Protecting the Barents Sea | WWF

Protecting the Barents Sea

Geographical location:

Europe/Middle-East > -Regions- > Arctic

Europe/Middle-East > Eastern Europe > Russian Federation
Europe/Middle-East > Europe General
Europe/Middle-East > Northern Europe > Norway

Kalving glaciers in Summer. Arctic waters. Kongsfjord, Svalbard, Norway.
© WWF-Canon / Peter PROKOSCH


Located north of Russia and Scandinavia, the Barents Sea is part of the Arctic Ocean. It is home to unique sea bird colonies, including one of the world’s largest puffin colonies, huge reefs, including the biggest cold water reef in the word and large populations of seals and whales. The sea is also one of Europe’s last clean and intact marine environments, but it is also a region subject to rapid industrial development and other threats, such as overfishing, and oil and gas exploration.

As part of its work in the Arctic region, WWF is working to maintain and restore the fragile marine environment of the Barents Sea.


The Barents Sea Ecoregion includes both the Barents Sea and parts of the Kara Sea, as well as the shelf north of Svalbard and Franz Josef Land. The Ecoregion supports abundant fish stocks as well as huge concentrations of nesting seabirds (an estimated 16 million birds in early 1990s) and a diverse community of sea mammals, including 16 whale species and 7 species of seals.

Along the borders of the Ecoregion, it has been estimated that approximately 15,000 Norwegians (1994) and 80,000 Russians (1980s) are, or at least have been, employed by fisheries and associated industries.

There are numerous threats facing the region. Whales and seals have been hunted since the 1600s. Technological limitations meant that fisheries did not have significant impacts on the Barents Sea Ecosystem. However, small-scale coastal fisheries have evolved into large-scale offshore fisheries and as a result the fish stocks of the Barents Sea have collapsed several times. Due to an acute shortage of funding for fuel most of the time there is not a single fisheries inspection vessel on patrol in the Russian Economic Zone.

Pollution and petroleum development is another significant threat. 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.

In spite of the former dumping of radioactive waste in the Barents and Kara Seas by the Soviet Union, so far high levels of radioactivity has not been measured in any part of the Barents Sea. It is however known that at least 16 nuclear reactors have been dumped in the Kara Sea since 1965.

The Barents Sea contains considerable amounts of hydrocarbon resources, although concentrated in the eastern part. Several small oil fields have been identified near shore in the Pechora Sea, and a number of gigantic gas fields have been discovered far offshore in the Barents and Kara Seas. The intensive search activity in the Soviet period has now been succeeded by a rather slow-going drilling activity in identified structures in the Pechora sea.


1) Maintain and restore marine ecosystems in the Barents Sea.

2) Develop a long-term biodiversity vision for the ecoregion.

3) Perform a biodiversity and socioeconomic assessment of the ecoregion.

4) Develop and implement an ecoregional conservation plan, identifying WWF's goals for the ecoregion and the actions needed to achieve these goals.

5) Develop and implement an action programme that outlines WWF's 5-year strategy for the ecoregion.

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