Barents SeaPhoto: Thomas Nilsen

The Barents Sea contains one of Europe’s last large, clean and relatively undisturbed marine ecosystems. The extremely high primary production of the Barents sea supports a rich biological diversity including some of the world’: most numerous colonies of seabirds such as puffin and guillemot, rich seafloor communities with kelp-forests numerous deep water coral reefs and a unique variety of marine mammals such as walrus, bowhead whales and polar bears.

With the notable exception of intensive commercial fisheries, the Barents Sea is still relatively undamaged by human activities. This area still has a potential to: protecting its natural values for the future and to keep and develop sustainable industries based on its natural resources. 2 clean and well-managed ecosystem is basic requirement for all future livelihood: along the coast of the Barents Sea.

Now, the unique values of the Barents Sea, are threatened by a new, and potentially extremely damaging activity: Oil and gas: development. Harsh climatic condition: and short and simple food webs make this marine ecosystem particularly sensitive to impacts such as pollution from chemicals  and oil. A large oil spill would cause dramatic consequences to the wildlife in this area, such as seabirds, mammals and fish-stocks.

The petroleum industry is eager to get access to the fossil resources in the Barents sea. Before any new petroleum development is allowed in this fragile arctic ecosystem, it is extremely important to practise the "conservation first’-principle. Areas containing natural resources that are most valuable and sensitive to negative effects of oil and gas-operations must be set aside as petroleum-free zones to protect their biodiversity and productivity for the future.

Photo: Thomas NilsenThreads to the Barents Sea ecosystem

According to the Barents Sea GIWA Regional assessment report the most pressing issues for the Barents Sea ecosystem were identified as the overexploitation of fish, oil spills, radionuclide contamination, and the modification of ecosystems by invasive species. Overexploitation of fish was considered as the most important issue since the major commercial fish stock (cod and haddock) are exploited beyond safe biological limits.

Currently, the impacts of pollution by oil spills and radioactive wastes remain slight. However, due to the expansion of the oil and gas industry in the region, as well as increased shipments of oil and gas through the Barents Sea, the risk of accidental oil spills is likely to increase in the near future.

There are also apprehensions that storage facilities for radioactive wastes could result in radioactive contamination of the environment, as the Murmansk Region houses more radioactive wastes than any other region in the world.

With respect to the modification of ecosystems, there are concerns that the invasive Red king crab will compete with native species for forage reserves, which could result in the decrease of commercial fish stocks of the Barents Sea. Another problem, linked to oil transportation, is the risk of unintentional introduction of alien species in the ballast water of oil tankers.

Read more about the Barents Sea region:

Sources and more information:

  • - a new portal for information from 27 Norwegian governmental and research institutions dealing with the coastal and sea areas
  • BarentsPortal - The Joint Norwegian-Russian Environmental Data Portal for the Barents Sea
  • Environmental Atlas of the Barents Region - a joint Russian and Norwegian environmental data from the Barents Sea and adjacent sea areas as map presentations
  • WWF report: The Barents Sea - a Sea of Opportunities and Threats, [pdf-file]
  • WWF - Barents Sea
  • The Barents Sea Report, UNEP, 2004. Matishov, G., Golubeva, N., Titova, G., Sydnes, A. and B. Voegele. Barents Sea, GIWA Regional assessment 11. University of Kalmar, Kalmar, Sweden. [17.4 MB pdf]
  • Google Scholar - Barents sea

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. The Joint Norwegian-Russian Environmental Data Portal for the Barents Sea