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Norway’s integrated approach to ocean management relies on a foundation of science and cross-sectoral cooperation

1 February 2021

This article originally appeared in The Circle: Sea Change: Managing the Arctic Ocean. The Circle shares perspectives from across the Arctic, and the views expressed here are not necessarily those of WWF. See all Circle issues here.

Norway’s ecosystem-based ocean management plans establish a framework and measures for conserving and sustainably using marine ecosystems, writes Hanne-Grete Nilsen. The scientific basis for the plans factors in environmental status, the potential for value creation and industry pressures on marine ecosystems. This knowledge base is prepared through cross-sectoral cooperation between relevant authorities and research institutes.

Globally there is growing interest in using marine resources while conserving ecosystems and biological diversity.

To achieve this, we need integrated management—which, in turn, requires reliable, up-to-date knowledge and cooperation from all involved sectors. Norway has established a management plan system that facilitates this. The aim is to provide a framework for value creation through sustainable use of marine natural resources and ecosystem services while preserving the ecosystems’ structure, function, productivity and diversity.

Norway established its first management plan for the Barents Sea in 2006, eventually following it with plans for the country’s two other sea areas (the Norwegian Sea and the North Sea/Skagerrak). It updates the plans regularly with the cooperation of relevant authorities and research institutes. Interested organizations and other parties also get involved in the process through seminars and are invited to provide written input. The plans, which outline Norway’s national policies for its ocean areas, are ultimately presented to the country’s parliament as white papers.

The management plans were updated in spring 2020, when a single white paper brought the management plans for the three ocean areas together for the first time.

A well-organized monitoring system is now in place for all three marine areas, based on indicators for environmental status and pressures. The results show that the environmental status of Norway’s seas is good in many respects. However, the impacts of climate change are growing and clearly affecting ecosystems in both the North Sea and Barents Sea. As well, seabird populations have shown considerable declines over time.

An important part of the scientific basis for the plans is the description of particularly valuable and vulnerable areas. These are identified on the basis of scientific assessments as being of great importance for biodiversity and biological production in an entire management plan area. The designation of areas as particularly valuable and vulnerable does not have any direct effect in the form of restrictions on commercial activities, but indicates that these are areas where it is important to show special caution. For example, particularly valuable and vulnerable areas are taken into account when establishing the overall framework for petroleum activities.

Ocean-based industries—such as fisheries, aquaculture, shipping and petroleum activities—have a vital role to play in creating economic value for Norway. In addition, new industries are emerging—for example, offshore wind power, marine bioprospecting, offshore aquaculture, seabed mineral extraction and carbon storage below the seabed. In future work, it will be important to compile and assess information about such developing activities and their possible impacts. We need more knowledge and better methods for estimating the cumulative environmental effects of all pressures on marine ecosystems. We also need to know more about the impacts and risks related to climate change and about opportunities for climate change adaptation in marine industries.

Through its management plan system, Norway is implementing an ecosystem-based approach to managing human activities that affect the marine environment. The system is adaptive, is built on knowledge, incorporates scientific advice and involves all relevant sector authorities.

HANNE-GRETE NILSEN coordinates the preparation of the knowledge base for Norway’s integrated ocean management plans in the Norwegian Environment Agency and chairs the Forum for Integrated Ocean Management.