Ecologically or Biologically Significant Areas (EBSAs)

  published: 12 Jun 2015

Murman Coast and Varanger Fjord

General Information
This area is characterized by very high productivity (9-13% of annual net primary production; as well as high benthic biomass. It is used as a spawning area by several species of pelagic fishes (e.g., capelin, sand eel), while the coast contains a large number of seabird colonies — more than 50,000 breeding pairs of different species. The large diversity of avifauna is due to the overlap of distribution ranges of eastern and western species. The coast of the Kola peninsula is a wintering area for many seabirds from the eastern part of the Barents Sea. It also plays an important role in maintaining marine mammal populations, serving as an important feeding and breeding area for grey seal (Halichoerus grypus) and a feeding area for minke whales, harbor porpoise (Phocoena phocoena) and orcas (Orcinus orca). The coastal waters of the Kola Peninsula are used by beluga whales (Delphinapterus beluga) as a migration corridor and feeding area. Other cetaceans listed on the IUCN Red List are also regularly observed here, such as humpback whales (Megaptera novangliae), sei whales (Balaenoptera borealis) and white-beaked dolphin (Lagenorhynchus albirostris).
The report titled Identification of Arctic Marine Areas of Heightened Ecological and Cultural Significance: Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment (AMSA IIc) (AMAP/CAFF/SDWG, 2013) revealed the coastal waters of the Barents Sea as an important area meeting several EBSA criteria. The IUCN/NRDC Workshop to Identify Areas of Ecological and Biological Significance or Vulnerability in the Arctic Marine Environment (see annex II) (Speer and Laughlin, 2011) identified an area named “White Sea/ Barents Sea Coast” as meeting nearly all EBSA criteria. “This region is characterized by highly productive coastal waters influenced by a coastal branch of warm current originating from the North-Atlantic current. The area supports diverse and productive benthic communities including kelp, provides important nursery habitat for several species of pelagic fishes, and supports Atlantic salmon as well as seabird colonies with diverse species composition. The area is important for breeding Common eiders and provides staging, molting and wintering grounds for three eider species, including Steller’s eider, which is considered globally vulnerable by IUCN” (Speer and Laughlin, 2011). In the following description we detail this assessment focusing on the EBSA criteria.
Description of the location
This area is located in the Barents Sea. It is bounded to the east by the White Sea, and to the west by the Russian/Norwegian maritime border. The area is bounded by the Murmansk Coastal Current, conventionally within 30 km from shore and generally shallower than 200 m depth.
DISCLAIMER: The designations employed and the presentation of material in this map do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of the Secretariat concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city or area or of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries.
Area Details
In the western part of the area, Varanger fjord and the fjords of Rybachiy Peninsula and Motovsky Bay have a complex shoreline. A variety of fjords of different types and sizes, steep rocks and small beaches create a complex coastal environment. In the eastern part of the area, a low-lying, shallow coastline is typical of the south-eastern Barents Sea, but remnants of the western fjord and skerries system are still present. Groups of small islands and capes are found along the coast of the area. Complex tectonic and glacial processes along with the isostatic uplift of the Scandinavian shield create several fjord lagoons with limited water exchange with the sea (Semenov, 1988); on the coast of Kildin Island, there is also another type of water body that separated from the sea: Mogilnoe Lake, the only known anchialine lake in the Arctic (Strelkov et al., 2014). The oceanographic regime of the area is dominated by the Murmansk coastal current (in the west also by the Norwegian coastal current), which transports the transformed water of Atlantic origin. Transformation leads to some freshening of the water and warming of surface and subsurface layers compared to the waters of the North Cape and the Murmansk currents transporting the Atlantic water in the more offshore part of the Barents Sea. The coastal waters are generally ice free; nutrient input from Atlantic waters and the seasonal cycle of stratification and mixing make the primary production regime different from the offshore Barents Sea. A complex system of oceanographic fronts develops in the southern Barents Sea (Kostianoy et al., 2004). The area is generally productive but distribution of phytoplankton is mosaic owing to numerous eddies and local fronts (Makarevich and Druzhkova, 2010). The bulk of zooplankton, which provides abundant food for fish and, to some extent seabirds, is formed due to Calanus finmarchicus and the larvae of benthic invertebrates (Kamshilov, 1958; Stiansen et al., 2009) but krill is also important (Zelikman, 1961). Bottom topography in the area is very complex. Together with mosaic distribution of different types of sediments, this provides conditions for fine-scale mosaics of hard-and soft-bottom habitats and respective communities (Derjugin, 1915; Sharonov, 1948; Pergament, 1957; Zatsepin, 1962; Zatsepin and Rittikh, 1968; Propp, 1971; Pereladov, 2003; Sokolov and Shtrik, 2003; Anisimova et al., 2010; Britayev et al., 2010). The coastal area has long been known for abundant fish, seabirds and mammal populations, many of them forming seasonal aggregations and having been exploited by indigenous Saami people, Russians and Norwegians for centuries (Lajus et al., 2005; Lajus and Lajus, 2010; Bohanov et al., 2013).
