Access the full reportFour recommendations to Arctic Council and its participants emerged from CAFF's Life Linked to Ice: a guide to sea-ice-associated biodiversity in this time of rapid change report:

  1. 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.
  2. Identify measures for detecting early warnings of biodiversity change and triggering conservation actions.
  3. Make more effective use of local and traditional knowledge in Arctic Council assessments and, more broadly, in ecological management.
  4. Target resource managers when communicating research, monitoring and assessment findings.

Recommendations from recent Arctic Council assessments and expert group reports were reviewed. There is a high degree of congruence in themes and content of the recommendations from these diverse reports. Taken as a whole, they provide comprehensive guidance on priorities and actions of particular relevance to conservation and management of sea-ice-associated ecosystems 

Recommendations of particular importance to conservation and management of sea-ice associated biodiversity from the following reports have been summarized:

Recommendations are presented, grouped under the following subjects:

  1. climate change mitigation;
  2. peoples and culture;
  3. adaptation and management;
  4. protected areas;
  5. preventing damage to ecosystems;
  6. fisheries in international waters;
  7. harvest;
  8. communication; and,
  9. knowledge.

Annotations (in italics) are based on this report and the two expertsR17; workshops on sea-ice-associated biodiversity organized by CAFF as part of this project (Vancouver, Canada and St Petersburg, Russia). A synthesis of discussion on recommendations from the workshops is available as supplementary material to this report. Only selected recommendations are presented here, and many are summarized. The original documents (referenced in parentheses following each recommendation) should be consulted for exact wording and more detail. Many recommendations that are more broadly focused, but still relevant to sea-ice-associated biodiversity, are not included. For example, the Arctic biodiversity assessmentR17;s recommendations on contaminants and invasive species are relevant to sea-ice-associated biodiversity, but have been omitted.


 1. Climate change mitigation

  • International negotiations to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions should be pursued as a matter of urgency. Member States of the Arctic Council should increase their leadership role in this process. (SWIPA Executive Summary)
  • Actively support international efforts addressing climate change as an urgent measure. Flagged as of specific importance are efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to reduce emissions of black carbon, methane and tropospheric ozone precursors. (ABA Recommendation 1)
  • Arctic states should reaffirm the importance of their engagement in the UNFCC to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions as a matter of urgency. (AOR Recommendation 19)
  • It is recommended that the Arctic Council urge its Member States, Observer countries and the global societyto reduce the emission of CO2 as a matter of urgency. (AOA Recommendation 1)

Addresses the root cause of threats to ice-associated biodiversity by slowing the rate of climate change.


 2. Peoples and culture

  • The Arctic states in cooperation with the Arctic Council should assist, as appropriate, the Permanent Participants with the documentation of current and historical a) timing and geographical extent of local uses of the marine environment, and b) levels of traditional marine resources harvests, taking into account the differing documentation needs and capacities of Arctic states. (AOR Recommendation 1)

This recommendation is of particular relevance to use and governance of marine mammals, seabirds and fish that are ice-associated as these species are under pressure from climate change, are highly valued for traditional
local use, and are of high profile at international scales. Related to this reportR17;s recommendation 1.

  • Promote the active involvement of indigenous peoples in the management and sustainable use of protected areas. (ABA Recommendation 5c)


 3. Adaptation and management

3.1. Adapting to rapid change in ice

  • Develop and implement Arctic adaptation strategies. (SWIPA Executive Summary)
  • Ensure that standards for environmental management are in place, or can be adapted, to take account of cryospheric change. (SWIPA Executive Summary)
  • Actively support international efforts addressing climate change, including implementing adaptation measures, as an urgent matter. (ABA Recommendation 1)

3.2. Conserving endemic species

  • Concerted international efforts should be undertaken to preserve endemic Arctic flora and fauna. (SWIPA, Biological impacts of changes in sea ice in the Arctic, section 9.3)

