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Ecologically or Biologically Significant Areas (EBSAs)

  published: 12 Jun 2015

South-eastern Barents Sea (the Pechora Sea)

General Information
The shallow, south-east portion of the Barents Sea, known as the Pechora Sea, has specific oceanography,hydrology, ice regime and a distinct ecosystem mainly based on benthic production. It differs from the rest of the Barents Sea by its more continental climate, lower salinity, shallow depths and lowland shores. The most outstanding environmental feature is the Pechora River — the second-largest river draining into the European part of the Arctic Ocean. Its discharge influences this area and justifies certain biological features. The Pechora Sea is known to hold rich and highly productive benthic communities supported by considerable nutrient influx transported by the Pechora River. The benthic fauna numbers more than 600 taxa. Total biomass recorded at the Kolguev shallow, in the Kara and Yugor Shar straits, exceeds 500 mg/m2, which is the highest value found in the Barents Sea. This provides a good food base for benthic-feeding animals like sea ducks and walruses. Waterbirds represent another remarkable biological feature of the area. The Pechora Sea is located in the centre of the East Atlantic flyway and is a key stopover site for the majority of waterfowl species during the final stages of their migrations. Most of the waterfowl and other aquatic birds do not pass the area in transit but make extensive use of the rich food resources of sea shoals and sheltered bays, the littoral zone and adjacent coasts. Altogether, about 130 bird species are observed there. The Pechora Sea serves as a key habitat for Atlantic walrus and provides an important feeding ground and migration path for beluga whales (IUCN VU). Polar bears inhabit the area throughout the year. In addition to this, the Pechora Sea basin supports the only European stock of Arctic cisco (Coregonus autumnalis) and is an important migration area for the Pechora Atlantic salmon stock. It also serves as a principal spawning area for the polar cod.
The Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment (AMSA IIc) report on Arctic marine areas of heightened ecological significance identified the Pechora Sea as one such area of heightened ecological significance that meets the International Maritime Organization (IMO) ecological criteria for particularly sensitive sea area (PSSAs) (AMAP/CAFF/SDWG, 2013). In addition, the IUCN/NRDC Workshop to Identify Areas of Ecological and Biological Significance or Vulnerability in the Arctic Marine Environment indicated the following.
Description of the location
Arctic
The area largely covers the south-eastern shallow region of the Barents Sea, which is influenced by the Pechora River discharge. This area is traditionally called the Pechora Sea, even though it is not formally recognized as the sea. The area lies entirely within the territorial waters and the EEZ of the Russian Federation.
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
The south-eastern part of the Barents Sea, also known as the Pechora Sea, differs from the rest of the Barents Sea by its more continental climate, lower salinity, shallow depths and lowland shores. The most outstanding environmental feature is the Pechora River – the second-largest river draining into the European part of the Arctic Ocean. The Pechora River strongly affects different components and processes in the entire ecosystem of the region. It impacts the hydrological regime of the adjoining sea, provides a variety of habitats for a diverse biota, and transports both nutrients and pollutants gathered from the vast drainage basin. The most peculiar feature of the hydrological regime of the Pechora Sea is a strong continental outflow. The Pechora River’s annual run-off averages 130 km3. The continental climate of the Pechora Sea and desalinated surface water favour increased ice formation and maintenance of ice cover for seven to eight months on average. The coastal zone is occupied by fast-ice less than 1 km wide, followed by a recurring flaw polynya. Annually, the Pechora River supplies the estuary with approximately 4,570 thousand km3 of sediments and 12,500 tonnes of suspended matter that are gathered its from extended catchment area, covering ca. 330,000 km2. The major portion of the fine sediment fraction is transported to the sea and accounts for high water turbidity in areas influenced by river discharge. Biological productivity. In general, the hydrology and bottom topography of the Pechora Sea do not support highly productive pelagic ecosystems. The water column is highly stratified, due to continental outflow and extensive sea ice cover. On the other hand, shallow depths (less than 50 m over most of the sea area) prevent penetration of nutrient-rich waters from the Atlantic Ocean, which spread at