Norway's marine areas cover approximately 2 million km2, including areas surrounding the Svalbard archipelago and the island of Jan Mayen. In addition to this the Norwegian coastline is among the longest of any country in the world. The coastal waters are rich in flora and fauna and the adjacent marine areas are some of the most productive in the world.
The state of Norway's marine areas is generally good, but is under growing pressure from human activities. One example is the disappearance of the sugar kelp along parts of the coast. This is believed to be caused by higher temperatures, euthrophication and increased particulate matter load.
Norway is highly dependent on marine resources. The oil and gas industry is the country’s largest industry and amounts to 27 per cent of the GDP. Norway’s second largest export industry is fisheries, which includes fish farming and fish processing. Exports of fish and fish products amount to well over 40 billion kroner (2010). The coastal waters and the coastline itself are also important for the tourism industry and as recreational areas for many people.
Human pressures threatening Norway's marine areas
Norway’s marine areas are under growing pressure from human activities such as aquaculture, extensive fishing and oil and gas production. Climate change and ocean acidification are emerging threats, but so far little research has been done on the possible impacts of these changes. They are, however, expected to result in large-scale changes in marine ecosystems. We can already see the effects of climate change on the Norwegian marine environment, and trends show that acidification could become a considerable problem.
Pollution from hazardous substances affects all of Norway, and is seen even in such remote areas as the Arctic. The properties of hazardous substances make them a threat to the environment. These substances are toxic, persistent and bioaccumulative (build up along food chains). New hazardous substances are regularly detected, but little is known about their short- and long-term effects. Future climate change and ocean acidification might affect the availability, uptake and toxicity of hazardous substances.
Many coastal areas and fjords are contaminated by hazardous substances from present and previous industrial activity and dumping. Norwegian fjords typically have narrow or shallow inlets that restrict the exchange of water. This leads to reduced recipient capacity, and therefore pollution is a challenge in many places along the densely populated parts of the Norwegian coast.
The discharges of oil and hazardous substances from the oil and gas industry have been considerably reduced. However, the expansion of oil and gas extraction in the northern areas, as well as more extraction closer to the coast, increases the chance of acute pollution related to accidents. More frequent extreme weather due to climate change also increases the possibilities of accidents.
Inputs of nutrients and organic matter
The main sources of nutrients and organic matter are long-range pollution transported by ocean currents or by atmospheric deposition, fish farms, runoff from agriculture, and waste-water. Climate change may result in greater runoff from land.
Eutrophication and sediment deposition are primarily a problem in coastal waters and fjords, and may alter conditions in important nursery areas for fish and other animals. Inputs of nutrients to the Skagerrak coastal waters from Norwegian sources have been substantially reduced over the last 20 - 30 years. The government has also introduced heavy restrictions on establishing fish farms in the Skagerrak region, but the total discharges from aquaculture in Norway are increasing rapidly.
Marine litter, whether floating, accumulating on the beach or on the seabed, is a growing problem. Fisheries and shipping, as well as land-based and coastal activities, contribute to the littering in the Norwegian marine areas. Ocean currents also transports litter from sea areas further away.
Much of the debris is made up of materials that are very persistent in the environment. In general, we have limited knowledge of the scale and sources of marine litter. The impacts of marine litter are associated with entanglement, ingestion, suffocation and general debilitation. Micro plastics cause harm to animals when ingested. In recent years monitoring stations have been established along the coast to provide information on the quantities and sources of litter on Norwegian beaches.
Ecosystem-based approach to the management of Norwegian marine areas
Norway has developed an integrated and ecosystem-based approach to the management of marine areas. The first plan, covering the Norwegian part of the Barents Sea – Lofoten area, was first presented in 2006 and updated in 2011. An equivalent plan for the Norwegian Sea was presented in 2009. Work on an integrated management plan for the Norwegian part of the North Sea – Skagerrak area is ongoing and will be finalised in 2013.
When developing our management plan for the North Sea – Skagerrak area, cooperation with our North Sea neighbours is important. The development of marine strategies in EU member countries, in accordance with the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive, corresponds to a large extent to the Norwegian management plans. This provides excellent opportunities for cooperation.