Eiders in flight. Photo: CAFF

The Arctic is often perceived as a harsh environment. But difficult living conditions have given rise to unique ecosystems in the far North. Some of the most iconic species in the world are endemic to the Arctic, such as the polar bear, walrus, narwhal, snowy owl and Arctic fox. But the Arctic also contains thousands of lesser-known species, often remarkably adapted to survive in extreme cold and highly variable climatic conditions.

In all, the Arctic is home to more than 21,000 known species of highly cold-adapted mammals, birds, fish, invertebrates, plants and fungi and microbe species. This extensive biodiversity provides essential services and values to people. They provide not only food, but the everyday context and basis for social identity, cultural survival and spiritual life.

Extremes of cold and seasonality and limited accessibility have kept human influence low, allowing ecological processes to function largely undisturbed. But climate change and an increasing demand for Arctic resources are driving a new era of human activity with subsequent consequences for Arctic biodiversity.

How does the Arctic Council safeguard Arctic biodiversity?

Ever since its establishment, environmental protection has been at the core of the work of the Arctic Council. In the Council’s founding document, the Ottawa Declaration, the eight Arctic States affirmed their commitment to protect the Arctic environment and healthy ecosystems, to maintain Arctic biodiversity, to conserve and enable sustainable use of natural resources. It does so through defined actions based on scientific recommendations.

Life on land, in the sea and in the air

The Arctic contains a diversity of marine, freshwater and terrestrial habitats, such as vast expanses of lowland tundra, wetlands, mountains, extensive ocean shelves, millennia-old ice shelves, pack ice, and huge seabird coastal cliffs. All of these ecosystems are affected by a changing Arctic – and each one in its unique way.

The Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna (CAFF) Working Group is assessing the state of Arctic biodiversity across the elements, and is developing monitoring plans to observe and understand how life is changing – in the tundra and in wetlands, in lakes and rivers, in the Arctic Ocean, and even in the air, as the Working Group follows Arctic migratory birds on their flyways across the world.

Managing Arctic marine ecosystems

The Arctic Council has developed a framework for implementing an ecosystem approach to management. In the context of the Arctic Council this means comprehensive and integrated management of human activities based on the best available scientific, traditional and local knowledge about the ecosystem.

The Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment (PAME) Working Group is leading the Council’s work on managing Arctic marine ecosystems, and has produced guidelines, fact sheets and indicators to implement the theory into practice. CAFF is working to address these issues both in terrestrial, freshwater, marine and coastal ecosystems.

With an ecosystem approach to management, the Council aims at identifying and taking action on factors that are critical to the health of ecosystems – with the goal to achieve sustainable use of ecosystem goods and services and to maintain of ecosystem integrity.

Mainstreaming biodiversity

Biodiversity is impacted by multiple factors, including climate change, infrastructure development, and resource extraction. In order to address these factors and protect Arctic biodiversity, CAFF has pledged to encourage all those working on development activities in the Arctic to incorporate biodiversity considerations in their planning and operations, a process known as mainstreaming. While there are a wide variety of industries engaging in activities in the Arctic, such as oil and gas, and tourism, CAFF has agreed to initially focus on one sector: the mining industry.

WHAT IS BIODIVERSITY? The United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity defines biodiversity as “the variability among living organisms from all sources including, inter alia, terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems, as well as the ecological complexes, of which they are part; this includes diversity within species, between species, and of ecosystems”. Biodiversity includes the multitude of poorly known species, of which there are many in the Arctic, that collectively provide the foundation for food webs and ecosystems. The interactions between humans and their surroundings are also part of the diversity, vitality and sustainability of life on Earth.

Biodiversity projects

Marine Biodiversity Monitoring

Working with partners across the Arctic to harmonize and enhance long-term marine monitoring efforts

Underwater noise in the Arctic

Providing a baseline understanding of underwater noise in Arctic regions, including ambient sound levels, underwater noise created by anthropogenic activities, and impacts of underwater noise on marin...
Red Knots. Photo: Morten Ekker

Arctic Migratory Birds Initiative (AMBI)

Improving the status and secure the long-term sustainability of declining Arctic breeding migratory bird populations.
Photo: Steve Hillebrand/USFWS

Circumpolar Biodiversity Monitoring Program (CBMP)

An international network of scientists, governments, Indigenous organizations and conservation groups working to harmonize and integrate efforts to monitor the Arctic's living resources.

Actions for Arctic Biodiversity

Implementing the recommendations of the Arctic Biodiversity Assessment.

Protection from Invasive Species

Setting priority actions that the Arctic Council and its partners are encouraged to take to protect the Arctic region from a significant threat: the adverse impacts of invasive alien species.

Arctic Biodiversity Data Service

The ABDS is an online tool to house, collect, display and search for Arctic biodiversity related data, maps and graphics for decision making.

Circumpolar Seabird Expert Group (CBird)

Since seabirds travel great distances over both marine and terrestrial environments, they are excellent indicators of overall ecosystem health.

Mainstreaming Arctic Biodiversity

Identifying challenges and solutions for incorporating biodiversity considerations Arctic development and the Council's work

Resilience and management of Arctic wetlands

Enhancing engagement in relation to the roles and functions of Arctic wetlands as a resource to support sustainable development and resilience in Arctic biodiversity, ecosystem services, and the livel...
Arctic Council logo

Other Effective Area-based Conservation Measures (OECM) Areas in the Arctic Marine Environment

An overview of the current range and understanding of international and national criteria used for identification of OECMs in the Arctic.
Water sampling in the Arctic. Photo: Steve Hillebrand/CAFF

Freshwater Biodiversity Monitoring

Working with partners across the Arctic to harmonize and enhance long-term freshwater monitoring efforts.

The Arctic Wildland Fire Ecology Mapping and Monitoring Project (ArcticFIRE)

Improving our understanding of Arctic fires and reducing the threat
Arctic Council logo

Marine Invasive Alien Species in Arctic Waters

Protecting the Arctic from the adverse impacts of invasive alien species
Arctic Council logo

Community Observation Network for Adaption & Security (CONAS)

Observers document environmental change in the Arctic
Mikko Kytokorpi - Salmon

Salmon Peoples of Arctic Rivers

Assessing freshwater river systems based on traditional knowledge

Biodiversity making headlines

iStock / Koldunov

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Photo: Nikolay Yakushev

The Arctic Migratory Birds Initiative

Building flyway cooperation to support Arctic-breeding birds across the world
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Sneak peek into the new work of the Arctic Council – A briefing series

Be one of the first to learn about the latest reports, assessments and activities from the Council’s Working Groups on the topics of climate change, Arctic shipping, huma...
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