depth and mix with the upper water column during autumn convection in deeper regions. Highly turbulent zones of interaction between warm Barents Sea water and cold water penetrating from the Kara Sea with the Litke Current in the northern outer part of the Pechora Sea are the only stable zones of enhanced pelagic biological productivity. In contrast, benthic ecosystems seem to be highly productive, supported by the considerable nutrient influx transported by the Pechora River. The Pechora Sea is known to hold rich benthic communities. The benthos fauna numbers more than 600 taxa. Total biomass recorded at the Kolguev shallow, in the Kara and Yugor Shar straits, exceeds 500 mg/m2, the highest values found in the Barents Sea. Shallow depths and bottom communities dominated in many zones by bivalves provide a good food base for benthic-feeding animals like sea ducks and walruses (figures 2 and 3). Both ichthyofauna and marine fish resources of the Pechora Sea are less diverse and rich than the rest of the Barents Sea area. The fish list includes some 70 species, less than a half of those observed in the Barents Sea as a whole. The most numerous is the Polar cod Boreogadus saida, which is key species in the crypelagic ecosystem. Fish from the Kara Sea and eastern Barents Sea populations migrate in autumn to the Pechora Sea to spawn under the ice during winter. Their principal spawning grounds are located in coastal waters from the Kanin Peninsula to Vaigach Island, and at the Kolguev shallows. Another schooling fish with similar habitat preferences, the Navaga Eleginus navaga, is also plentiful in the area with spawning grounds located in coastal waters.Herring of the Chesh-Pechora stock spawn demersal eggs in shallow waters in Cheskaya Bay. The Pechora River and its estuary are famous as a highly productive water system supporting rich resources of anadromous fishes, including various white fishes -Coregonidae (Coregonus lavaretus, C. nasus, C. sardinella, C. automnalis, C. peled, Stenodus leucichthys nelma). The Pechora Sea basin has the only Northern European stock of Arctic cisco (C. autumnalis), an anadromous species of white fish that spawns in the Pechora estuary. One of the largest Northern European stocks of Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) migrates throughout the Pechora Sea to their major spawning grounds in the Pechora River. Birds, waterbirds in particular, are the most noticeable biological feature of the area. Among the 130 species, more than 50% rely on aquatic habitats (figures 5, 6 and 7). Waterfowl and larger gulls are the dominant aquatic bird species, while true cliff-breeding seabirds are found in small numbers. Their breeding colonies are found only along the rocky shores of the Novaya Zemlya. Generally, analyses of colony distribution and structure, as well as data from offshore seabird censuses, support the conclusion about low productivity of the pelagic ecosystem of the Pechora Sea. The only area with enhanced pelagic productivity is the northernmost outer portion of the sea bordered by the Novaya Zemlya trough — a topographical feature accounting for vertical circulation. This area supports important feeding grounds for seabirds and alcids during the postbreeding season. Another frontal zone characterized by high seabird densities is the pack ice edge. A great number of water birds pass the area in spring, summer and autumn. Migrating flocks of birds flying both at sea and inland (along the Pechora River valley) meet in the Pechora Sea. Their breeding grounds extemd from Finnmark to Taimyr, while their winter quarters are found in the North Atlantic, Western Europe and the Caspian Sea. The Pechora Sea is located in the centre of the East-Atlantic Flyway and is a key stopover site for the majority of waterfowl species during the final stages of their migrations. Most of the waterfowl and other aquatic birds do not pass the area in transit but make extensive use of the rich food resources of sea shoals and sheltered bays, the littoral zone, and adjacent coasts. The Pechora Sea is a principal staging and moulting ground for king eiders and a stopover site for scoters and long-tailed ducks. The shallow waters from Chesha Bay east of the Kanin Peninsula and along the southern shore of the Pechora Sea have fast ice in winter and are important breeding areas for ringed seals from the eastern Barents Sea as well as from the western Kara Sea. The pack ice in the southeastern Barents Sea is presumably important for young ringed seals that aggregate to feed on the polar cod that spawn under the ice in this area. The main wintering area for walrus of the “Kara Sea-southern Barents Sea-Novaya Zemlya” stock and for beluga of the large Karskaya stock is the pack ice in the Pechora Sea region. Some walruses remain in this area during summer with main haul-outs on Vaigach and Dolgy islands and adjacent small islands.
