Sea ice in the Arctic.

Cooperation for a sustainable Arctic Ocean

With sea ice cover shrinking, the Arctic Ocean has taken centerstage in global discussions related to climate change and economic opportunities. While open waters may bring new opportunities to the region, increasing accessibility to the High North also presents risks for Arctic inhabitants and ecosystems, including through oil spills and shipping accidents.

The Arctic States hold a responsibility to safeguard the future development of the region and to develop models for stewardship of the marine environment. This requires both a better understanding of the drivers and effects altering the Arctic marine environment and enhanced cooperation amongst the Arctic States, local inhabitants, external actors and international legal frameworks.

To protect the Arctic marine environment and counteract possible detrimental effects of climate change and pollution, the Arctic States have recognized the need to work together closely – and they do so on a wide range of marine issues. These include issues related to marine pollution, sustainable shipping practices, search and rescue operations, marine cooperation and risk management.

How does the Arctic Council contribute to a sustainable Arctic Ocean?

Tackling marine pollution

Over the past years, marine litter has emerged as one of the most pervasive problems affecting the marine environment globally. The Arctic is no exception. The Icelandic Chairmanship (2019-2021) has thus placed plastic pollution in the Arctic marine environment high on its agenda and is drawing on the findings of the first Desktop Study on Marine Litter in the Arctic, which was developed by the Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment (PAME) Working Group. PAME is currently developing a Regional Action Plan on Marine Litter in the Arctic as a follow-up to the Desktop Study.

Another pollution risk stems from increased shipping and exploration activities in the Arctic: oil spills. In 2013, Arctic Ministers signed the Agreement on Cooperation on Marine Oil Pollution Preparedness and Response in the Arctic (MOSPA). Its objective is to strengthen cooperation, coordination, and mutual assistance on oil pollution preparedness and response in the Arctic in order to protect the marine environment from pollution by oil. The Emergency Prevention, Preparedness and Response (EPPR) Working Group has been tasked to implement the agreement and its operational guidelines.


Sustainable and safe shipping

Safe and sustainable shipping and operations in Arctic waters is another important component of safeguarding the Arctic marine environment – and a prerequisite has been to evaluate current and future use of the Arctic Ocean. One of the outcomes was the 2009 Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment (AMSA), developed by PAME. Its recommendations - such as the need to enhance Arctic marine safety, protect Arctic people and the environment and building the Arctic marine infrastructure - continue to guide activities of the Council. PAME projects and initiatives promote safe and sustainable shipping in the Arctic, such as a comprehensive shipping activity database; the development of the Arctic Shipping Best Practice Information Forum in support of effective implementation of the IMO’s Polar Code; and a number of projects on use and carriage of Heavy Fuel Oil in the Arctic and the development of a Regional Reception Facilities Plan. Outcomes from both have been communicated to the International Maritime Organization.

Cooperation amongst the eight Arctic States and other stakeholders is key to safe operations in the Arctic Ocean. EPPR collaborates with international bodies and fora to identify best practices, exchange information, and develop a repository for lessons learned in Arctic search and rescue exercises and incidents.

The Agreement on Cooperation on Aeronautical and Maritime Search and Rescue in the Arctic is an international instrument for cooperation on search and rescue operations in the Arctic that was negotiated under the auspices of the Arctic Council. It was signed by the Arctic States in 2011.

Enhancing marine cooperation

The Arctic Council’s Arctic Marine Strategic Plan 2015-2025 (AMSP) provides a framework to guide its actions to protect Arctic marine and coastal ecosystems and to promote sustainable development. The AMSP articulates how the Arctic Council can increase its understanding of the impacts of human activities, climate change and ocean acidification. The AMSP recognizes the importance of acquiring a better understanding of Arctic change so that actions can be taken that allow Arctic inhabitants, including Arctic Indigenous peoples to further adapt to the change. The strategic actions identified in the AMSP guide the work of the Arctic Council and its subsidiary bodies on marine-related activities.

In an effort to enhance strategic and policy guidance, as well as collaboration and coordination of marine activities in the Arctic Council, the Senior Arctic Officials have been assigned a central role. As government representatives from the Arctic States, Senior Arctic Officials are well positioned to engage in holistic discussions on marine issues of which the AMSP plays an important role. Going forward, they will do so jointly with marine experts that bring in both scientific findings and indigenous expertise. The objective of this mechanism is – amongst other tasks – to give strategic guidance to the Council’s Working Groups on marine issues, to provide policy guidance, and to develop a unified marine workplan for the Arctic Council.


The 18 Large Marine Ecosystems of the Arctic

  1. Faroe Plateau
  2. Iceland Shelf and Sea
  3. Greenland Sea
  4. Norwegian Sea
  5. Barents Sea
  6. Kara Sea
  7. Laptev Sea
  8. East Siberian Sea
  9. East Bering Sea
  10. Aleutian Islands
  11. West Bering Sea
  12. Northern Bering-Chukchi Seas
  13. Central Arctic Ocean
  14. Beaufort Sea
  15. Canadian High Arctic-North Greenland
  16. Canadian Eastern Arctic-West Greenland
  17. Hudson Bay Complex
  18. Labrador-Newfoundland

Featured marine projects

Marine Biodiversity Monitoring

Arctic marine environments are experiencing, or expected to experience, many human-induced and natural pressures.

