ArCticles - Arctic Centre Papers

A New Legal Regime for the Protection of Arctic Marine Biodiversity in the Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction?


Kamrul Hossain

The huge Arctic marine area, consisting of around 14 million square kilometers, which is equal to the size of Antarctica, is the habitat of around 21,000 known species.

These include around 5,000 animal species, such as marine mammals, birds, fish, and similar kinds of living organisms, as well as 2,000 types of algae and tens of thousands of ecologically critical microbes. These species are highly adaptive to the Arctic’s cold climate. They are also crucial to its marine ecosystem. The Arctic is one of the earth’s last pristine environments, with a rich biodiversity that offers stability to its critical ecosystem; today, however, it is threatened due to a number of factors.

On the other hand, exploitation of marine fisheries is already increasing. Fish populations in the Arctic are expected to be threatened in the future as fleets move north into areas beyond national jurisdiction (ABNJ) due to expanding open water. The amount of illegal, unregulated, and unreported fishing is expected to increase. In addition, other kinds of human activities, such as tourism, will also probably rise. The combined effect of these maritime usages surely calls for action to protect marine biodiversity. Proactive legal measures, especially in the marine Arctic, which is clearly sensitive compared to any other marine area, will be needed.

While there are regulatory tools at several levels, they leave gaps in the protection of marine biodiversity in the Arctic. Overarching legal frameworks are provided by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) that well-address the importance of protecting marine biodiversity. However, the rules within the framework of the UNCLOS and the CBD are rather rudimentary, and they require further action on the part of the states to be effective. Other legal tools exist both at international and regional levels to address issues concerning marine biodiversity, and they apparently include the Arctic marine area.

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Dr. Kamrul Hossain is the Director of the Northern Institute for Environmental and Minority Law, Arctic Centre/University of Lapland, Adjunct Professor of International Law.


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