This is a dynamic area that is changing under current conditions of global climate change. The most prominent changing features are the condition and distribution of ice, with summer ice edge shifting north over a great extent for the past decade. This has affected distribution patterns and foraging conditions of many ice-associated species, particularly all polar bears and Atlantic walrus. Further investigations are required. The Pechora Sea is the key habitat for walrus. The developing oil and gas industry in the Pechora Sea presents a potential direct (noise, disturbance) and indirect (forage reserve loss and oil pollution of the coast due to oil spills) threat to walrus populations. Commercial fisheries are poorly developed in the Pechora Sea. Nevertheless, the depletion of the Polar cod stock, overharvested in the Eastern Barents Sea in the 1960s and1970s, has likely affected the spawning population of the Pechora Sea. The pelagic salmon fisheries in the North Atlantic Ocean considerably reduced the Pechora spawning stock in 1970s. The Convention for the Conservation of Salmon in the North Atlantic Ocean (1983) banned pelagic gill net fishing, but now the Pechora salmon is threatened by illegal fishing during the spawning migration. Directly influenced by one of the greatest rivers of Northern Europe, the Pechora Sea is a subject of local, regional and distant impacts. Major impact sources distributed all over the catchment basin are industrial activities related to exploitation of the Timan-Pechora oil-gas province and the Pechora coal basin. Analyses of the dynamics of the hydrochemical regime of the Pechora River mouth region have revealed long-term increased levels of nitrogen, phosphorus and pollutants. Oxygen shortage in water has been recorded frequently. The existing nutrient regime is characteristic for mesotrophic, and at some sites even eutrophic freshwater bodies. These changes can already be traced in zooplankton and fish community structure in the Pechora Bay. The overall hydrochemical status of the lower Pechora River is considered an “anthropogenic modified background”. The ecosystems of the Pechora Sea are characterized by their high buffering capacity; therefore, for a given disturbance, it will take a long time for them to demonstrate changes in principal ecological characteristics. Thus, concentration levels of trace metals and micro-organic contaminants in sediments are rather low, corresponding to background values as compared to other Arctic seas. However, some parts of the Pechora Sea are already contaminated. There are two sea ports in the Pechora Sea: Varandey and Naryan-Mar. The main cargo traffic goes through Varandey, an oil terminal. Oil is also reloaded at the Kolguev island terminal during summer navigation. Varandey’s main cargo traffic and shipping are connected with exporting oil, including from the Prirazlomnaya oil platform. As a result, a visible anthropogenic impact on the south-east Barents is growing. Disturbance and anthropogenic pollution of water and beaches are the main disturbing factors. The Pechora Sea is a habitat of rare and endangered species of fauna. The majority of the marine mammals of the Pechora Sea are red listed in Russia, with different conservation status. Atlantic walrus is under main concern as one of the most vulnerable species in the area. The area meeting EBSA criteria is partly covered by federal specially protected areas (Nenetsky reserve), so monitoring and basic research are ongoing and planned for the future. Also, over the last several years, WWF and the Marine Mammal Council have conducted research on the Atlantic walrus and are planned research on benthic communities. A high seasonal variability of the pelagic environment is characteristic of the Pechora Sea, affecting seasonal primary production. The variability can be increased under human impact and make ecosystems unsustainable and potentially dangerous for regional biota.
