Ecologically or Biologically Significant Areas (EBSAs)

  published: 12 Jun 2015

North-eastern Barents–Kara Sea

General Information
The area is an example of a unique, pristine and vulnerable High Arctic marine cryopelagic ecosystem characteristic of the Atlantic region. Its bathymetry consists of an archipelagic shelf and adjacent shelf break with numerous deep-water canyons; a marginal ice zone moves through the area in the course of theyear. Its surface waters are typical Arctic waters, with Atlantic waters flowing along the continental slope and enriching local communities and biological productivity. The area has a high abundance of typical Arctic species (e.g., seabirds, marine mammals, benthic invertebrates), with core areas for several globally threatened species of birds and marine mammals.
The report titled Identification of Arctic Marine Areas of Heightened Ecological and Cultural Significance: Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment (AMSA IIc) (identified the marine areas around Franz- Josef Land archipelago, as well as the polynyas west and east of the Severnaya Zemlya archipelago, as areas of heightened ecological significance that meet the IMO ecological criteria for PSSAs (AMAP/CAFF/SDWG, 2013). The IUCN/NRDC Workshop to Identify Areas of Ecological and Biological Significance or Vulnerability in the Arctic Marine Environment (Speer and Laughlin, 2011) identified an area named “High Arctic Islands and Shelf” as meeting nearly all CBD criteria. The workshop report noted that, “This area includes a mix of large and small islands that together are the northern-most archipelago in the Russian and Norwegian Arctic. The region harbors abundant and diverse coastal benthic communities, and supports colonies of high Arctic seabirds, ice-associated marine mammals and polar bears. Atlantic water masses along the continental shelf break in the northern part of the area are associated with summer ice edge habitat supporting abundant and diverse zooplankton and polar cod (Boreogadus saida). It is a key area for the endangered Spitsbergen stock of bowhead whale, the northern stock of the East-Atlantic meta-population of Atlantic walrus (Odobaenus rosmarus rosmarus), and most of the world’s breeding population of the threatened ivory gull (the region provides post-breeding staging grounds for ivory gulls from all North-East Atlantic populations)” (Speers and Laughlin, 2011). As the above-mentioned EBSA is a large, non-uniform area that includes different sub-areas that meet the EBSA criteria in different ways, here we give descriptions and updated information for the part of the area located off Russian islands, including areas corresponding to several “elementary” EBSAs mapped and listed in annexes 1 and 2 to the IUCN/NRDC workshop report.
Description of the location
The area covers the High Arctic Russian archipelagos of Franz-Josef Land and Severnaya Zemlya, and several offshore islands, internal archipelagic waters and inland seas, the adjacent Russian territorial waters and the EEZ.
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 seabed topography is complex and includes archipelagic shelf and adjacent shelf break. This High Arctic ecosystem is enhanced by Atlantic water masses flowing along the continental shelf break. The area is characterised by higher abundances of zooplankton as compared to adjacent waters (Kosobokova 2012, figure 2). The prominent feature is marginal ice zone associated with this area, including recurrent flaw polynyas (off Franz Josef Land, west and east off Severnaya Zemlya) and the edge of drifting ice which has a seasonal distribution, shifting from south of the area in winter to the north, where it coincides in summer with the shelf break (figure 3), i.e. providing physical drivers for enhanced biological productivity (Eimer et al., 2013). In other words, the area is a dynamic marginal ice zone on an annual basis (see climatic ice extent charts in National Ice Center 2006, updated 2009). The marginal ice zone and offshore polynyas developing around the archipelagos (Popov and Gavrilo, 2011) are generally associated with enhanced primary production. The regional maxima of primary production around the archipelagos of Franz Josef Land and Severnaya Zemlya are particularly important in spring (April – May) when surrounding areas are under ice and show low productivity (Vetrov and Romankevich, 2011). Enhanced regional productivity and advection of zooplankton with the Atlantic water (Kosobokova, 2012) supports higher trophic levels, including polar cod and top predators, seabirds and marine mammals. The area is abundant in seabird colonies typical of the High Arctic (dominated by Dovkies/Little auks, Thick-billed murres/Brunnich’s guillemots, and Kittiwakes), ice-associated marine mammals and polar bears. It is the principal area for endangered Spitsbergen stock of owhead whale (IUCN EN) (Reeves et al., 2014) with the highest known densities (Gavrilo, unpublished data), northern stock of the East-Atlantic meta-population of Atlantic walrus Odobaenus rosmarus rosmarus, most of the world’s breeding population of the threatened ivory gull (IUCN NT) (Gavrilo, 2011), post-breeding staging grounds for ivory gulls from all of the North-East Atlantic populations (Gilg et al. 2010, figure 4). The coastal marine ecosystem of Franz-Josef Land is very rich and diverse, with benthic communities showing signs of pristine marine ecosystems (recent studies, 2013, National Geographic Pristine Seas – Franz-Josef Land expedition – 2013, under preparation).
