Says new State of the Arctic Biodiversity Report, released at the Arctic Council Ministerial

PRESS RELEASE: May 11, 2017: Fairbanks, Alaska, U.S.

Changing food availability, loss of ice habitat, increases in contagious diseases, and the impending invasion of southern species are taking their toll on Arctic marine animals, and pointing to an ecosystem on the verge of a shift, says new report released by the Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna (CAFF), the biodiversity working group of the Arctic Council.

The State of the Arctic Marine Biodiversity Report identifies trends in key marine species and points to important gaps in biodiversity monitoring efforts across key ecosystem components in: sea ice biota, plankton, benthos, marine fishes, seabirds and marine mammals. Changes in these species are likely to indicate changes in the overall marine environment.

Over 60 international experts in CAFF’s Circumpolar Biodiversity Monitoring Program (CBMP) sifted through existing data on key elements of the Arctic marine species. Key findings and evidence include:

Food resources are being lost for many Arctic species in Arctic marine environments. Many species must travel further and expend more energy to feed, leading to concerns about individual health and potential effects at the population level.

  • Reduced ice cover has led to increased polar bear predation on ground-nesting common eiders and cliff-nesting murres.
  • Barents Sea harp seals have reduced body condition associated with reduced food availability as their travel time to the ice edge to feed is longer.
  • Some Indigenous communities have noted a change in walrus stomach contents, with more open water fishes and less clams, indicating that the distribution and availability of benthic resource species are changing in some areas.
  • Ivory gull declines coincide with reduction in their sea ice feeding areas.

Current trends indicate that species reliant on sea ice for reproduction, resting or foraging will experience range reductions as sea ice retreat occurs earlier and the open water season is prolonged. Although there are no documented cases of widespread population changes, some Arctic-breeding seabirds and some resident marine mammals have been observed shifting behaviours.

  • Belugas in Hudson Bay varied timing of migration in response to variations in temperatures. These migrations may affect the ability of people to find and use these resources.
  • Changes in sea ice conditions are probably linked to declines in the abundance of hooded seals, lower reproduction rates of Northwest Atlantic harp seals, reduced body condition of Barents Sea harp seals, and changes in prey composition of bearded seals.
  • Extirpation of some stocks of ice-dependent seals are possible, but is expected to vary locally because of large regional variation in ice cover decline.
  • Early spring sea ice retreat also reduces suitable breeding and pup rearing habitat for ringed seals. This affects the ability for polar bears, which feed on ringed seals, to rebuild energy stores after fasting during their own breeding period.
  • Walruses have rested on sea ice located over prime feeding areas, but due to late season ice formation, are increasingly using coastal haul-out sites instead. In addition to travelling further to access foods, this also increases the risk of calf mortality from stampede.

Some Arctic species are shifting their ranges northwards to seek more favourable conditions as the Arctic warms. These movements pose unknown consequences for Arctic species and their interactions, such as predation and competition.

  • The northward expansion of capelin has led to changes in seabird diet in northern Hudson Bay. It also may affect marine mammals.

Northward movement is easier for more mobile open-water species. Open water species are more mobile compared to those linked to shelf regions, such as benthic species, for which suitable habitat may be unavailable if they move northward.

Increasing numbers and an increasing diversity of southern species are moving into Arctic waters. In some cases, they may outcompete and prey on Arctic species, or offer a less nutritious food source for Arctic species.

  • Complex patterns of benthic biomass change in the Barents Sea are related to, amongst other pressures, warming of the Barents Sea improving conditions for boreal species to move further north.
  • The distribution of Atlantic cod is expanding in the Atlantic Arctic and increasing predation pressure on the polar cod, an important nutrient-rich prey fish, important for other fishes, seabirds and marine mammals, especially seals.
  • The more temperate killer whale is expanding in Arctic waters and may compete with other apex predators for nutritious seals.

Arctic marine species and ecosystems are undergoing pressure from cumulative changes in their physical, chemical and biological environment. Some changes may be gradual, but there may also be large and sudden shifts that can affect how the ecosystem functions.

Increases in the frequency of contagious diseases are being observed.

  • Incidents of avian cholera have increased in the northern Bering Sea and Arctic Archipelago.
  • The first designated Unusual Mortality Event in the U.S. Arctic occurred in 2011 and involved species of seals and walrus—essential food resources—affecting coastal community health, nutrition, cultural and economic well-being in areas of Canada, the U.S., and Russia.

