Press releases

Tuesday 22 May 2007

The Arctic Experience: Arctic Biodiversity Beyond Polar Bears

Climate Change is impacting biodiversity at a global and unprecedented scale. The Arctic region is hit particularly hard. It is already warming 2 – 2,5 times faster than the global average, due to a thinner atmosphere and several positive feedback responses. Changes in the Arctic will have major repercussions for all other global regions through changes in the hydrological cycle, the weather cycle, the carbon cycle or atmospheric changes, but also by impacting its unique biodiversity.

Introduction

CBD
CMS
AEWA
GRID Arendal

Climate Change is impacting biodiversity at a global and unprecedented scale. The Arctic region is hit particularly hard. It is already warming 2 – 2,5 times faster than the global average, due to a thinner atmosphere and several positive feedback responses. Changes in the Arctic will have major repercussions for all other global regions through changes in the hydrological cycle, the weather cycle, the carbon cycle or atmospheric changes, but also by impacting its unique biodiversity. Many Arctic species are migratory, connecting the entire globe by its annual migration routes of billions of migratory birds, marine mammals and fish. As the Arctic is the origin of all major flyways and also most strongly affected by climate change it has been the focus of the portfolio of UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) and GRID-Arendal jointly with the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) and the African Eurasian Waterbird Agreement (AEWA) for more than 10 years. CMS and AEWA are the major international agreements concerned with the conservation and sustainable use, and monitoring of migratory species.

The changes in the Arctic region will determine the future of its major wealth in ecosystem goods and services, mostly its natural resources, marine and freshwater fish and terrestrial reindeer to name a few. They all provide vital income for the peoples of the North and to a large extent to the global community as a whole.

Its unique location in still largely pristine wilderness and little direct human impacts allow the Arctic region for monitoring the impact of climate change and industrial development on biodiversity in a less complex ecosystem, providing us with an early warning system of what is likely to happen to our near future. Arctic biodiversity and ecosystems are an ideal test case for measuring progress towards the Convention on Biological Diversity’s (CBD) 2010 target to significantly reduce the rate of biodiversity loss by 2010, a barometer for the state of biodiversity.

UNEP-WCMC and UNEP/Grid-Arendal have joined up with the Arctic Council’s biodiversity programme Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna (CAFF) to launch and implement the Circumpolar Biodiversity Monitoring Program (CBMP) to monitor the rapidly changing Arctic ecosystems and provide a sound basis for decision making in the Arctic region and on a global stage. The CBMP is part of the International Polar Year (IPY) initiative, which creates a huge scientific focus on the Polar regions, generating the attention to the vulnerable status of both poles. More than 100 projects focus on the Arctic region.  The monitoring of Arctic biodiversity through CBMP is a valuable contribution to the CBD 2010 target and the implementation of the Convention.

Beyond Polar Bears

Arctic biodiversity is more than just Polar Bears. The charismatic Arctic predator has been the focus of the media recently, rightly reporting on the demise of the largest predator on Earth. It will suffer severely if the sea ice continues to disappear in many areas of the Arctic. But little has been mentioned on the fate of other Arctic species. As part of this event’ s Arctic focus we like to highlight the significance of Arctic biodiversity globally and have chosen four species. Each of them is illustrating a different but typical Arctic feature.

The charismatic, solely Arctic Ivory Gull (Pagophila eburnea) is living entirely in High Arctic marine seas, closely associated with the Polar Bear, which it follows, scavenging on leftovers on the ice edge. Its entire life cycle is intimately linked with sea ice and the rare gull is potentially severely threatened by the disappearance of the sea ice. Read more.

The Reindeer and Caribou (Rangifer tarandus) are the most dominant large mammal species in the Arctic, living in each Arctic country, mostly in the tundra. Reindeer and Caribou provide the major source of income for many local people in the Arctic, depending highly on the thriving of its huge populations. Climate change may have severe impacts on the future of this valuable product of Arctic ecosystems. Read more.

Polar regions are home to 70% of all global freshwater, most of it stored in the ice sheets of Antarctica and Greenland, but the Arctic region contains the largest amount of freshwater available for biodiversity. Huge peatlands and tundra wetlands lie in the Arctic region and Arctic rivers altogether discharge more than 4,600 km3 into the Arctic Ocean every year. Many of them belong to the largest ten rivers on Earth, hardly impacted by dams and other human impacts, allowing a huge diversity of freshwater fish to thrive in Arctic rivers. The Arctic Char (Salvelinus alpinus) is the most northerly distributed freshwater fish. It is a characteristic representative for this unique biome. Read More.

The large majority of all Arctic vertebrates are migratory. Arctic breeding birds are connected with virtually every corner of the globe apart from the Antarctic ice sheet through the annual migration of birds, whales, fish and even reindeer and caribou. The Red Knot (Calidris canutus) is one of the most fascinating globetrotter. In winter the High Arctic breeder can be found in South and West Africa, South America, India, Australia and New Zealand. However, four out of six populations are presently in decline, some sharply, and for two we don’t know the trend. Conservation measures for the Red Knot are required under CMS and AEWA. Read more.

Need for enhanced monitoring

These, like many other population trends from the Arctic regions are alarming signals of changes in the Arctic ecosystems, which should alert us. We still do not know the trend for many populations of Arctic biodiversity and we also know too little to fully understand the route causes of these trends. The CBMP aims to provide the integrated strategy, mechanism and tools to help exploring exactly these route causes. No doubt, climate change has already started and has shown its impact on Arctic biodiversity.

International Day for Biodiversity

The International Day for Biodiversity is an initiative of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the Convention on Life on Earth. It is celebrated annually on 22 May, the day the Convention was adopted in 1992 in Nairobi.

Tuesday 22 May 2007
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