Integrated Ecosystem Assessment (IEA) of the Central Arctic Ocean

PAME has teamed up with the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) and the North Pacific Marine Science Organization (PICES) to investigate the current state of the Central Arctic...

Underwater noise in the Arctic

PAME's State of Knowledge Review on Underwater Noise in the Arctic report provides a baseline understanding of underwater noise in Arctic regions, including ambient sound levels, underwater noise crea...

Circumpolar Oil Spill Response Viability Analysis (COSRVA)

The COSRVA project investigates the potential of different oil spill response systems for the Arctic marine environment.

Regional Action Plan on Marine Litter

The Regional Action Plan addresses both sea and land-based activities, focusing on Arctic-specific marine litter sources and pathways that will play an important role in demonstrating Arctic States’ s...
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Ecosystem Status, Human Impact and Management Measures in the Central Arctic Ocean

The aim of this project is to synthesize relevant information on the status, trends and projected changes in the Central Arctic Ocean, human activities and pressures in the area, and the current manag...
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Meaningful Engagement of Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities in Marine Activities

Meaningful Engagement of Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities in Marine Activities (MEMA) is a cross-cutting oil & gas and shipping project which compiles and analyzes existing documents and summa...

Arctic Shipping Status Reports

The Arctic Shipping Status Report (ASSR) project‘s main objective is to utilize the ASTD System to develop a user-friendly, illustrative informational factsheets online to highlight important developm...
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Interpretation of the Polar Code

The adoption of the Polar Code was a first step towards ensuring safe and sustainable shipping in the Arctic. In order to ensure the success of the Polar Code there is a need to work towards facilitat...
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Modelling Arctic oceanographic connectivity

Ongoing climate change may facilitate increased access to the Arctic region, and potential new economic opportunities, but may also bring potential threats to the Arctic marine and coastal environment...

Arctic Shipping Best Practice Information Forum

The Arctic Shipping Best Practice Information Forum facilitates an exchange of information and best practices on shipping topics like hydrography, search and rescue logistics, industry guidelines and ...
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New Low Sulphur Fuels, Fate, and Behavior in Cold Water Conditions

Expanding our knowledge of the toxicity, fate, and behavior of new low sulphur fuel oils in cold water conditions.

Circumpolar Oil Spill Response Viability Analysis Phase II (COSRVA II)

The COSRVA is intended to provide more science-based decision-making in Arctic oil spill response contingency planning. An additional benefit of the study is the identification of components or method...
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Collaboration with the Arctic Regional Hydrographic Commission (ARHC)

PAME and the Arctic Regional Hydrography Commission (ARHC) have developed a joint policy statement on the importance of hydrography in the Arctic region to safe and sustainable maritime navigation.

Arctic Ship Traffic Data - ASTD

PAME's Arctic Ship Traffic Data (ASTD) project has been developed in response to a growing need to collect and distribute accurate, reliable, and up-to-date information on shipping activities in the A...
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Cod drying. Photo: iStock

Blue Bioeconomy in the Arctic Region

The sustainable and intelligent use of renewable aquatic natural resources, with a focus on improving utilization and creating higher-value products.
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Arctic Port Reception Facilities Inventory

Developing a current inventory of Arctic port reception facilities to assess where there may be infrastructure gaps in light of increasing Arctic shipping traffic.
Murres on cliff. Photo: iStock

Coastal Biodiversity Monitoring

Arctic coastal ecosystems include those areas within the Arctic region where fjords, glaciers, rocky coasts, coastal wetlands, estuaries, rivers, lakes, and coastal ocean ecosystems meet and interact ...
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Arctic Arrangement for Regional Reception Facilities

Due to the Arctic’s unique circumstances (remoteness, severe weather, limited infrastructure and resources) regional arrangements are a practical means of meeting MARPOL obligations.

Prevention, Preparedness and Response for small communities

EPPR has been working with small communities to improve their safety in case of an oil spill event.
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Fishing Practice & Gear Inventory

Enhancing Understanding of Abandoned Lost or otherwise Discarded Fishing Gear (ALDFG)
Boat in ice. Photo: iStock

Risk Assessment methods and metadata

A common approach to marine risk assessment in the Arctic region.
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Raising awareness in the Arctic Council of the provisions of the 2012 Cape Town Agreement

For the safety of fishing vessels and the experience gained in the implementation process by Arctic States and other nations, recognizing the importance of fishing vessel safety in the Arctic due to t...
Plastic litter on an Arctic coast. Photo: iStock/sodar99

Arctic Marine Microplastics and Litter

AMAP is developing a monitoring plan for microplastics and litter in Arctic waters.

The Arctic Ocean making headlines

Credit: Hugi Ólafsson

Fish collagen and Senegal flounders

Iceland is leading the way in the blue bioeconomy and initiated a study to explore its potential in the Arctic. While there’s no one-size-fits-all business model, ocean i...
10 May 2021
All tourism vessel traffic in 2019, cruise and passenger ships.

As Arctic marine tourism increases, how can we ensure it’s sustainable?

A look into Arctic tourism trends and local guideline development
10 May 2021
iStock / Jean Landry

Navigating the future of Arctic shipping

What an increase in Arctic shipping means for the region
10 May 2021
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