Webinar “Designing a Network of Marine Protected Areas in the Russian Arctic: first results”

The latest webinar focused on a system to protect specific sensitive areas in Russian Arctic seas. Project coordinatoor, researcher at Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Boris Solovyev discussed efforts to select these areas and the methodology behind them.

During the webinar, Boris Solovyev gave a presentation and replied to questions from the audience.

Do I understand correctly that the purpose of protecting and allocating MPAs is to preserve and protect everything from negative anthropogenic impact, including the extraction of mineral resources and tourist activity?

Yes, preservation appears to be the ideal option. An intermediate option would aim to minimize this impact. In a worst-case scenario, it would be possible to monitor this negative impact because we are unable to prevent all types of impact. But, if we have an idea of what areasof the vast Arctic Ocean and region are the most sensitive, we would at least be able to concentrate our efforts, our logistics and financial resources and attention there.

What is the difference between reserves, national parks and wildlife sanctuaries? Most people don't see any obvious difference.

They are three types of specially protected natural areas that differ in terms of objectives and management. Reserves (Zapovednik) have the strictest restrictions; tourists can only visit them with special permission, and it is forbidden to fish there. National parks also have strict restrictions but limited groups of people can visit some of those areas and ecotourism is possible there. The status of a zakaznik is even lower. For example, the wardens either protect waterfowl or some other species, either all the time or during certain seasons. Certain types of economic activity are also permitted.

Are there any special criteria for singling out MPAs as compared with ground-based areas?

The criteria we showed were drafted especially for marine sectors. They will not differ from ground-based area criteria very much. The latter areas'criteria also depend on specific animals and regions.

And how does legislation influence the allocation of MPAs? Russia, as a sovereign state, has limited rights on the high-seas because a 200-mile special economic zone is observed. And what can you tell usabout the outlying areas?

We worked inside this200-mile zone where national specially protected nature areas can be established. So far, the international community has not decided what to do in the waters north of this zone. A special international organization has been established to deal with the Antarctic and the South Ocean. It has been authorized to set up MPAs there,and one of them has already been established. This is a good example.

What is the optimal type of specially protected nature area for the Russian Arctic at this time of its increasing development?

There does not seem to be any single optimal type. This was the essence of our study that aimed to show that the entire Arctic should not be closed, and that local activities should not be terminated. We are saying that tourist activity is possible in some areas, but that it is impossible to prospect for and produce oil there. It is possible to fish there in limited quantities and during a certain season,   Ships can move through some areas at a speed of not more than ten knots. Our concept is very flexible.

Why did you choose a 30-year deadline for your study?

Thirty years is more realistic than, say, 50 or 70 years because they border on science fiction and because you can predict just about anything over these longer periods. Chances are that we will live on for the next 30 years and see what happens. State and commercial programs and plans also use 30-year plans because it's possible to see what happens by that time.

Have other Arctic countries established similar regional sea and coastal zones?

Not a single Arctic country has implemented any systematic project. But, of course, all the Artic countries have protected nature areas near their coasts. They mostly focus on coastal waters.

The idea of establishing MPAs was suggested fairly recently. Ground-based areas were established first, and now it turns out that the ocean is also being impacted. First, they tried to protect resources, including fish, to manage these resources and to restrict fishing. But this isn't comprehensive. For the past 15 years, experts have been suggesting the establishment of comprehensive protected areas. Russia has opted for specially protected nature areas.

Did you see any problems or lack of understanding from people outside the program during the first stage of your work?

Our expert community was the main problem because no one believed that it was possible to collect such a huge amount of data and bring it to a common denominator so quickly. But we have dealt with it, and now it appears that everyone is inspired. Our ministry also plans to use the results.