The Barents Sea ecosystem is known for its fluctuating nature, which strongly depends on global processes and interactions between the atmosphere and the ocean (Stiansen et al., 2009). The decadal variation in oceanographic and biological characteristics is well documented and clearly shows different periods interfering with the impact of fishing on fish and benthic invertebrate communities (Borisov et al. 2001; Yaragina & Dolgov, 2009). Comparison of the Barents Sea ecosystem, with its broad shelf, to the neighbouring Norwegian Sea ecosystem indicate that the former may have higher resilience owing to longer trophic chains, providing more energy flow into their benthic assemblages (Yaragina and Dolgov, 2009). However, the coastal ecosystem is particularly more vulnerable to accidental oil pollution.
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Apatity, Kola Science Centre of Russian Academy of Sciences, pp. 102– 117 (in Russian). Krasnov Yu.V., Gavrilo M.V., Spiridonov V.A. 2011. Sea ice biotopes of southeastern Barents and the White seas. In: V. Spiridonov, M. Gavrilo, N. Nikolaeva, E. Krasnova (eds) Atlas of the Marine and Coastal Biodiversity of the Russian Arctic. Moscow, WWF Russia Publication, pp. 30–32. Krasnov Yu.V., Goryaev Yu. I. 2013. Main tendencies of avifauna development in Kola Bay and its determinants. In: P.V. Makarevich (ed). Birds of the northern and southern Russian seas. Apatity, Kola Science Centre of Russian Academy of Sciences, pp. 38–64 (in Russian). Krasnov Yu.V., Matishov G.G., Galaktionov K.V., Savinova T.N. 1995. Colonial seabirds of Murman. St.Petersburg, Nauka, 226 p. (In Russian). Krasnov Yu.V., Strom H., Gavrilo M.V., Shavykin A.A. 2006. Wintering of seabirds in polynyas near the Terskiy Coast of the White Sea and at East Murman. Ornithology. Issue 31. Moscow, MSU publishers, pp. 51–57. (In Russian). Krasnov Yu.V., Spiridonov V.A., Dobrynnin D.V. 2012. Seabirds on the Eastern Murman and northern part of the White Sea in summer: features of distribution and differences in forage resources. In: G.G. Matishov (ed). Ecology of seabirds in the White Sea. Apatity, Kola Science Centre of Russian Academy of Sciences, pp. 44–66 (in Russian). Ivanenko N.Yu. 2013. Avifauna of West Murman by the example of Pechenga Bay and Islands of Ainov. In: P.V. Makarevich (ed). Birds of the northern and southern Russian seas. Apatity, Kola Science Centre of Russian Academy of Sciences, pp. 64–101 (in Russian). Lajus D.L., Dmitrieva Z.V., Kraikovski A. V., Lajus J.A.,Yurchenko A.Y., Alexandrov D.A. 2005. The use of historical catch data to trace the influence of cimate on fish populations: examples from the White and the Barents Sea fisheries in 17th – 18th centuries. ICES Journal of Marine Science, 62 (7), pp. 1426–1435. Lajus D.L., Lajus J.A (eds). 2010. “The sea is our field”. Quantitative data on fisheries of the White and the Barents Sea in XVII – early XX century. St.Petersburg, European University, 219 p. (in Russian). Larsen T., Boltunov A., Denisenko N., Denisenko S., Gavrilo M., Mokievsky V., Nagoda D., Spiridonov V., Quillfeldt C. von and the participants at the St. Petersburg biodiversity workshop 12-13 May 2001. 2003. The Barents Sea Ecoregion. A biodiversity assessment. Oslo, WWF, 150 p. Makarevich P.R., Druzhkova E.I. 2010. Seasonal cyclic processes in coastal planktonic algocoenoses of northern seas. Dostov on Don, Murmansk Marine Biologocal institute – Southern Science Centre of Russian Academy of Sciences, 279 p. (in Russian). Matishov G.G. (ed). 