References
AMAP/CAFF/SDWG, 2013. Identification of Arctic marine areas of heightened ecological and cultural significance: Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment (AMSA) IIc. Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP), Oslo. 114 pp. Andriyashev, A.P., Chernova, N.V. 1994. “Annotated list of fish-forms and fishes of Arctic Seas and adjacent waters”, Problems of ichthyology 34, No 4, 435. (In Russian) Bakken Vidar. Seabird colony databases of the Barents sea region and the Kara sea. 2000. Born, E. W., J. Teilmann, M. Acquarone, and F. F. Rigét. 2004. Habitat use of ringed seals (Phoca hispida) in the North Water Area (North Baffin Bay). Arctic 57:129‐142. BelikovS.E. 2011. Polar bear of the Russian Arctic. Terrestrial and marine ecosystems. Paulsen Editions. Moscow - Saint-Petersburg. Pp. 263-291. In Russian. Boltunov A.N., Belikov S.E., Gorbunov Yu. A., Menis D.T., Semenova V.S. 2010. The Atlantic walrus of the southeastern Barents Sea and adjacent regions: review of the present-day status. 29 p. Borkin, I.V. Breeding and early stages of the Polar cod Borogadus saida (lep.) of the Barents Sea, Abstr., PhD thesis, Moscow (1990) 21. (In Russian) Born, E.W., Dietz, R., Heide-Jorgensen, M.P. and L.O. Knutsen. 1997. Historical and present distribution, abundance and exploitation of Atlantic walruses (Odobenus rosmarus rosmarus L.) in eastern Greenland. Bioscience, 46. 73 pp. Born, E.W., Gjertz, I and R.R. Reeves.1995. Population assessment of Atlantic walrus (Odobenus rosmarus rosmarus). Norsk Polarinstittut Meddelelser, 138. 100 pp. Bryzgalo, V.A. and Ivanov, V.V. ”Hydrochemical regime of Pechora River under conditions of anthropogenic influence,” Ecological chemistry (1999) 8, No 2, 91 (In Russian) Cameron, M., and P. Boveng. 2009. Habitat use and seasonal movements of adult and sub‐adult bearded seals. Alaska Fisheries Science Center Quarterly Report, October‐November‐December 2009: 1‐4. Chernook V.I., Lydersen C., Glasov D.M., Trukhanova I.S, Kovacs K.M. 2012. Aerial survey of Atlantic walruses (Odobenus rosmarus) in the Pechora sea, August 2011. Marine mammals of Holarctic. Collection of Scientific Papers, vol. 2. Pp. 366-369. Druzhkov N., Grönlund L., Kuznetsov L. The phytoplankton of the Pechora Sea, the Pechora Bay and the Cheshskaya Bay // Pechora Sea Ecological Studies in 1992-1995: Final Report. Finnish-Russian Offshore Technology Working Groupe. Rep. B13, 1997. P. 41-52. Gavrilo M., M.Ekker, H.Strom, D.Vongraven 2000 The Pechora Sea region - a unique pristine environment at risk of oil and gas development, 5th International Conference “Health, safety, environment in oil and gas exploration and production”, SPE publication # 61498 Grönlund L., Kuznetsov L., Druzhkov N. Hydrology of the Pechora Sea, the Pechora Bay and the Cheshskaya Bay // Pechora Sea Ecological Studies in 1992-1995: Final Report. Finnish-Russian Offshore Technology Working Groupe. Rep. B13, 1997. pp. 15-28. Haug, T. & Nilssen, K.T. 1995. Observations of walrus (Odobenus rosmarus rosmarus) in the southeastern Barents and Pechora Seas in February 1993. Polar Res. 14:83-86. Isaksen, K., Strøm, H., Gavrilo, M. and Krasnov, Yu. Distribution of seabirds and waterfowl in the Pechora Sea, with emphasis on post-breeding marine ducks. In: H. Strom, K. Isaksen, A.N. Golovkin (eds.) Seabirds and wildfowl surveys in the Pechora Sea during August 1998. Norwegian Ornithological Society, Report No 2-2000, pp. 7-44. Joint Norwegian-Russian environmental status 2008. Report on the Barents Sea Ecosystem. Part II – Complete report. IMR/PINRO Joint Report Series, 2009. (3). Kazakov, R.V. (Ed.) The Atlantic Salmon, Saint-Petersburg, Nauka (1998) 576. (In Russian) Krasnov Yu.V., Goryaev Yu., Nikolaeva N.N., Gavrilo M.V. 2002 Atlas of bird distribution in the Pechora Sea. Apatity. 