Our Ocean is essential to life on earth. All of us, directly and indirectly, depend on the Ocean- from the air we breathe, the food we eat, to jobs and livelihoods. The oceans shape the continents and regulate the climate of our Blue Planet.
Marine protection - HOPE SPOT
Today our oceans are at the limits of their resilience and only just over 2% of the world’s ocean is fully protected.
In 2021 we entered in “The UN Decade Of The Oceans”. What happens in the next 10 years will determine what happens in the next 10.000 years. What happens to the oceans will happen to us.
Our infinite commitment with the oceans, together with shared ambitions with our partners, has led us to achieve the role of “champions” on a big mission: to denominate the first HOPE SPOT area in Iceland. This is an exciting project in alliance with MISSION BLUE to sum up on their efforts to denominate HOPE SPOTS around the world.
MISSION BLUE inspires action to explore and protect the ocean. Led by legendary oceanographer Dr. Sylvia Earle, Mission Blue is uniting a global coalition to inspire an upwelling of public awareness, access and support for a worldwide network of marine protected areas.
“’HOPE SPOTS‘ are special places that are scientifically identified as critical to the health of the ocean. Our Hope Spots are championed by local conservationists whom we support with communications, expeditions and scientific advisory”
– Mission Blue
The final aim is to contribute to the Global Ocean Alliance target to safeguard at least 30% of the world´s oceans by 2030 to secure healthy oceans for future generations. To date, 30 countries, including the US, have joined the #30by30 movement.
Our mission as “champions” for the first HOPE SPOT in Iceland was to guide the nomination process, together with the Húsavík Whale Museum and other local organizations such as the Stefansson Arctic Institute and the University of Iceland’s Húsvík Research Centre by gathering scientific arguments and support from the local administration to prove the immense potential of the area as a HOPE SPOT.
And this is how at the beginning of 2023, the area of Skjálfandi Bay, Eyjafjörður and Grímsey Island become…
ICELAND’S FIRST HOPE SPOT!
THE NORTHEAST ICELAND HOPE SPOT
This region holds many wonders in its depths and lands.
Its the ideal sub-Arctic location: It allows for large plankton blooms and supports important and incredibly valuable kelp forests, relevant fish stocks, immense sea bird nesting cliffs, and is thriving with seal, porpoise, dolphin and whale populations.
All of this makes it perfectly clear why it deserved this very special recognition so much!
The designation of the Northeast Iceland Hope Spot does not come with any binding agreements; it is simply shining an international spotlight on our area that is unique and deserves to be protected. It is up to all the communities in this area to decide how we should move forwards with the protection and sustainable use of our oceans.
Many Hope Spots around the globe are, or are striving to, become Marine Protected Areas. Currently less than 1% of Iceland’s marine spaces are protected, though Iceland has signed the UN agreement which aims to protect 30% of both land and ocean areas by 2030. The designation of this Hope Spot can be a stepping-stone towards stronger legal marine protection and sustainable use of Iceland’s ocean resources, preserving its natural wonders for future generations.
And now, it is official.
We are extremely proud of this land of ours and that its value is being recognized around the world.
The first week of June 2023, Belén and Charla went to New York to officially present the first Hope Spot in Iceland, together with Sylvia Earl and all the wonderful Mission Blue team, at the Explorers Club Worlds Ocean’s week!
But… what does this place have that is so special?
The ideal location
Due to its connections with the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, the Arctic Ocean plays an essential role in the water cycle and large circulation of the ocean and atmosphere, having direct effects on the global climate. For this reason, it can be considered as the functional centre of the Northern Hemisphere, and it must be protected.
Due to its strategic location at the edge of the Arctic this Hope Spot is therefore of crucial importance to encourage protection and to build resilience in the rapidly changing Arctic.
A multifaceted feedground
This area of the ocean is also characterized by a complex confluence of warm and cold currents which enrich the marine ecosystem, thus making marine biodiversity thrive:
Due to the influence of rivers, currents and seasonal weather, at least twenty different species of cetaceans have been reported in Iceland and twelve species of cetaceans are regarded as regular inhabitants in these nutrient-rich feeding grounds. Additionally, this area hosts the greatest diversity of birds in Iceland and some of the most renowned wetlands for birdlife.
Home for birds
The presence of the small islands by the coast act as nesting grounds for many seabird species. Indeed, some of the largest colonies of seabirds still can be found here in the summer in nesting colonies on the four islands: Hrísey, Grímsey, Flatey and Lundey, including the Atlantic puffins (Fratercula arctica), Northern gannets (Morus bassanus), common guillemots (Uria aalge), and arctic terns (Sterna paradisaea).
Our own whale engineering team
The large baleen whales that use the Hope Spot as a feeding ground serve as an umbrella species for the area. The whales are considered ecosystem engineers and play an important role in the local environment. Since they feed on a variety of small fish and zooplankton species, they return to this area each year and the health of these animals is an indicator of the health of the ecosystem as a whole. In addition, the whales attract tourists through the booming whale watching industry which has raised awareness and concern for the plight of whales and the ecosystems that support them.
As a result, scientists are undertaking many research projects in the area and have published a significant number of papers about cetaceans and the whale watching industry in these waters. The large, charismatic nature of these animals draws worldwide attention to the area making them the perfect sentinel species for conservation.
From an ecologic point of view, whales are our allies when it comes to fighting climate change. By feeding on huge quantities of krill and plankton, they distribute enormous amounts of nutrients back into the ocean, sequestering carbon and contributing to the cycles of healthy oceans which produce phytoplankton blooms and produce the oxygen on which all life depends.
Beautiful and brave
Along with the baleen whales, the Atlantic puffin could be considered another umbrella species for the area. These birds are known to be sensitive to changes in the ecosystem and the health and success of their colonies within the Hope Spot are a direct indicator of the health of sand eel populations, which play a vital role in Icelandic ocean food webs. Despite their small stature, their charismatic nature attracts global attention to this Hope Spot.
Very special neighbours
Of special note is that the proposed Hope Spot area is habitat for the oldest vertebrate on Earth, the Greenland shark (Somniosus microcephalus) which has an estimated life span of at least 250 years and may live over 500 years. The presence of the largest animal on earth in this Hope Spot, the endangered blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus) also makes it a special and unique environment.
By designing this area as a Hope Spot, we are not only helping to protect the pristine habitats for the species who reside and visit this region and serve as a platform for conservation, research, and education, but we are also creating a future model of action for other subarctic and Arctic coastal communities with similar needs and issues.