ArcNet: A new tool to conserve and protect the Arctic Ocean

11 May 2021

Arctic Climate Change Pan-Arctic Wildlife Communities Ocean

Ottawa, Canada – WWF released a new tool today to help the Arctic’s marine life stay healthy and resilient despite a rapidly changing climate. ArcNet, an Arctic Ocean network of priority areas for conservation, is a unique way for governments, scientists, communities and industry to work together to protect the region’s vulnerable coastal and marine areas.

The Arctic is warming more than twice as fast as the rest of the planet. Our rapidly changing climate and growing industrial development are threatening marine life, like globally important fish stocks that people around the world rely upon. ArcNet helps meet ambitious national and international targets to protect and conserve at least 30 per cent of the planet by 2030.

Dr Martin Sommerkorn, head of conservation WWF Arctic Programme said:

"ArcNet is more than a tool to protect against a rapidly changing climate, it is a vision for the Arctic Ocean where its diverse web of life continues to provide food, livelihoods and cultural identity for the Arctic’s four million people. By taking an ArcNet-approach to marine planning and management, governments can ensure a healthy and connected Arctic Ocean where plankton, fish, whales and seabirds all contribute to the well-being of nature and people around the world."

The ArcNet Guide includes a map showing a network of all the priority areas governments and communities need to conserve throughout the Arctic Ocean. It proposes a process and provides tools for marine planning and management that first consider the region’s marine ecosystems and how they function, and then suggests the best way forward to support a healthy and biodiverse Arctic.

At the heart of the project is a purpose-built database of marine life that shows where more than 800 different features and functions of the Arctic’s ecosystem can be found. Over the last four years, WWF brought together world-class experts specializing in Arctic species and ecosystems. They provided input on five different aspects of the project: marine mammals, seabirds, fish, sea ice biota and benthos (life found on the bottom of the ocean). The result of that cooperative effort is a proposed network based on comprehensive, rigorous scientific analysis using the best-available data.

Dr Peter Winsor, director, WWF Arctic Programme said:

“Today is an important step in an on-going process to create a flexible and responsive network of marine conservation areas throughout the Arctic Ocean. WWF is extremely proud to share the ArcNet Guide with the rest of the world. Arctic governments must now do the heavy lifting to establish the priority areas for conservation identified by ArcNet. Creating this network is critical to giving the marine life the elbow room they need to adapt to the rapid change coming their way.”

Establishing a network of conserved and protected areas across the entire Arctic Ocean is a shared responsibility. Governments and marine planners need to ensure that a diversity of perspectives and values are included as they embark upon the design and planning of a network. The ArcNet Guide outlines how the conservation planning process is an opportunity for dialogue and collaboration amongst all the region’s marine stakeholders. For instance:

  • ArcNet can be an important way to work more closely with local and Indigenous communities. In particular, ArcNet’s databases and maps can be further enhanced with Indigenous knowledge about the traditional hunting and fishing grounds of local communities.
  • When the ArcNet map is overlaid with the tracks of ships moving through the Arctic, it becomes clear where, when and how increasing ship traffic is threatening marine life. Dialogue with the shipping industry can help reduce traffic within key migratory routes and important feeding, resting and calving areas of animals like bowhead whales or walrus.

Given the rapid pace of change happening in the Arctic, there needs to be ongoing engagement with the ArcNet process. The release of the ArcNet Guide is just the beginning of a collaboration that establishes, adjusts and manages the network over time as the Arctic and its marine life continues to adapt.

Download the ArcNet Guide to learn more about the project, how it works and the tools available to make the network a reality.

For further information:

Leanne Clare | Sr. Manager Communications, Arctic Programme | lclare@wwfcanada.org