The report provides advice to improve Arctic biodiversity monitoring activities to provide scientific information to policy makers more quickly. These include better coordination, standardisation of methods, improved consideration of Traditional and Local Knowledge, and attention to filling key information gaps.





OCTOBER 9-11, 2018

The Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna (CAFF), the biodiversity Working Group of the Arctic Council, is seeking individuals and organizations to provide abstracts, organize sessions and submit posters that will encourage a dialogue on Arctic biodiversity among scientists, indigenous peoples, policy makers, government officials,  students, industry representatives and others at the Arctic Biodiversity Congress 2018.

Submit via the online submission system by March 30, 2018

CAFF in partnership with the Ministry of the Environment, Finland, is organizing the Arctic Biodiversity Congress 2018 to promote the conservation and sustainable use of Arctic biodiversity. The Congress is relevant to all who wish to make specific and significant contributions to the conservation of Arctic biodiversity.

The Congress will be held in Rovaniemi, Finland on October 9-11, 2018, and will build upon the success of the first Congress, held in Norway in 2014.

Learn more about the Arctic Biodiversity Congress program and register now.

Please submit proposals for presentations, posters and/or sessions that address the Arctic Biodiversity Assessment recommendations and implementation actions by March 30, 2018.

Thank you for your interest in participating in and contributing to the Arctic Biodiversity Congress 2018!

Please contact caff EP_AT caff EP_DOT is if you have any questions.


The CAFF (Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna) Working Group, in partnership with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Singapore, the National Parks Board Singapore, and the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Singapore hosted 96 experts from 25 countries in an Arctic Migratory Birds Initiative (AMBI) East Asian Australasian Flyway workshop in Singapore 8-10 January 2017 at the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve.

The workshop addressed two major conservation issues affecting Arctic breeding migratory birds in the flyway: 

1) the conservation of significant sites and habitat for Arctic-breeding shorebirds, and

2) unsustainable hunting of migratory birds across the flyway.

 DSC0066 webSingapore Minister of State, Prime Minister's Office and Ministry of Manpower, Sam Tan opened the meeting with welcoming remarks, followed by the Ambassador of Norway to Singapore, Tormod C. Endresen. CAFF was represented by Chair Reidar Hindrum (Norway) and AMBI Chair Evgeny Syroechkovskiy (Russian Federation).

The Arctic Migratory Birds Initiative (AMBI) is a project designed to improve the status and secure the long-term sustainability of declining Arctic breeding migratory bird populations, many of which are in alarming decline. Recognizing that these species cross international borders, the project also seeks to actively engage Arctic Council Observer States on these issues in their jurisdictions.

Arctic-breeding birds use as many as eight different flyways to move from Arctic breeding grounds to overwintering or stopover sites at lower latitudes. The Arctic Biodiversity Assessment found that "many Arctic migratory species are threatened by overharvest and habitat alteration outside the Arctic, especially birds along the East Asian flyway" and recommended to "reduce stressors on migratory species range-wide, including habitat degradation and overharvesting on wintering and staging areas and along flyways and other migration routes." CAFF is following up on these recommendations in their Action for Arctic Biodiversity 2013-2021: Implementing the recommendations from the Arctic Biodiversity Assessment, where AMBI continues to be a priority.

Quick facts:

  • Spoon-billed Sandpiper. Photo: Peter and Michelle WongThere are approximately 100 breeding pairs of critically endangered Spoon-billed Sandpipers left in the wild. They have declined by 90% in the past 30 years and risk extinction. They breed in Russia and travel to Southeast Asia for the winter, passing through the Yellow Sea.
  • Since the early 1990s, red knots have been declining at almost 9% per year, great knots by 4.5% per year, and bar-tailed godwits by about 7% per year in the East Asian Australasian Flyway
  • Many Arctic-breeding bird populations are declining at an unprecedented rate for variety of reasons, including:
  • destruction of coastal wetlands for land reclamation and drainage,
  • habitat degradation,
  • trapping/poaching,
  • unsustainable harvesting, and
  • climate change.

The workshop in Singapore was highlighted in the Straits Times, Zaobao, Singapore Today, Channel NewsAsia and on the website of Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

CAFF Chair Reidar Hindrum will also represent CAFF to the East Asian Australasian Flyway Partnership Meeting of the Parties (MOP9), January 11-15, 2017.

