Press releases

Tuesday 24 Aug 2004

New UNEP report warns of threats to unique Arctic ecosystem

Over-fishing of cod and haddock, nuclear waste storage, the invasion of the Red King crab and a projected six-fold increase in oil and gas transportation are some of the issues threatening the unique Barents Sea Arctic ecosystem scientists are warning.

STAVANGER/NAIROBI, 24 August 2004 – Over-fishing of cod and haddock, nuclear waste storage, the invasion of the Red King crab and a projected six-fold increase in oil and gas transportation are some of the issues threatening the unique Barents Sea Arctic ecosystem scientists are warning.

An absence of long-term planning and legislation are the main causes of these threats according to a new report prepared by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Global International Waters Assessment (GIWA), and released here today at the Offshore Northern Seas conference in Stavanger, Norway.

The overexploitation of fish stocks is “the most alarming problem for the region at present,” according to the report.  It says, fish in the Barents Sea continue to be over-fished despite measures of regulation and control.

Pollution was identified as the next most important concern.  While the report notes that the Barents Sea is much cleaner than other European seas, and that pollution does not constitute a threat to human health or ecosystems, it points out risks associated with the expansion of oil and gas industries in the region.

Speaking at the launch of the report, Klaus Toepfer, UNEP’s Executive Director, said, “The increased exploration activities for petroleum resources in the Barents Sea, the offshore developments and the shipping of oil and gas along the coasts represent significant potential threats to this vulnerable arctic ecosystem.”

There are vast oil and gas reserves on Russia’s Arctic shelf.  According to the report the development of these oil and gas deposits will increase oil transport to 40 million tonnes by the year 2020.  This will correspondingly increase the pressure on the Northern Sea Route (which crosses the Barents Sea) by a factor of six.

As a consequence, the risk of accidental oil spills is expected to increase in the near future says the report.  It goes on to suggest a set of measures to reduce the risk of potential emergencies, including the development of safety plans to prevent accidental oil spills, and contingency plans to respond to accidents.

A third major issue of priority concern identified by the report is the storage facilities for radioactive wastes and possible contamination of the environment.

The Murmansk region houses more radioactive waste than any other region of the world. Although current levels of radioactivity are low and do not pose any threat to human health or the environment, there is need, according to the report, for long-term strategies for the handling of stored nuclear material in the region.

The fourth most important issue identified is the modification of ecosystems by invasive species.

The composition of the Barents Sea fauna has been changed by the intentional introduction of the Red king crab, as well as other alien species. There are concerns that competition between the Red king crab and commercial and noncommercial species could result in the decrease of some commercially important fish stocks.  Another aspect of the problem is the unintentional introduction of alien species through ballast water of oil tankers. Alien species introduced unintentionally form a serious threat to the economy of northern Norway as well as to coastal communities in Russia says the UNEP report.

In response to the problems identified, the report recommends that new regulations for different sectors should be adopted and enforced, along with rigorous adherence to existing international environmental agreements.

The report can be downloaded from the web at: http://www.giwa.net/barentssea/


Note to Editors

The Barents Sea report (Regional assessment 11) was produced by an expert team established by the UNEP GIWA. The team was chaired by the Russian Academy of Science and Murmansk Marine Biological Institute in Murmansk and supported by Akvaplan-Niva and the Norwegian College of Fisheries Science in Tromsö. This report has been funded by the Global Environment Facility and the Norwegian government.

The GIWA assessment of the Barents Sea is part of a global comprehensive and systematic assessment of the environmental conditions and problems in transboundary waters, led by UNEP. It comprises marine, coastal and land areas, including ground waters. The assessment is done in 66 transboundary water regions where teams of local experts focus on five major concerns including 22 specific water related problems. For more information about GIWA see http://www.giwa.net/

For more information please contact: Robert Bisset, UNEP Spokesperson in Europe on Tel: +33 1 44377613, Mobile: +33 6 22725842, E-mail: robert.bisset@unep.fr.  Eric Falt, Spokesperson/Director of UNEP's Division of Communications and Public Information, on Tel: 254 2 623292, E-mail: eric.falt@unep.org or Nick Nuttall, UNEP Head of Media, on Tel: 254 2 623084, Mobile: 254 733 632755, E-mail: nick.nuttall@unep.org.

At GIWA contact: Elisabet Idermark, Information Officer, UNEP-Global International Waters Assessment, 391 82 Kalmar, Sweden, www.giwa.net, +46 480 44 73 53


UNEP News Release Paris 2004/13

Tuesday 24 Aug 2004
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