walrus. Photo: Carsten Egevang, ARC-PIC.comCommunity-based observations reveal new scientific information

May 11, 2011, Bristol Bay, Alaska: The finding from research conducted by the Aleut International Association, a permanent participant of the Arctic Council, showed that in 2009 and 2010 walrus harvest areas in The Walrus Island State Game Sanctuary in Bristol Bay, the eastern-most arm of the Bering Sea, have shifted. These findings from community-based observations are corroborated by other scientific reports but these are new data that pinpoint a food security problem.

The shift in walrus harvest locations is a direct result of changes in the timing of the walrus migration to the arctic.  Arctic Climate Impact Assessment, a report released by the Arctic Council in 2004, predicts that changes in harvested species’ ranges and availability could present serious challenges to food security for indigenous peoples of the arctic.  This is an example where necessity dictates that hunters go further for the same food.  Traveling further costs more in fuel and may be more dangerous.  The shift in harvest locations documented in this research is an adaptive measure that hunters are taking.

Possible causes may include depletion of food, human disturbance, and climate change (changes in sea ice extent and warming seas).

These data could be used to inform policy makers for possible reassessment of walrus management in the area and for providing support to walrus harvesters as a climate change mitigation measure. 

The research is part of the Bering Sea Sub Network (BSSN) funded by the US National Science Foundation under the Arctic Observing Network program and is a project of the Conservation Flora and Fauna Working Group of the Arctic Council.



Victoria Gofman

Aleut International Association

victoriag EP_AT alaska EP_DOT net 






Images for press use

Map 1. Density analysis of walrus harvest locations used over a person’s (n=22) lifetime including Round Island Map 2. Density analysis of walrus harvest locations from September 2009 – August 2010 (n=11 subsistence harvesters) 

Arctic Fox. Photo: Carsten Egevang, ARC-PIC.com

May 12, 2011, Arctic Council Ministerial, Nuuk, Greenland

Unique Arctic habitats for flora and fauna, including sea ice, tundra, lakes, and peatlands have been disappearing over recent decades, and some characteristic Arctic species have shown a decline. The changes in Arctic Biodiversity have global repercussions and are further creating challenges for people living in the Arctic. 

The above statements are examples on the key findings describing changes in Arctic biodiversity that is presented in ‘The Arctic Biodiversity Trends – 2010: Selected Indicators of Change’, a new report synthesizing scientific findings on the status and trends for selected biodiversity in the Arctic issued by the Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna (CAFF) Working Group under the Arctic Council.

A constant issue noted as critical is the need for Arctic wide monitoring programmes. CAFFs Circumpolar Biodiversity Monitoring Programme (CBMP – www.cbmp.is) has developed the first arctic wide marine ecosystem monitoring programme which has been endorsed by the Arctic Council.  This plan is now starting to be implemented will help short the gap between the collection and analysis of data to its availability to decision makers. 


Arctic Biodiversity – affected by multiple stressors

The Arctic Biodiversity Trends 2010 Report, produced by some of the world’s leading experts of Arctic ecosystems and biodiversity, was the Arctic Council’s contribution to the United Nations International Year of Biodiversity in 2010.

In 2008, the United Nations Environment Program passed a resolution expressing ‘extreme concern’ over the impacts of climate change on Arctic indigenous peoples, other communities, and biodiversity.  It highlighted the potentially significant consequences of changes in the Arctic.  The Arctic Biodiversity Trends – 2010: Selected Indicators of Change report indicates that some of those anticipated impacts on Arctic biodiversity are already occurring.

The report is based on twenty-two indicators and provides a snapshot of the trends being observed in Arctic biodiversity today.  The polar bear is one of the most well-known species impacted by changes in the Arctic, but it is not the only one.  The indicators show that the Arctic has changed dramatically during recent decades and that unique Arctic habitats for flora and fauna are disappearing.  Furthermore, some species of importance to Arctic people or species of global attention are declining.

