO) U...
21 Oct 2020

Healthy communities need healthy oceans - An Athabaskan perspective on a sustainable Arctic Ocean

Chief Gary Harrison is chairman of the Chickaloon Native Village, located North-East of Anchorage, Alaska, and representative of the Arctic Athabaskan Council. As the Arc...
19 Oct 2020

Suggestions from the coast: An Inuit perspective on a sustainable Arctic Ocean

Jim Stotts, president of the Alaskan chapter of the Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC), was one of five experts joining the panel at the first thematic webinar in a meeting ...
13 Oct 2020
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