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Protected areas in the Arctic Region

This article is part of a series highlighting issues from the Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna (CAFF) working group’s landmark Arctic Biodiversity Assessment. This week focuses on protected areas in the Arctic.

[Click here to view or download the full-size map.]

Protected areas have long been the foundation of biodiversity conservation programs. The first protected areas in the Arctic region were established in Sweden and Alaska at the beginning of the 20th century. In recent decades the number of protected areas in the circumpolar north has grown exponentially. As of 2010, there are 1,127 protected areas in the region, covering approximately 3.5 million square kilometers or 11% of the CAFF cooperation area. As can be seen in this map, these areas vary considerably in terms of size, type and nature of protection. The different shades of green illustrate the different classifications used by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Over 1.5 million hectares of protected land and sea in the Arctic are designated category II, which denotes ecosystem conservation and protection, e.g. national parks.

The Aichi Targets of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) established the goal of conserving “at least 17 per cent of terrestrial and inland water, and 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas” through protected areas and other area-based conservation measures by 2020. In the Arctic the marine environment continues to be under-represented while terrestrial protected areas are relatively well represented.

Protected areas are a powerful conservation tool but they can also constrain some traditional activities, which can erode support for conservation measures. For example, fishing regulations in the Kommandorskye Islands in the Bering Sea have led to poaching in some circumstances. Some also feel that the economic and administrative regulations and policies associated with protection measures can conflict with traditional cultures, economies and livelihoods.

As with other forms of conservation measures, the establishment and management of protected areas needs to address traditional practices and potential conflicts to achieve the overall goals of habitat protection and biodiversity conservation.

Click here to see the “Disturbance, Feedback and Conservation” chapter in the ABA.

For more biodiversity graphics, please visit the Arctic Biodiversity Data Service.

Image credit: CAFF, Arctic Biodiversity Assessment 2013. Caption: Map of protected areas in the Arctic classed after their IUCN category.