Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada — The Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna (CAFF), the biodiversity working group of the Arctic Council, has released the Life Linked to Ice: a guide to sea-ice-associated biodiversity in this time of rapid change report, detailing changes in marine species and human communities as Arctic sea ice disappears, and making recommendations to the Arctic Council.
The report has found that sea ice loss is affecting the very building blocks of life in the Arctic Ocean with changes resonating throughout entire food webs, affecting everything from ice-dependent algae to birds, fish, marine mammals and human communities that rely on sea ice for travel and food or for economic opportunities.
Changes are happening too quickly for some species to cope. Particularly vulnerable are species with limited distributions, specialized feeding or breeding requirements, and/or high reliance on sea ice for part of their life cycles. The report identifies the hooded seal, narwhal and polar bear— species that are vitally important to Indigenous communities— to be vulnerable to change.
Other changes can jeopardize some fisheries. For example, the 375 million USD (in 2011) walleye Pollock fishery in the Bering Sea might be reduced under a climate regime with more prolonged warm periods, as is projected by climate models.
Changes also mean that sub-Arctic species are expanding northwards, with potential economic opportunities. For example, the commercially fished snow crab has expanded northward in the Bering and Chukchi seas and moved into the Barents Sea. Other northward-extending species include several crab and mollusk species in the Chukchi Sea and the blue mussel in Svalbard. However, new and expanded activities related to resource extraction, shipping, fisheries, and cruise-ship tourism carry substantive risks and downsides to Arctic marine flora and fauna. The encroachment of southern species can also mean competition for Arctic-adapted species that are losing habitat along the southern edges of their ranges.
The report offers four recommendations for actions, directed at the Arctic Council:
- Facilitate a move to more flexible, adaptable wildlife and habitat management and marine spatial planning approaches that respond effectively to rapid changes in Arctic biodiversity.
- Identify measures for detecting early warnings of biodiversity change and triggering conservation actions.
- Make more effective use of local and traditional knowledge in Arctic Council assessments and, more broadly, in ecological management.
- Target resource managers when communicating research, monitoring and assessment findings.
It is important to note that the Arctic is a vast region, and changes will not be uniform across all areas and species. Individual species’ responses to these changes will be uncertain and varied. Sea ice loss should also be viewed in the context of cumulative effects as it is interacting with other stressors, including development impacts, ocean acidification, and accumulation of persistent organic pollutants and mercury in food webs. Find out more about sea ice associated biodiversity or read the Life Linked to Ice report.
Images and graphics for press use
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About the Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna (CAFF)
CAFF is the biodiversity working group of the Arctic Council and consists of National Representatives assigned by each of the eight Arctic Council Member States, representatives of Indigenous Peoples' organizations that are Permanent Participants to the Council, and Arctic Council observer countries and organizations. CAFF´s mandate is to address the conservation of Arctic biodiversity, and to communicate its findings to the governments and residents of the Arctic, helping to promote practices which ensure the sustainability of the Arctic’s living resources.