Marine protected areas are an important tool for the conservation of vulnerable marine species and habitats. Norway is playing an active role internationally in this field.
There are parts of the marine environment where habitats are particularly vulnerable or there are animals or plants that need special protection. It is becoming increasingly common to safeguard these areas by designating them as marine protected areas and introducing restrictions or bans on certain activities.
Norway has established a number of marine protected areas, generally as part of a national park or nature reserve that includes both land and sea areas. Ytre Hvaler national park was established in 2009, and is the first national park in Norway established primarily to protect the marine environment. In addition, Norway is working on the development of a nationwide marine protection plan. In the first phase, 36 areas are being considered.
Norway is also involved in international work on marine protected areas as one of 15 parties to the OSPAR Convention (the Convention for the Protection of the marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic). OSPAR is in the process of establishing a Network of Marine Protected Areas. Each country is responsible for nominating sites within its own territory for inclusion in the network. In addition, the OSPAR countries have collectively agreed to establish several Marine Protected Areas in areas beyond national jurisdiction. This requires collaboration, since it is not up to any individual country to decide how they are to be managed and which activities are to be permitted.
OSPAR has developed a set of criteria that can be used to determine whether an area qualifies for the network. These include whether it is important for threatened or declining species or habitats or is of ecological significance in other ways. Other criteria are high biodiversity, representativity, sensitivity and naturalness.
By the end of 2011, a total of 282 sites had been nominated for the network, covering a total area of 476 198 km2. The vast majority are within territorial waters and were nominated by single countries (276 sites covering an area of 189 128 km2 ). The remaining six cover 287 070 km2: four of them are under split jurisdiction and two are entirely in areas beyond national jurisdiction.
OSPAR’s goal is to achieve an ecologically coherent network of well-managed Marine Protected Areas by 2015. This has not yet been achieved.
Norway has made a significant contribution to the OSPAR network. The Norwegian Marine Protected Areas cover a total area of 84 898 km2, comprising almost half of the total area nominated by individual countries for the network. The protected areas in Arctic waters around Svalbard and Bjørnøya are particularly large.
There are three Marine Protected Areas here, two around the Svalbard archipelago (Svalbard East and Svalbard West) and one encircling the island of Bjørnøya. They consist of the marine parts of four nature reserves and seven national parks, all of which cover both land and sea areas. Combined, they cover a total area of 78 321 km2.
Some of the largest known reef complexes formed by the cold-water coral Lophelia pertusa are in Norwegian waters. Norway therefore has a special responsibility for protecting cold-water coral habitats. The largest reef complex, the Røst reef (Røstrevet), lies west of the Lofoten Islands. This reef and three others (Sularevet, Iverryggen and Selligrunnen) have been nominated as four of Norway’s OSPAR Marine Protected Areas. They cover a total area of 1 923 km2[A3] .
Another four coral reef complexes are to be nominated as part of the OSPAR network shortly. Norway has already protected them against damage from fisheries activities under the national Marine Resources Act.
The national park is home to a wide variety of fish, benthic animals and algae, there are two coral reef complexes within its boundaries (Tisler and Fjellknausene). These were previously nominated separately for the OSPAR network, but are now included in the Ytre Hvaler Marine Protected Area which includes a total sea area of 340 km2.
The Jan Mayen nature reserve was established on 19 November 2010. It includes a sea area of 4 315 km2, which was nominated for the OSPAR network in 2012.