See photos from the event on CAFF's Flickr site and don't forget to follow CAFF on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram


Courtney Price

CAFF Communications Manager

courtney EP_AT caff EP_DOT is



Climate change, human activity increase threat of Invasive Alien Species to the Arctic

PRESS RELEASE: May 11, 2017: Fairbanks, Alaska, U.S.

A new Arctic Council strategy and action plan calls for action to curb the impending arrival in the Arctic of invasive alien species, a globally significant driver of biodiversity loss, species endangerment, ecosystem degradation and economic change.

“We have a unique opportunity in the Arctic,” says Reidar Hindrum CAFF Chair. “We can act now—decisively—to prevent and mitigate the adverse impacts of invasive alien species that plague much of the rest of the world but haven’t affected the Arctic in the same way—so far. But they are coming. That is why this is such an important strategy.

The Arctic Invasive Alien Species (ARIAS) Strategy and Action Plan, produced by the Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna (CAFF) and the Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment (PAME) Working Groups, recommends priority actions that the Arctic Council and its partners are encouraged to take to protect the Arctic region from one of the significant emerging stressors: the adverse impacts of invasive alien species.

The arrival of invasive alien species will impact people who depend upon Arctic ecosystems for their livelihoods and well-being. The report calls for the Arctic Council and partners to inspire urgent and effective action, improve the knowledge base for well-informed decision-making, and to undertake prevention and early detection/rapid response initiatives.

While there are currently few invasive alien species in the Arctic, more are expected with climate change and increased human activity. Rapidly changing environmental conditions and a growing interest in resource extraction, settlement, and tourism make the Arctic region particularly vulnerable to biological invasion.


Tom Barry, CAFF Executive Secretary: tom EP_AT caff EP_DOT is +354 861-9824

Soffía Guðmundsdóttir, PAME Executive Secretary: soffia EP_AT pame EP_DOT is  +354 863 8576

Join us Sunday March 13 at the Arctic Science Summit Week for a special session on "Collaboration, Progress and Implementation of the Circumpolar Biodiversity Monitoring Program (CBMP).”

The special session will bring together representatives from the marine, terrestrial, freshwater and coastal components of the CBMP as well as U.S. and Kingdom of Denmark CBMP co-chairs to report on progress and products and seek input and discuss opportunities for collaboration, engagement, support, linkages, and data interoperability and accessibility.

The Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna’s (CAFF) chair and executive secretary will join CBMP representatives to place the importance of the CBMP in the context of wider Arctic Council work. A panel discussion comprised of international partners will identify how CAFF and the CBMP feed into and inform other regional and global processes. 

Collaboration, Progress and Implementation of the Circumpolar Biodiversity Monitoring Program (CBMP)


Gruening room 413

9.00-9.30 Section 1: Introduction providing a brief overview of CAFF including the Action plan for implementing the Arctic Biodiversity Assessment (ABA) recommendations, highlighting the CBMP as a key part of ABA implementation.

Speaker: CAFF Chair, Reidar Hindrum (Norwegian Environment Agency)

9.30-11:00 Section 2: Overview of CBMP its purpose and structure and implementation status, including examples on how CBMP outputs are being used, followed by brief intros for each monitoring group and a panel question and answer session.

Moderators: CBMP co-Chairs Tom Christensen (Aarhus University) and Jason Taylor (Bureau of Land Management). Speakers: Tom Barry (CAFF International Secretariat), Liza Jenkins, Michigan Tech Research Institute (MTRI), Chris Zimmerman (USGS), Rosa Meehan (ArcticTurn), Gabriela Ibarguchi (University of Calgary) and Rebecca Anderson (USGS).

11:30-12:30 Section 3: Panel discussion on how CAFF and the CBMP inform other regional and global processes and discussion on Arctic scenarios.

Moderators: Inge Thaulow (Department of Foreign Affairs, Greenland) and Gilbert Castellanos (USFWS). Speakers: Morten Rasch (INTERACT), Martin Sommerkorn (WWF Global Arctic Programme), Bob Rich (ARCUS), Denny Lassuy (North Slope Science Initiative), IUCN (speaker TBD), Global Earth Observations (speaker TBD).

White papers and statements

Poster session

  • Check out the posters available and don't miss our three CBMP related posters that will be displayed during the poster session March 16th and 17th, from 5:30-8 pm, both at the Wood Center, Second Floor Mezzanine


CBMP Co-Chairs

Tom Christensen (Aarhus University)

John Payne (Bureau of Land Management)

Arctic States

dk   ca   fi   is   no   ru   sw   usa

Permanent Participants

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