This is dynamic area with evidence of current changes under conditions of global climate change. The most prominent changing features are the conditions and distribution of ice, with the summer ice edge shifting north for a great extent over the past decade. This has affected distribution patterns and foraging conditions of many ice-associated species, primarily polar bears, ice-associated seals, and ivory gulls. The recent changes may favour some species, such as bowhead whales and Atlantic walrus, but further investigations are required. This area is partly covered by federal specially protected areas (National Park Russian Arctic, Franz-Josef Land federal reserve (zakaznik), Severozemelsky federal reserve), so monitoring and basic research are ongoing and planned for the future. Some spots around abandoned polar stations and military bases have high concentrations of remnants of the previous epoch of Arctic exploration and exploitation industrial waste. Of particular danger for the environment are barrels with remaining fuel, which are gradually being cleaned up. Actual (on Franz Josef Land) and potential areas of tourism development are considered hotspots for disturbance. The major developing threat to the area is the booming shelf petroleum exploration and coming exploitation. Recently issued petroleum licences partly overlap with the area described and even overlap with some already existing federally protected areas (Franz-Josef Land federal refuge, Great Arctic reserve, Severozemelsky federal refuge).
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. Chernova N.V. 1999. Four new species of Gymnelus (Zoarcidae) from the Arctic region. Journal of Ichthyology, V. 39, No 5, p. 343-352. de Korte J., Volkov A.E., Gavrilo M.V. 1995. Bird observations in Severnaya Zemlya, Siberia. - Arctic. Vol. 48, N 3: 222-234. Eamer, J., Donaldson, G.M., Gaston, A.J., Kosobokova, K.N., Larusson, K.F., Melnikov, I.A., Reist, J.D., Richardson, E., Staples, L., von Quillfeldt, C.H. 2013. Life Linked to Ice: A guide to sea-iceassociated biodiversity in this time of rapid change. CAFF Assessment Series No. 10. Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna, Iceland. Gavrilo M. 2009. Breeding distribution of ivory gull in the Russian Arctic: difficulty when studying range of a rare and sporadically breeding high arctic species. Problemy Arktiki and Antarctiki Iss. 3 (82): 127 – 151. (In Russian). Gavrilo M.V. 2010. Bird fauna and population of selected high-latitudinal Western Arctic islands. Based on data obtained during IPY 2007/08 study. Matishov G.G., Tishkov A.A. (Eds.) Terrestrial and marine ecosystems. Russian input into the IPY 2007/08, Moscow: European Publishers (Paulsen Ltd.), 210–230. (In Russian). Gavrilo M.V. 2010. On the modern distribution of Atlantic walrus (Odobaenus rosmarus rosmarus) in the northern Kara-Barents Sea region. Marine Mammals of the Holarctic. Collection of Scientific Papers. Kaliningrad, 125–129. Gavrilo M.V. Ivory gull Pagophila eburnea (Phipps, 1774) in the Russian Arctic: breeding patterns of species within the current species range optimum. PhD abstract. Saint-Petersburg, 2011, 20 pp. [In Russian] Gavrilo M.V. Wildlife. The Franz-Josef Land / Boyarsky P.V., Ed. in chief. Moscow Paulsen, 2013. Pp. 533–553 [In Russian] Gavrilo M.V. (Ed.) Scientific Report on marine researches of the expedition Pristine Seas Franz-Josef Land – 2013 and Russian Arctic – 2013 on the Federal State Refuge Franz-Josef Land. Archangelsk, 2014. 250 pp. [In Russian] Gavrilo M.V. 2014. Improvement of conservation measures for marine mammals and polar bears in the Franz-Josef Land Refuge. Report on the Russian Geographical Society project “Investigation of importance of Franz-Josef Land Federal Refuge for the maintaining of rare species of marine mammals and polar bears”. Archangelsk. 56 pp. (Unpublished report) Gavrilo, M., Bakken, V., Isaksen, K. (Eds.) 1998. The distribution, population status and ecology of marine birds selected as valued ecosystem components in the northern sea route area. Oslo: The Fridtjof Nansen Institute. INSROP Working Paper No. 123, II.4.2: p. 136 and Appendix. Gavrilo M.V., Ershov R.V. 2010. Notes on Cetaceans of the Franz-Josef Land – Victoria region. Marine Mammals of the Holarctic. Collection of Scientific Papers. Kaliningrad, 120–125. Gavrilo M.V., Popov A.V. 2011. Sea Ice biotopes and biodiversity hotspots of the Kara and the north-east Barents seas. In:. 