150 p. (In Russian) Krasnov, Yu., Gavrilo, M., Nikolaeva, N., Goryaev, Yu., Strom, H. 2006. East-Atlantic flyway populations of seaducks in the Barents Sea region. In: Boere, G.C., Galbraith, C.A., Stroud, D.A. (eds). Waterbirds around the world. Edinburgh. Pp. 212–213 Krasnov, Yu.V. and Nikolaeva N.G. 1996. Seabird distribution in the south-eastern Barents Sea in July 1993, Ecosystems, biological resources and anthropogenic pollution of Pechora Sea Seas, Kola Scientific Center RAS, Apatity 98. (In Russian) Krasnov, Yu.V., Gavrilo, M.V., Chernook V.I. 2004. Distribution of bird fauna over the Pechora Sea according to aerial survey data // Zoologicheskiy zhurnal – Vol 83, № 4, P. 449–458 (in Russian with English summary) Krasnov, Yu.V., Gavrilo, M.V., Strom, H., & Shavykin, A.A. 2008 Distribution of birds on Kolguev island and adjacent Barents sea areas during late summer 2003. Ornitologiya, 35: 83–96 (in Russian with English summary) Larsen T., Nagoda D., Andersen J.R. 2002. The Barents Sea Ecoregion: A biodiversity assessment, p. 151. Novoselov A.P. 1999. Biological characteristics of Arctic cisco (Coregonus autumnalis Pallas) within the Barents and Karskoe Seas// YII International Symposium on the Biology and Management of Coregonid Fishes. The University of Michigan. Ann Arbor. USA. S. 66. Novoselov A.P. 2002. The feeding of Arctic cisco (Coregonus autumnalis Pallas) in the south-western part of Kara Sea// VIII International Symposium on the Biology and Management of Coregonid Fishes. Rovaniemi. Finland. S. 41. Pogrebov, V.B. et al. 1997. “Macrobenthic communities of the Pechora Sea: the past and the present on the threshold of the Prirazlomnoe oil-field exploitation”, Marine pollution bulletin 35, No 7-12, 287. Polar Bears. Proc. of the 15th Working Meeting of the IUCN/SSC Polar Bear Spec. Group, 29 June 3 July 2009. Copenhagen, Denmark. pp. 247. Potanin, V.A., (Ed. in chief). 1996. Ecosystems, biological resources and anthropogenic contamination of the Pechora Sea, Kola Scientific Center RAS, Apaptity 161. (In Russian) Spiridonov V.A., Gavrilo M.V., Krasnova E.D., Nikolaeva N.G. (Eds.) 2010. Atlas of marine and coastal biological diversity of the Russian Arctic. Moscow: WWF Russia, p. 60.
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
This is a unique area within the European Arctic and on a circumpolar scale due to its combination of bottom topography, hydrological regime, biodiversity and productivity governed by impact of the Pechora River and its geographical location in the Eastern European Arctic. The Pechora Sea region supports a specific ecosystem important for the biological diversity of North-West Eurasia.
C2: Special importance for life-history stages of species High
The area is a critically important non-breeding habitat for waterfowl species migrating from western and central Siberia via the East Atlantic Flyway, an important feeding ground for alcids during the postbreeding period, an important year-round habitat for the southern stock of recovering Atlantic walrus. The fast ice area is an important breeding ground for ringed seals. The Pechora Sea basin supports the only European stock of Arctic cisco (Coregonus autumnalis) and is an important migration area for the Pechora Atlantic salmon stock. It is principal spawning area for the polar cod.
C3: Importance for threatened, endangered or declining species and/or habitats Medium
The area is important for the survival and recovery of the southern subpopulation of the Atlantic walrus. It provides an important feeding ground and migration path for beluga whales (IUCN VU). Polar bears inhabit the area throughout the year. It is an important migration flyway, postbreeding stop-over and staging area for long-tailed ducks (IUCN VU), velvet scoter (IUCN EN), Steller’s eiders (IUCN VU) and white-billed diver (IUCN VU).
C4: Vulnerability, fragility, sensitivity, or slow recovery High
The area harbours significant populations of ice-associated species of mammals and seabirds; ice habitats (flaw polynyas, ice edge) are sensitive to global warming. Mass aggregation of postbreeding seaducks and alcids, haul-out for walruses, as well as fry and larvae of polar cod, which are particularly vulnerable to oil spills.
C5: Biological productivity High
The area has one of highest benthic biomasses in the Barents Sea, which supports numerous populations of the benthic-feeding seabirds and walruses. Large stocks of white-fishes and Atlantic salmon.
C6: Biological diversity Medium
The area is a hot-spot for avian diversity, especially for waterbirds, with the highest diversity of coregonid species in the European Arctic and the presence of Pacific elements in its fish fauna.
C7: Naturalness Medium
As a whole this is a pristine Arctic area, but it is one of the most developed areas of the Arctic in terms of shelf petroleum exploration (shelf oil extraction and transportation), relatively high ship traffic, pollutant discharge in the Pechora River.