2009. Kola Bay. Development and rational nature management. Moscow, Nauka, 381 p. (in Russian). Pereladov M.V. 2003. Some aspects of distribution and behavior of red king crab in the Barents Sea shallow coastal waters. In: Sokolov VI, editor. Bottom ecosystems of the Barents Sea. – Trudy (Proceedings) VNIRO, 142, pp. 103-119 (in Russian). Pereladov M.V., Spiridonov Vassily A., Anosov S.E., Bobkov A.A., Britayev T.A., Deart Yu.V., Labutin A.V., Simakova U.V., Spiridonov Victor A. 2013. Studies of the lagoons Linjalampi and Sisjarvi (Varanger fjord, southwestern part od the Barents Sea), general characteristics, bottom communities and the impact of introduced Kamchatka crab (Paralithodes camtschaticus). In: Material of science conference “Marine biology, geology, oceanology – interdisciplinary studies on marine stations”. Moscow, Moscow State University, 27 February – 01 March 2013. Moscow, KMK Scientific Publications, pp. 241–245. Pergament T.S. Distribution of benthos in the coastal zone of East Murman. Trudy (Proceedings) of Murmansk Marine Biological Sation, 3, pp. 75–89 (in Russian). Propp M.V. 1971. Ecology of the coastal bottom communities of the Murmansk coast of the Barents Sea. Leningrad, Nauka, 128 p. (in Russian). Semenov V.N. 1988. Systematics and ecology of marine basins at different stages of isolation. Apatity, Kola Science Centre of the Academy of Science of USSR, 90 p. (in Russian). Sharonov I.V. 1948. Sublittoral benthic assemblages of Yarnyshnaya inlet. Trudy (Proceedings) of Murmansk Marine Biological Sation,1, pp. 153–163 (in Russian). Sokolov VI, Shtrik VA. 2003. The biocenosis analysis of the coastal zone of Teriberscaya Bay, the Barents Sea, and the investigation of the influence of red king crab (Paralithodes camtschaticus) on the Barents Sea ecosystem. In: Sokolov VI, editor. Bottom ecosystems of the Barents Sea. – Trudy (Proceedings) VNIRO, 142: 6-24. Speer L. and Laughlin T. (eds) 2011. IUCN/NRDC Workshop to Identify Areas of Ecological and Biological Significance or Vulnerability in the Arctic Marine Environment, La Jolla, California. 02-04 November 2010. 37 p. Spiridonov V.A. 2011. Biogeographical regionalization. Species diversity in the Russian Arctic seas: pelagic and sea ice biota, micro- and meiofauna. Macrobenthos: species diversity and group domination in the communities. In: V.A. Spiridonov., M.V. Gavrilo, N.G. Nikolaeva, E.D. Krasnova (eds) 2011. Atlas of the Marine and Coastal Biodiversity of the Russian Arctic. Moscow, WWF Russia, pp. 16-21. Stiansen J.E., Korneev O., Titov O., Arneberg P. (eds), Filin A., Hansen J.R., Hшines Е., Marasaev S. (co-eds) 2009. Joint Norwegian_Russian Environmental Status Report (2008) on the Barents Sea Ecosystem. Part II — Complete report. IMR/PINRO Joint Report Series, 2009(3). Bergen: Institute of Marine Research. — 375 p. Strelkov P., Shunatova N., Fokin M., Usov N., Fedyuk M., Malavenda S., Lubina O., Poloskin A., Korsun S. 2014. Marine Lake Mogilnoe (Kildin Island, the Barents Sea): one hundred years of solitude. Polar Biology, 37, pp. 297–310. Yaragina N.A., Dolgov A.V. 2009. Ecosystem structure and resilience — A comparison between the Norwegian and the Barents Sea. Deep-Sea Research II, 56: 2141–2153. Zatsepin V.I. 1962. Communities of the bottom invertebrate fauna of the Murmansk Coast of the Barents Sea and their relationships with the North Atlantic communities. Trudy (Proceedings) of All- Union Hydrobiological Society, 12, pp. 246–344 (in Russian). Zatsepin V.I., Rittikh, L.A. 1968. Quantitative distribution of bottom fauna and its various ecological groups in the Murmansk coastal area of the Barents Sea. Transactions of the Moscow Society of Naturalists, 30: 49–82 (in Russian). Zelikman E.A. 1961. On the ascent to the sea surface of the Barents Sea euphausiids and some features of their behaviour. In: Hydrological and biological characteristics of the Murmansk coastal waters, Murmansk, Murmanskoe Izdatelstvo, pp. 136-152. (In Russian).