3.3. Ecosystem-based management

  • Propose that Arctic Council adopt a policy commitment to ecosystem-based management (EBM), a common definition of EBM, and a set of EBM principles. Taken together, these present the framework for implementing EBM in the Arctic. This includes supporting ecosystem resilience to maintain ecological functions and services, and recognizing that humans are an integral part of ecosystems and that sustainable use is central to management objectives. This framework also lays out the role of EBM in addressing cumulative effects and the importance of incorporating and reflecting knowledge drawn from science and from traditional and local experts. It stresses the inclusive nature of EBM, the need for broad participation at all stages, and the value of transboundary perspectives and partnerships. Of particular note is the recognition of the need for flexible and adaptive measures in light of the rapid changes occurring in the Arctic. (EBM Recommendations 1R11;3)
  • Advance and advocate ecosystem-based management as a framework for cooperation, planning and development across the Arctic, including consideration of cumulative effects. Further details support the
    above recommendation from the EBM ExpertsR17; Group. (ABA Recommendation 2)

Some specific, practical recommendations for successful implementation of EBM in sea ice ecosystems:

  • Develop and adopt a policy and best practices for incorporating traditional knowledge into EBM activities as appropriate. (EBM Recommendation 4: Arctic Council activities, policy and implementation)
  • Encourage the use of the revised map of 17 Large Marine Ecosystems to inform EBM implementation. (EBM, Recommendation 4: Arctic Council activities, science and information)


 4. Protected areas

4.1. Refuge for ice-associated species when most multi-year ice has been lost

See also the related WWF project R20;The Last Ice AreaR21; 

  • Canada and Greenland should consider creating a World Heritage Site in Northwest Greenland/Northeast Canadian Archipelago as refuge for ice-associated species. (SWIPA, Biological impacts of changes in sea ice in the Arctic, section 9.3)
  • Develop and implement mechanisms that safeguard Arctic biodiversity under changing environmental conditions, such as loss of sea ice: safeguard areas in the northern parts of the Arctic where high Arctic species have a relatively greater chance to survive for climatic or geographical reasons, as a refuge for unique biodiversity. (ABA Recommendation 7)

4.2. Policy and mechanisms for protected areas (and sensitive and significant areas)

  • Explore need for internationally designated Arctic marine areas for purpose of environmental protection. (AMSA, Recommendation II.D., Protecting Arctic people and the environment)
  • Explore ways in which Arctic States can cooperate to advance conservation and management of biologically, ecologically and culturally significant areas. (EBM, Recommendation 4: Arctic Council activities, policy and implementation)
  • Identify biologically, ecologically and culturally significant areas in the coastal, marine and terrestrial environments, and consider EBM-related needs for these areas. Identify areas most vulnerable to human impacts. (EBM, Recommendation 4, Arctic Council activities, science and information)
  • Advance the protection of large areas of ecologically important marine habitats, taking into account ecological resilience in a changing climate. For marine protected areas, build on existing processes to complete the identification of areas and implement conservation measures. (ABA Recommendation 5)


 5. Preventing damage to ecosystems

5.1. Reducing threats and enhancing capacity to respond to pollution events

These measures are important for protection of sea-ice-associated biodiversity from impacts including spills, pollution, under-water noise, disturbance and introduction of alien invasive species.

  • Reduce the threat of pollutants to biodiversity by supporting development of prevention and cleanup measures and technologies for oil spills, especially in ice-filled waters, such that they are ready for implementation in advance of major oil and gas developments. (ABA Recommendation 11)
  • Finalize and implement the Polar Code (international shipping regulations) and support other international work that leads to safe shipping practices in the Arctic, including training requirements for ship personnel, ship routing and reporting measures, ballast water management, and enhancing and sharing of information needed for navigation. (AOR Recommendation 3)
  • Encourage development of international standards relevant to Arctic oil and gas operations; move toward circumpolar policy harmonization in sectors such as environmental monitoring and pollution prevention practices; and, promote interactions with international treaty bodies that address issues such as spill preparedness and response. (AOR Recommendations 14, 15 and 16)
  • Increased collaboration between Arctic Council and international organizations is recommended to protect whales from ship-related impacts such as ocean noise and ship strikes. (AOR Recommendation 11)

5.2. Proactive steps to prevent damage to sensitive areas

Focuses effort on increasing protection for sea-ice-associated biota at critical times and places, for example, whales at summer feeding locations and nesting birds. Also protection of areas important for indigenous people for fishing and harvest of marine mammals and birds.

