Sea ice in the Arctic.

Cooperation for a sustainable Arctic Ocean

With sea ice cover shrinking, the Arctic Ocean has taken centerstage in global discussions related to climate change and economic opportunities. While open waters may bring new opportunities to the region, increasing accessibility to the High North also presents risks for Arctic inhabitants and ecosystems, including through oil spills and shipping accidents.

The Arctic States hold a responsibility to safeguard the future development of the region and to develop models for stewardship of the marine environment. This requires both a better understanding of the drivers and effects altering the Arctic marine environment and enhanced cooperation amongst the Arctic States, local inhabitants, external actors and international legal frameworks.

To protect the Arctic marine environment and counteract possible detrimental effects of climate change and pollution, the Arctic States have recognized the need to work together closely – and they do so on a wide range of marine issues. These include issues related to marine pollution, sustainable shipping practices, search and rescue operations, marine cooperation and risk management.

How does the Arctic Council contribute to a sustainable Arctic Ocean?

Tackling marine pollution

Over the past years, marine litter has emerged as one of the most pervasive problems affecting the marine environment globally. The Arctic is no exception. The Icelandic Chairmanship (2019-2021) has thus placed plastic pollution in the Arctic marine environment high on its agenda and is drawing on the findings of the first Desktop Study on Marine Litter in the Arctic, which was developed by the Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment (PAME) Working Group. PAME is currently developing a Regional Action Plan on Marine Litter in the Arctic as a follow-up to the Desktop Study.

Another pollution risk stems from increased shipping and exploration activities in the Arctic: oil spills. In 2013, Arctic Ministers signed the Agreement on Cooperation on Marine Oil Pollution Preparedness and Response in the Arctic (MOSPA). Its objective is to strengthen cooperation, coordination, and mutual assistance on oil pollution preparedness and response in the Arctic in order to protect the marine environment from pollution by oil. The Emergency Prevention, Preparedness and Response (EPPR) Working Group has been tasked to implement the agreement and its operational guidelines.


Sustainable and safe shipping

Safe and sustainable shipping and operations in Arctic waters is another important component of safeguarding the Arctic marine environment – and a prerequisite has been to evaluate current and future use of the Arctic Ocean. One of the outcomes was the 2009 Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment (AMSA), developed by PAME. Its recommendations - such as the need to enhance Arctic marine safety, protect Arctic people and the environment and building the Arctic marine infrastructure - continue to guide activities of the Council. PAME projects and initiatives promote safe and sustainable shipping in the Arctic, such as a comprehensive shipping activity database; the development of the Arctic Shipping Best Practice Information Forum in support of effective implementation of the IMO’s Polar Code; and a number of projects on use and carriage of Heavy Fuel Oil in the Arctic and the development of a Regional Reception Facilities Plan. Outcomes from both have been communicated to the International Maritime Organization.

Cooperation amongst the eight Arctic States and other stakeholders is key to safe operations in the Arctic Ocean. EPPR collaborates with international bodies and fora to identify best practices, exchange information, and develop a repository for lessons learned in Arctic search and rescue exercises and incidents.

The Agreement on Cooperation on Aeronautical and Maritime Search and Rescue in the Arctic is an international instrument for cooperation on search and rescue operations in the Arctic that was negotiated under the auspices of the Arctic Council. It was signed by the Arctic States in 2011.

Enhancing marine cooperation

The Arctic Council’s Arctic Marine Strategic Plan 2015-2025 (AMSP) provides a framework to guide its actions to protect Arctic marine and coastal ecosystems and to promote sustainable development. The AMSP articulates how the Arctic Council can increase its understanding of the impacts of human activities, climate change and ocean acidification. The AMSP recognizes the importance of acquiring a better understanding of Arctic change so that actions can be taken that allow Arctic inhabitants, including Arctic Indigenous peoples to further adapt to the change. The strategic actions identified in the AMSP guide the work of the Arctic Council and its subsidiary bodies on marine-related activities.

In an effort to enhance strategic and policy guidance, as well as collaboration and coordination of marine activities in the Arctic Council, the Senior Arctic Officials have been assigned a central role. As government representatives from the Arctic States, Senior Arctic Officials are well positioned to engage in holistic discussions on marine issues of which the AMSP plays an important role. Going forward, they will do so jointly with marine experts that bring in both scientific findings and indigenous expertise. The objective of this mechanism is – amongst other tasks – to give strategic guidance to the Council’s Working Groups on marine issues, to provide policy guidance, and to develop a unified marine workplan for the Arctic Council.


Featured marine projects

Региональный план действий по морскому мусору

Reducing the negative impacts of marine litter, including microplastics, to the Arctic marine environment.

Marine Biodiversity Monitoring

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

Integrated Ecosystem Assessment (IEA) of the Central Arctic Ocean

Investigating the current state of the Central Arctic Ocean

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...