Status of submission
Areas described as meeting EBSA criteria that were considered by the Conference of the Parties
  • dec-COP-12-DEC-22
Assessment of the area against CBD EBSA criteria
C1: Uniqueness or rarity Medium
The area harbours no endemic species except the subspecies of Atlantic cod Gadus morhua mogilniesis, which live in the anchialine Mogilnoe Lake, but some habitas are unique, namely Mogilnoe Lake itself (Derjugin, 1925) as the only anchialine marine basin in the Arctic (Strelkov et al., 2014).
C2: Special importance for life-history stages of species High
The coastal waters of the Kola Peninsula are the main habitat for sand eel (Ammodites spp.), the most important spawning ground of capelin (Mallotus mallotus) (figure 2), and the feeding area for most key demersal fishes, such as cod (Gadus morhua), haddock (Melanogrammus aeglefinus), halibuts, walfish, and plaice, and, at certain periods of time, herring (Clupea harengus). The rivers of the Kola Peninsula retain importance for maintaining genetically diverse stocks of Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) (Larsen et al., 2003; Stiansen et al., 2009). At least seven colonies of 50,000-plus breeding pairs and a number of smaller colonies located on the coast from the Russia/Norway border to Sviatoi Nos Cape hold a broad range of species because distribution ranges of eastern and western species meet there, with kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla) being most numerous. The area is also important for the breeding of guillemots (Uria aalgae and U. lomvia, Cepphus grylle), herring and black-backed gulls (Larus argentatus and L. marinus), cormorants (Phalacrocrax aristotelis, P. carbo), and Atlantic puffin (Fratercula arctica). The islands also provide nesting habitats to common eider (Somateria molissima) (Krasnov et al., 1995; Bakken et al., 2000; Gavrilo, 2011; Krasnov and Goryaev, 2013; Ivanenko, 2013; Krasnov and Ezhov, 2013). The coastal waters, with their high productivity and seasonal mass shoreward migration of pelagic fishes, are also among the most important feeding areas of colonial seabirds (Krasnov et al., 1995; 2006; Ezhov, 2008; Krasnov et al., 2012; Krasnov, 2013; Krasnov and Ezhov, 2013) and marine mammals, such as bearded seal (Erignathus barbatus), ringed seal (Phoca hispida), harp seal (Pagophilus groenladicus) and minke whales (Balaenoptera acutorostrata) (Larsen et al., 2003; Stiansen et al., 2009; Krasnov et al., 2012) (figure 3). The coastal waters of the Kola Peninsula are also used by beluga whales (Delphinapterus beluga) as a migration corridor and feeding area. With the onset of the sea ice season, most seabirds migrate from the eastern Barents Sea to the Kola Peninsula coast and the Norwegian shores of the Barents Sea (Krasnov et al., 2002; Krasnov, 2004). The coastal area of Kola and Rybachiy peninsulas and Varanger fjord form continuation of the wintering area of eiders and other seabirds, which is integrated with a similar wintering area in the northern part of the White Sea (figure 4). The common eider, which is most characteristic of this area, ranges more or less continuously along the Kola Peninsula coast, while the king eider (Somateria spectabilis) and Steller eider (Polysticta stelleri) congregate in several spots (Krasnov et al., 2004; Krasnov, 2013; Ivanenko, 2013).
C3: Importance for threatened, endangered or declining species and/or habitats High
The coast of the Kola Peninsula and Varanger fjord is home to a population of white-tailed sea eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla) and is a wintering area for Steller eider (IUCN VU), long-tailed duck (IUCN VU) and velvet scoter (IUCN VU). The area is important as a feeding and breeding area for grey seal (Halichoerus grypus), which is listed in Russia’s national red list, and a feeding area regularly visited by minke whales, harbor porpoise (Phocoena phocoena) orcas (Orcinus orca) and commonly by other cetaceans listed on the IUCN Red List, i.e., humpback whales (Megaptera novangliae) and sei whales (Balaenoptera borealis) as well as white-beaked dolphin (Lagenorhynchus albirostris) (Burdin et al., 2009).