  • Identify areas of heightened ecological and cultural significance and consider protection measures related to impacts from shipping. (AMSA Recommendation II.C. Protecting Arctic people and the environment)

Identification portion complete in 2013 

  • Safeguard areas critical for sensitive life stages of Arctic species, including polynyas; to accomplish this, develop guidelines and implement spatial and temporal measures to reduce disturbance outside of protected areas. (ABA Recommendation 6)


 6. Fisheries in international waters

  • Support efforts to plan and manage commercial fisheries in international waters under common objectives that ensure long-term sustainability of species and ecosystems. Encourage precautionary, science-based management of fisheries in these waters in accordance with international law. (ABA Recommendation 10c, AOR Recommendation 10)

An important recommendation in relation to sea ice and biodiversity, as changes in ice extent and timing are making new marine regions accessible to fishing while at the same time leading to changes in ocean productivity,
food webs and distribution of fish species.


 7. Harvest

  • Consider genetic viability of species and adaptation to climate change as guiding principles in determining and managing sustainable harvest levels. (ABA Recommendation 10b)

Particularly important for ice-dependent species as they experience range contractions and a vastly altered environment.

  • Improve the use and integration of traditional ecological knowledge and community-based monitoring in managing harvests. (ABA Recommendation 10a)

Increasingly important as sea ice changes alter the habitat for harvested species, as well as accessibility of harvesting areas, at regional and local scales (see Human dimension section)

 8. Communication

The importance of building awareness of threats to sea ice ecosystems and of delivering targeted materials to decisionmakers was stressed at the expert workshops, leading to this reportR17;s recommendation #3.

  • Develop communication and outreach tools and methodologies to better convey the importance of Arctic biodiversity and the changes it is undergoing. (ABA Recommendation 17)


 9. Knowledge

Knowledge gaps and priorities were discussed at the expert workshops held in the development of this report. Summary:

Priority knowledge gaps for sea-ice-associated biodiversity: understanding how changes at the lower trophic levels affect ecosystem structure and function; timing and spatial mismatch; filling knowledge gaps on species
distribution; winter processes; knowledge about functioning of the central Arctic Ocean.

Points on methods, approaches and processes: enhance capacity for research on lower trophic levels; improve baseline modeling of sea ice changes; put more effort into involving Arctic residents in research and monitoring;
focus on coordinated circumpolar monitoring; develop remote sensing measures relevant to biodiversity change and for tracking trends in key features like polynyas.

Specific recommendations on research and monitoring priorities are in the chapters of SWIPA, AOR, and the ABA. Selected recommendations from these reports particularly relevant to sea-ice-associated biodiversity:

  • Research and monitor individual and cumulative effects of stressors and drivers of relevance to biodiversity, with a focus on stressors that are expected to have rapid and significant impacts and issues where knowledge is lacking. This should include, but not be limited to, modeling potential future species range changes as a result of these stressors; developing knowledge of and identifying tipping points, thresholds and cumulative effects for Arctic biodiversity; and developing robust quantitative indicators for stressors through the Circumpolar Biodiversity Monitoring Program. (ABA Recommendation 16)

This recommendation is of particular relevance for the conservation of sea-ice-associated biodiversity because of the rapid rate of change and the consequent potential for unexpected and sudden shifts in ocean regimes.

  • Improve and expand systematic, comprehensive surface-based monitoring of the cryosphere. (SWIPA Executive Summary)
  • Regional scientific assessments and monitoring of biological community components across the Arctic, using standardized methodologies among areas, are highly recommended. (SWIPA, Biological impacts of changes in sea ice in the Arctic, section 9.3)
  • Develop and enhance systems to observe the cascading effects of cryospheric change on ecosystems and human society. (SWIPA Executive Summary)
  • Increase and focus inventory, long-term monitoring and research efforts to address key gaps in scientific knowledge, including knowledge about invertebrates, microbes, parasites, and pathogens. (ABA Recommendation 13)
  • Monitor and assess combined effects from multiple stressors. (AOR Recommendation 18)
  • Involve Arctic peoples and their knowledge in the survey, monitoring and analysis of Arctic biodiversity. (ABA Recommendation 14)
  • Maintain and support development of remote sensing methods for observing the cryosphere. (SWIPA Executive Summary) 

Sea ice data and graphics

LifeLinkedtoIce Sea ice Ecosystem structure

Get all the data and graphics from the report on the Arctic Biodiversity Data Service.


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