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, pp. 34–35. Gilg O., Strøm H., Aebischer A., Gavrilo M.V., Volkov A.E., Miljeteig C., Sabard S. Post-breeding movements of northeast Atlantic ivory gull Pagophila eburnea populations – J. Avian Biol. 41: 1–11, 2010 doi: 10.1111/j.1600-048X.2010.05125.x. Golikov A.N., Averintsev V.G. 1977. Biocoenoses of the upper shelf of the Franz Josef Land Archipelago and some regularities of their distribution. In: Biocoenoses of the Franz Josef Land shelf and fauna of the adjacent waters. Leningrad, Nauka, pp. 5–54 (in Russian). Joint Norwegian-Russian environmental status 2008. Report on the Barents Sea Ecosystem. Part II – Complete report. IMR/PINRO Joint Report Series, 2009. (3). Kosobokova, K.K. 2009. Plankton communities of the Eurasian sector of the Arctic Basin: zooplankton species composition and quantitative distribution in mid-90s. In Kassenss H. at al. (Eds.) System of the Laptev Sea and adjacent Arctic Seas. Modern and past environment. Moscow: Moscow University Press, 173 – 186 (in Russian). Kosobokova, K.N. 2012. Zooplankton of the Arctic Basin: community structure, ecology, distribution patterns./ Moscow: GEOS. 271 p. Larsen T., Nagoda D., Andersen J.R. (eds) 2002. The Barents Sea Ecoregion: A biodiversity assessment. 151 p. National Ice Center. 2006, updated 2009. National Ice Center Arctic sea ice charts and climatologies in gridded format. Edited and compiled by F. Fetterer and C. Fowler. Boulder, Colorado USA: National Snow and Ice Data Center. http://dx.doi.org/10.7265/N5X34VDB Pavlov, V. K., L.A. Timokhov, G. A. Baskakov, M.Yu. Kulakov, V.K. Kurazhov, P.V.Pavlov, S.V. Pivovarov and V.V. Stanovoy. 1996. Hydrometeorological regime of the Kara, Laptev and East- Siberian seas. Technical Memorandum APL-UW TM 1-96. Seattle, Applied Physics Laboratory, University of Washington, p.183. Reeves R.V., Ewins P.J., Agbayani, S., Heide-Jørgensen M.P., Kovacs K.M., Lydersen C., Suydam R., Elliott W., Polet G., van Dijk Y., Blijleven R. 2014 Distribution of endemic cetaceans in relation to hydrocarbon development and commercial shipping in a warming Arctic. Marine Policy 44 375–389. H.R. D. A. T. M. J.M. E. K.2012. 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. Vetrov A.A., Romankevich E.V. 2011. Primary production and fluxes of organic carbon to the seabed in the russian Arctic seas as a response to the recent warming. Oceanology, 51(2): 266–277.
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
There is an endemic species of coastal Gymnelus taeniatus, described in Franz-Josef Land (Chernova, 1999). Also the coastal zone of this archipelago is home to the northernmost kelp communities.
C2: Special importance for life-history stages of species High
Due to its enhanced productivity and appropriate coastal habitats, the area supports one of the most important seabird colonies and marine mammal breeding and feeding habitats in the High Arctic.
C3: Importance for threatened, endangered or declining species and/or habitats High
Core area for survival and recovery of endangered Spitsbergen stock of bowhead whales (IUCN, EN), core area supporting up to 75% of the world population of the threatened ivory gull. Core denning area for Barents-Kara Sea population of Red Listed polar bear. Summer feeding area for beluga whales (IUCN, VU). Core area of highest known abundances and year-round presence of endangered Spitsbergen stock of bowhead whales (IUCN, EN), core area supporting up to 75% of the world’s breeding population of the threatened ivory gull, core stop-over foraging area for post-breeding migrating ivory gull from entire North-East Atlantic breeding grounds. Core area for reproduction of northern stock of North-East Atlantic metapopulation of Atlantic walrus. Area of highest summer abundances of Barents-Kara Sea population of Red Listed polar bear.
C4: Vulnerability, fragility, sensitivity, or slow recovery High
Significant portions (in the western Russian Arctic) of ice-associated species of mammals and seabirds, ice habitats (e.g., flaw polynyas, ice edge) sensitive to climate change.
C5: Biological productivity High
Shelf break zone associated with the marginal ice zone in summer provides conditions for enhanced biological productivity There are also productive inshore benthic communities of Franz-Josef Land shelf area (Golikov and Averintsev, 1977).
C6: Biological diversity No information
There is no comprehensive information with which to rate the biodiversity of this area in comparison with other areas on the scale of the circumpolar Arctic.
C7: Naturalness High
This is a highly untouched area with no commercial fishing, low ship traffic, absence of current petroleum development. Benthic community structure shows signs of a pristine marine ecosystem.
Additional Information
Rights and permissions Figure showing whale records and conflict area of overlapping petroleum licence and Franz Josef Land SPA is unpublished data; contact person: Maria Gavrilo, m_gavrilo@mail.ru.