C4: Vulnerability, fragility, sensitivity, or slow recovery High
Overfishing, well-documented in the Barents Sea ecosystem (Borisov et al., 2001; Bohanov et al., 2013), has also impacted the survival and breeding success of the seabird colonies of the Murman Coast (Ktrasnov et al., 1995; Krasnov, 2013). Sensitive habitats in the area include benthic habitats with rich epifaunal communities (i.e., bryozoans, sponges, scallops) on hard and mixed substrates vulnerable to bottom-trawling and dredging (Denisenko, 2001; Denisenko and Zgurovsky, 2013). The coastal zone with its complex coastline is also highly vulnerable to oil spills.
C5: Biological productivity High
The coastal zone off Kola Peninsula comprises 3% of the shelf area but provides 9-13% of annual net primary production. Productivity of the narrow coastal band between 0 and 10 m, where macrophytes contribute to production, is especially high (Makarevich and Druzhkova, 2010). Coastal zooplankton may reach high biomass owing to local development and transport of dominant copepod species Calanus finmarchicus, seasonal development of meroplankton (Kamshilov, 1958) and aggregating of krill (Zelikman, 1961: Drobysheva, 1994). The benthic biomass and production is also particularly high, allowed the introduction to the ecosystem of a new generalistic predator: the Kamchatka (red) king crab Paralithodes camtschaticus.
C6: Biological diversity High
The species richness of the coastal waters in the south-western and central Barents Sea is particularly high. In particular, 414 species of pelagic algae (not counting numerous forms and varieties) have been recorded in the coastal waters (Makarevich and Druzhkova, 2010). The Barents Sea is known for the highest species richness of fishes and macroinvertebrates in the Arctic seas (over 2300 species of macroinvertebrates, about 200 species of fish – Spiridonov, 2011; Spiridonov et al., 2011) – most of them occurring in the coastal zone of Kola and Rybachiy peninsulas. In a single fjord-like inlet sand and shell habitats alone harbour 190 species of macroinvertebrates (Sharonov, 1948). The coastal area belongs to a different biogeographical unit than the offshore Barents Sea regardless of what regionalization scheme is adopted (Spiridonov, 2011a), and it can be also considered a corridor for migration of Atlantic species to the East following periods of warming and increasing input of Atlantic water. The Barents Sea also harbours the greatest number of marine colonial, facultative colonial birds and sea ducks (30) in the Arctic seas, practically all of which nest or aggregate in the coastal area (Bakken et al., 2000; Spiridonov et al., 2011). The coastal zone contains a variety of semi-isolated fjord-like inlets with a specific oceanographic regime, which are in the process of separating from the sea owing to isostatic rise (Semenov, 1988; Bobkov et al., 2010, 2013; Pereladov et al., 2013). Seasonal successions in coastal planktonic communities show considerable variation (Makarevich and Druzhkova, 2010). A variety of benthic habitats and biotopes includes particularly important kelp and calacareous algae communities, scallop banks, and hard-bottom communities dominated by bryozoans and sponges (Pergament, 1957).
C7: Naturalness Medium
The biological resources of the coastal waters of the Barents Sea have been exploited for centuries (Lajus et al., 2005; Lajus and Lajus, 2010). In the 20th century the Barents Sea fishery experienced several crises (Borisov et al., 2001; Bohanov et al., 2013). In particular, large fluctuations in capelin abundance have been strengthened by an intensive fishery (Yaragina and Dolgov, 2009), which affected the seabird colonies of the Murman coast and reproductive success of particular bird species (Krasnov et al., 1995) while the bottom-trawling pressure apparently impacted benthic communities (Denisenko, 2001; Denisenko and Zgurovsky., 2013). However, most changes appear to be reversible. Kamchatka (red) king crab was introduced in the Barents Sea in the 1960s and became a component of the coastal ecosystem. Its impact on benthic communities varies temporally and spatially but generally can be considered moderate (Spiridonov et al., 2009; Britayev et al., 2010). Some bays, Kola Bay in particular, with its urbanized and industrialized coast, have been strongly impacted by pollution (Matishov, 2009). In spite of all the disturbances the coastal ecosystems appear to be operating in a natural mode and manner, even if there are disturbances from fisheries and other exploitation; so that naturalness can be qualified as medium.