Circumpolar Oil Spill Response Viability Analysis (COSRVA)

Investigating the potential of different oil spill response systems for the Arctic marine environment.

Circumpolar Oil Spill Response Viability Analysis Phase II (COSRVA II)

Science-based decision-making in Arctic oil spill response contingency planning
Glasbruch2007 / CC-BY-SA

New Low Sulphur Fuels, Fate, and Behavior in Cold Water Conditions

Knowledge on New Low-Sulphur Fuels in the Arctic

Данные по судоходству в Арктике

Collecting and distributing accurate, reliable, and up-to-date information on shipping activities in the Arctic.
Arctic Council logo

Collaboration with the Arctic Regional Hydrographic Commission (ARHC)

PAME and the Arctic Regional Hydrography Commission (ARHC) have developed a joint policy statement on the importance of hydrography in the Arctic region to safe and sustainable maritime navigation.
Cod drying. Photo: iStock

Blue Bioeconomy in the Arctic Region

The sustainable and intelligent use of renewable aquatic natural resources, with a focus on improving utilization and creating higher-value products.
Arctic Council logo

Systematically Strengthening Observer Engagement in PAME’s Shipping Work

Identifying options for leveraging Observer interest, expertise and engagement in PAME’s shipping work.
Murres on cliff. Photo: iStock

Coastal Biodiversity Monitoring

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

Prevention, Preparedness and Response for small communities

Working with small communities to improve their safety in case of an oil spill event.
Arctic Council logo

Arctic Port Reception Facilities Inventory

Developing a current inventory of Arctic port reception facilities to assess where there may be infrastructure gaps in light of increasing Arctic shipping traffic.
Boat in ice. Photo: iStock

Arctic Marine Risk Assessment

A common approach to marine risk assessment in the Arctic region.
Arctic Council logo

Arctic Arrangement for Regional Reception Facilities

Due to the Arctic’s unique circumstances (remoteness, severe weather, limited infrastructure and resources) regional arrangements are a practical means of meeting MARPOL obligations.
Plastic litter on an Arctic coast. Photo: iStock/sodar99

Arctic Marine Microplastics and Litter

Development of a monitoring plan for microplastics and litter in Arctic waters.
LCDR Eric Johnson / NOAA

Fishing Practice & Gear Inventory

Enhancing Understanding of Abandoned Lost or otherwise Discarded Fishing Gear (ALDFG)
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.
Arctic Council logo

Raising awareness in the Arctic Council of the provisions of the 2012 Cape Town Agreement

For the safety of fishing vessels and the experience gained in the implementation process by Arctic States and other nations, recognizing the importance of fishing vessel safety in the Arctic due to t...
Arctic Council logo

Ecosystem Status, Human Impact and Management Measures in the Central Arctic Ocean

Synthesizing relevant information on the status, trends and projected changes in the Central Arctic Ocean, human activities and pressures in the area, and the current management measures in place in o...
Arctic Council logo

Meaningful Engagement of Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities in Marine Activities

Compiling and analyzing existing documents and summarize stheir main aspects, principles, and processes for engagement of Indigenous Peoples and local communities.
Arctic Council logo

Existing Waste Management Practices and Pollution Control for Marine and Coastal Mining

Identifying practices for offshore discharge of mining residuals

Arctic Shipping Status Reports

Using the ASTD System to develop a user-friendly, illustrative informational factsheets online to highlight important developments in Arctic shipping activities.
Ulstein Uavpic


Could expedition cruise vessels be an oil spill response asset in the Arctic?
Arctic Council logo

Interpretation of the Polar Code

Facilitating consistent interpretation of the Code.
Don Becker / USGS

Marine Invasive Alien Species in Arctic Waters

Protecting the Arctic from the adverse impacts of invasive alien species

Арктический судоходный информационный форум по наилучшим практикам

Facilitating an exchange of information and best practices on shipping topics like hydrography, search and rescue logistics, industry guidelines and ship equipment, systems and structure.
Arctic Council logo

Modelling Arctic oceanographic connectivity

Ongoing climate change may facilitate increased access to the Arctic region, and potential new economic opportunities, but may also bring potential threats to the Arctic marine and coastal environment...

The Arctic Ocean making headlines

“Plastic in a Bottle” afloat again

In September 2019, the Arctic Council’s Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment (PAME) Working Group launched its first “Plastic in a Bottle”, a capsule equipped with...
23 Jun 2021
All tourism vessel traffic in 2019, cruise and passenger ships.

As Arctic marine tourism increases, how can we ensure it’s sustainable?

A look into Arctic tourism trends and local guideline development
10 May 2021
Credit: Hugi Ólafsson

Fish collagen and Senegal flounders

Iceland is leading the way in the blue bioeconomy and initiated a study to explore its potential in the Arctic. While there’s no one-size-fits-all business model, ocean i...
10 May 2021
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