Seas and coastlines - the need to safeguard species diversity

Norway has the second longest coastline in the world after Canada, with a length of 100,915 km including all the islands. The seabed and water are biological treasure troves that we will both protect and harvest in a sustainable manner. All indications are that the pressure on environmental values and resources will be stronger in the future, both in our areas and globally.

Marine and coastal areas in Norway

Our marine areas are the Barents Sea to the north, the Norwegian Sea to the west and the North Sea and Skagerrak to the south. For further information on these areas visit Miljø  The Norwegian sea is a deep sea with areas between 3,000 and 4,000 metres deep. The other two marine areas are much more shallow. These marine and coastal areas are rich in resources, species and habitats.

The biological richness

The world's largest cod and herring populations are found in Norwegian areas. We have coral reefs that are over 8,000 years old and species-rich kelp forests. We have enormous seabird colonies, but also vulnerable species such as Greenland whale and the seabird kittiwake.

Along the coast we find the continental shelf as a submarine prolongation of the mainland. A very large number of species live on this shelf and in the declivity below. Here the ocean current carries food northwards in the form of for example eggs and larvae from fish and other animals. Between the branches of the corals swim pollack and redfish, and smaller species such as crustaceans and starfish find cover here. 250 different fish species swim out in the sea. We have large whales such as the sperm whale and small whales such as the porpoise. We have coastal seals such as the harbor seal and arctic seals such as the harp seal. It is a colourful diversity of the small and the large.

Dødningehånd og sjøanemoner utenfor Egersund. Foto: Erling Svendsen.
Dødningehånd og sjøanemoner utenfor Egersund. Foto: Erling Svendsen. Credit: Erling Svendsen

Why are some species shrinking in number, while others are stable?

The environment and the species' access to food have changed. This may be due to both anthropogenic and natural changes in the environment. On Røst on the edge of Lofoten the puffin has been unsuccessful in raising chicks for many years in succession because they die of starvation. From the Helgeland coast and northwards kelp has been lost over large areas because the kelp holdfasts have been eaten by sea urchins. Polar bears and walruses sit on the beaches instead of being out on ice floes.

The hidden resources

Oil and gas have been driving forces in the growing prosperity Norway has experienced since the 1970s. Major finds in the North Sea, the Norwegian Sea and the Barents Sea indicate that substantial fossil resources remain. Utilisation of minerals in the seabed may be a new adventure in the future. Along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge between Norway and Greenland proven mineral reserves have been found including gold, silver, zinc, lead, cobalt and copper.  The minerals precipitate when hot water from inside the earth meets the cold water through fractures and chimneys. This takes place in deep water, e.g. at Loki's Castle in the north of the Norwegian sea at a depth of 2,300 metres.

We affect the sea and the coast – through use

Regardless of what resources we use, we influence them or their surrounding environment. It is important to make our footprint as little as possible. Harvesting fish and sea mammals affects their populations. Seabed tools also affect the seabed and the species living there. Fishing almost always gives a bycatch, either in the form of other fish species, seabirds, sponges or corals. In order to carry out the harvesting in the best possible way, researchers must provide advice on quota sizes, minimum measurements for fish or crustaceans and tool use. For further information on this, visit the topics pages at the Institute of Marine Research.

- and through pollution

We also impact the sea and the coast through pollution – long-distance or local. It may be plastic, environmental toxins or food substances that are captured by ocean currents far away and transported northwards along the coast. It may also be emissions from industry and sludge and waste carried by rivers out to the sea during extreme rainfall. Fish farms discharge food substances and contribute to the spread of salmon lice. Use of fossil fuels leads to higher levels of CO2 in the atmosphere and the ocean. This, in turn, causes the ocean to become more acidic, and key plankton such as copepods and sea angels decline in number.

Marine conservation areas

A key part of a balanced management of our marine and coastal areas is to protect a representative selection of marine areas. This enables us to safeguard the diversity of species and habitats. So far Saltstraumen in Nordland, Tauterryggen in Nord-Trøndelag and Framvaren in Vest-Agder are protected as marine conservation areas. Saltstraumen has the strongest tidal current in the world. Every six hours an incomprehensible 400 million cubic metres of water forces its way through the strait. This is both a spectacular and hazardous area, that is ranked as one of the ten best diving destinations in the world.

Management of the marine and coastal areas

The Norwegian marine areas are managed through multisectoral management plans. These shall contribute to a coordinated use of the sea while also ensuring that the environment is looked after. Each sector (fisheries, oil and gas, shipping) uses its own legislation to achieve this. In addition, the areas from the coastline to one nautical mile beyond the baseline of the Water Regulations are covered. The Water Regulations require regional water management plans and measures to be drawn up to meet stipulated environmental goals.