Marine and coastal waters

Published by Norwegian Environment Agency

Norway’s large areas of marine and coastal waters are rich in resources and support a wide variety of species and habitats. However, human activity and climate change are becoming growing threats to the biodiversity of these areas. This is why Norway has developed an integrated marine management system involving cooperation between authorities in a number of sectors. 

Humpback whales move as far north as the Barents Sea to feed in summer, and migrate southwards to tropical waters for the winter months. Photo: Kim Abel,

Puffins are Norway's most numerous seabird, but many colonies have declined steeply in recent decades. Photo: Kim Abel,

Phytoplankton are at the base of all marine food chains. They are an important part of the diet of other marine organisms, especially zooplankton, which in turn are eaten by fish. About 1 300 plankton species have been recorded in Norwegian waters. Photo: Institute of Marine Research

The spawning stock of Northeast Arctic cod reached a peak in 2013, and has since been somewhat reduced. Both total stock and spawning stock are still well above the average for the period 1946 to 2016. This is considered to be one of the most important cod stocks in the world. Photo: Bård Bredesen,

A coastal fishing vessel with the day's catch. With a long coastline deeply cut by fjords and large sea areas, Norway is in a good position to harvest the riches of the seas. Photo: Kim Abel,

Hooded seal pup on the ice. The hooded seal population in the West Ice is classified as endangered on the Norwegian Red List. Photo: Michael Poltermann

Rich marine resources

Norway’s marine areas are divided into three main areas for management purposes: from north to south, they are the Barents Sea–Lofoten area, the Norwegian Sea, and the North Sea and Skagerrak. These marine waters are very productive and home to a rich variety of species, from cold-water corals to large fish stocks, seabirds and marine mammals.

The marine environment is generally clean and healthy, but our marine areas are affected to varying degrees by human activity. The extraction and harvesting of resources and the use of the sea for various other activites pose new challenges in terms of preserving the great values ​​the sea represents.

Valuable coastal waters

Norway’s coastal waters support a rich and varied flora and fauna. Many areas are important for commercial fisheries and suitable for aquaculture. Moreover, coastal waters and the coastline itself are important recreation areas for many people. About 80% of Norway’s population lives less than 10 km from the sea.

A number of authorities share the responsibility for spatial management and environmental and resource management in Norway’s coastal waters. Their overall objective is to ensure that these waters are clean and achieve good ecological status.

The map shows coral habitats and particularly valuable and vulnerable areas off the coast of mid-Norway. You can zoom in or out to explore further. Clicking on ‘Explore maps’ opens the full map with access to more topics, for example oil and gas activities, shipping and the distribution of a wide range of species.

Marine and coastal waters under pressure

Norway’s marine and coastal ecosystems are affected by human activity at sea, on land and along the coast. Pressures range from fisheries, aquaculture, shipping and oil and gas production to runoff of nutrients and other pollutants from onshore industry, agriculture and waste water treatment, and marine litter. In addition, pollutants reach Norway’s marine ecosystems through long-range transport in the atmosphere and with ocean currents. 

In combination, these pressures may result in habitat destruction and alteration, biodiversity loss and population decline, all of which put vulnerable species under additional pressure. In addition, sea temperatures are rising and sea ice is melting as a result of climate change. Seawater is absorbing more carbon dioxide, causing ocean acidification. This may result in major changes in ecosystems and is therefore a serious concern. Key calcifying organisms such as small crustaceans and corals may be particularly at risk from ocean acidification.

Integrated management of marine and coastal waters

Norway is using an integrated marine management regime to achieve good environmental status for all its sea areas. Integrated management plans for the Barents Sea–Lofoten area, the Norwegian Sea, and the North Sea and Skagerrak have been drawn up and are being implemented by the competent authorities in cooperation with scientific experts. The plans include steps to strengthen knowledge and a range of measures for achieving good environmental status. 

The marine management plans apply as far inshore as the baseline. Coastal waters inside the baseline are managed by the authorities for each river basin district under the Water Management Regulations (which  incorporate the EU Water Framework Directive into Norwegian law). The marine and coastal management regimes are designed to take into account the interactions between marine and coastal waters and their ecosystems.