Barents-Kara Seas

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View on the Kongsfjord, Svalbard Norway.
© WWF-Canon / Peter PROKOSCH

About the Area

The Barents-Kara Sea ecoregion is one of the northernmost bodies of water that does not freeze over during the winter.

Compared to neighboring Arctic seas, the Barents-Kara is shallow and free of ice all through the year due to warm Ocean currents from the North Atlantic and high salt levels.

These waters are highly productive, allowing inland tundra to be occupied by breeding seabirds as nesting colonies of migrating seabirds abound. Abundant marine mammal populations occur in this ecoregion and it includes the Franz-Josef-Land nature reserve - the largest marine protected area on the Northern Hemisphere.

The Ecoregion supports abundant fish stocks as well as huge concentrations of nesting seabirds (estimated 16 million birds in early 1990's) and a diverse community of sea mammals (sixteen whale species and seven species of seals recorded).
Size:
N/A

Habitat type:

Polar

Geographic Location:
Arctic Ocean, north of Norway and Russia

Conservation Status:
Critical/Endangered

Local Species

Birds include little Auk (Alle alle), Barnacle goose (Branta leucopsis), Pink-footed goose (Anser brachyrhynchus), Sabine's gull (Xema sabini), and White-billed diver (Gavia adamsii).

Other important species include the Arctic cod (Boreogadus saida), Flatfish (Order, Pleuronectiformes), Smelt (Family, Osmeridae), Polar bear (Ursus maritimus), Bearded seal (Erignathus barbatus), Walrus (Odobenus rosmarus), and Narwhal (Monodon monoceros).

Featured species

 / ©: WWF / KLEIN & HUBERT
Barnacle goose (Branta leucopsis), Greenland National Park, Denmark.
© WWF / KLEIN & HUBERT
Barnacle goose (Branta leucopsis)

It is a medium-sized goose with a white face and black head, neck, and upper breast. Its belly is white. The wings and its back are silver-gray with black-and-white bars. During flight a V-shaped white rump patch and the silver-gray underwing linings are visible. It is smaller than the Canada Goose with more silvery grey wings and mantle. It looks as though it has pulled a big black stocking over its head and neck but its white face has poked through the toes. Its habitat is winters on coastal grassland pastures and marshes. It breeds on islands in the Baltic.

They frequently build their nests high on mountain cliffs; away from predators. Instead of bringing food to the newly hatched goslings, the goslings are brought to the ground. Unable to fly, the three day old goslings jump off the cliff and fall; their small size and very light weight protects them from serious injury when they hit the ground. They are then led by the parents to nearby wetland feeding areas.

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Threats

Overfishing and oil and gas development pose severe threats to the ecoregion. The dumping of radioactive materials has killed millions of fish, porpoises, sea stars, shellfish, and seals.

Massive harvests of various species of whales and seals commenced already in the early 1600's. Technological limitations ensured that fisheries did not have significant impacts on the Barents Sea Ecosystem until recently, but after the small-scale coastal fisheries evolved into large-scale offshore fisheries, the fish stocks of the Barents Sea has collapsed several times.

The ecoregion is still relatively clean compared to oceans in lower latitudes, but the problem of persistent organic pollutants has been addressed on several occasions. NW Russia is the most industrialised region in the arctic, and is the most important regional source of pollution to the Barents Sea.

WWF’s work

The decision to run the Barents Sea Ecoregion project was taken in 1999, after a reconnaissance study carried out by an independent research institution (the Fridtjof Nansen Institute in Oslo). The study focused on the status of the region's marine ecosystem; management and exploitation of the living marine resources; hydrocarbon resources; pollution; and a review of other projects and studies relating to the region.

It is also worth having in mind that WWF does not have strong national support in any of the countries. WWF has no previous experience in the region, and the next steps will be to identify hot spots both in terms of localities important for biodiversity and problems/conflicts that will have to be addressed. An essential part of this work will be to collect, prepare and present data spread on different institutions in Norway and Russia, and to involve stakeholders on different levels.

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