The report presents a broad spectrum of changes in the Arctic ecosystems and biodiversity.

  • Polar bears are highly specialized for and dependent on sea ice for their habitat. Therefore they are particularly sensitive and vulnerable to the documented significant reductions in sea ice cover in parts of the Arctic and to the thinning of multi-year ice in the polar basin. Status and trends for many populations are not available, but research on some populations demonstrates that they have decreased over the past several decades, and population and habitat modelling have projected substantial future declines in the distribution and abundance of polar bears.
  • The vegetation comprising tundra ecosystems – various species of grasses, sedges, mosses, and lichens – are, in some places, being replaced by species typical of more southern locations, such as evergreen shrubs.
  • Trees are beginning to encroach on the tundra at its southern margin and some models project that by 2100 the tree line will have advanced north by as much as 500 km, resulting in a loss of 51% of tundra habitat
  • In recent years, on average, the southern limit of permafrost in northern peatlands has retreated by 39 km and by as much as 200 km in some parts of Arctic.  Peatlands are significant for the floristic diversity of the Arctic because their species comprise 20–30% of the Arctic and sub-Arctic flora.  Moreover, many bird species with conservation priority are strongly associated with tundra and mire habitats.
  • Cold water coral reefs, coral gardens, and sponge aggregations provide a habitat for a variety of fish and invertebrates and thus represent biodiversity hotspots in the Arctic seas.  These habitats are vulnerable to fisheries and other human activities such as oil and gas exploration.

Depending on the magnitude of these and other changes, certain ecosystems may no longer be considered ‘Arctic’.  The result may be that many of the species thriving in the Arctic today are not able to survive there in the future.

A key finding in the Report is that climate change is emerging as the most far-reaching and significant stressor on Arctic biodiversity, though contaminants, habitat change, industrial development, and unsustainable harvest levels continue to have impacts. 

The importance of Arctic ecosystems for biodiversity is immense and therefore a more thorough examination of the state of affairs is needed.  Thus, leading Arctic scientists are currently engaged in making a full and comprehensive Arctic Biodiversity Assessment, which is will be completed in 2013.

A primary challenge is to shorten the gap between when data is collected to when it has been processed and presented to decision makers to allow for a quicker response time.  CAFF has recognised this challenge and in recent years worked towards developing a solution.

This approach has focused on not just developing traditional assessments but also addressing the creation of a framework to allow for the collection, processing and analysis of data on a continuous basis – the CBMP.  The aim being through the ABA not to produce a traditional one off static assessment but rather to create a baseline of current knowledge and at the same time developing the engine which will feed data into this baseline allowing it to become a dynamic living tool.  One which is sustainable and can produce regular and more flexible assessments and analyses. 



Tom Barry at +354 861 9824



Melting tundra. Photo: Erik ThomsenThe Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna (CAFF), the biodiversity working group of the Arctic Council,is hosting a special side event discussing THE VIEW FROM UP HERE: ARCTIC BIODIVERSITY IN A WARMING WORLD at the upcoming 15th meeting of the Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice (SBSTTA) of the Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD), in Montreal.

The hour-long side event will be held on Wednesday November 9, at 18:15 in Room 3 (Level 1). Light snacks and refreshments will be served.

Event description:


The Arctic environment is experiencing unprecedented and rapid change from a variety of stressors that often interact in unpredictable ways. Understanding and responding to current and emerging concerns facing Arctic biodiversity requires coordinated circumpolar scientific information. Panelists from CAFF, the biodiversity working group of the Arctic Council, will discuss critical issues facing Arctic biodiversity and the Peoples of the North. They will describe CAFF´s circumpolar projects and priorities intended to help fill knowledge gaps and assist in a more immediate and effective policy response. 

If you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact Courtney Price, CAFF communications officer, at courtney EP_AT caff EP_DOT is, or Tom Barry, CAFF executive secretary, at tom EP_AT caff EP_DOT is


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