Looking after lengthy shores
Norway has the second-longest coast in the world. With a rich fauna and flora, it is in good environmental shape. But some Norwegian shore areas are heavily affected by human activity.
Norway’s coastline extends for 100 915 kilometres when its fjords and fringing islands are taken into account. Only Canada’s is longer. Both sea and fjords house a wealth of seafood resources.
In addition, the country’s shores represent an important recreational area for many people. Roughly 80 per cent of the Norwegian population lives less than 10 kilometres from the sea.
Cause for concern in the south
Although the environment along the Norwegian coast is generally good, conditions are worse in areas with a high population and extensive human activities. That includes a number of locations in southern Norway.
Northwards from the north-western coast, the position is generally good. Even there, however, the marine environment has become increasingly influenced by human activity.
Overuse of fertilisers means that the environment along the Skagerrak coast and in certain south-west Norwegian fjords is poor. Fertiliser run-off reduces the oxygen supply, affecting both fauna and flora.
More than 60 per cent of Norway’s coastal waters meet a good or very good ecological standard as defined in the EU’s water framework directive. The latter has been incorporated in Norwegian law through the water management regulations.
Keeping ecosystems viable
It is important to ensure that human impacts along the Norwegian coast do not exceed the ability of ecosystems to maintain their natural dynamic.
Special natural conditions and key areas for specific species and populations are mapped and monitored in order to keep track of their status.
Fish breeding grounds are among the features studied. So are kelp forests, soft inshore seabeds, underwater meadows of various seagrasses, shell sand formations and large scallop deposits.
But more remains to be learnt about the status of many ecosystems along the Norwegian coast.
Sugar kelp on red list
Some of the natural features along the coast are threatened, and have been placed on a national red list for species. They include sugar kelp (Saccharina latissima), an important habitat for many species.
Coral reefs, sand dune formations and active marine deltas are also assessed as vulnerable. South Norwegian beach meadows and dunelands are also considered to be under great threat.
Some threatened species are also showing signs of recovery, such as the cuvie (Laminaria hyperborea) variety of kelp which forms important habitats for fish and other fauna.
Over the past 30 years, these kelp forests have been overgrazed by sea urchins northwards along the coast from Nord-Trøndelag county.
But declining pressure from sea urchins in recent years means the kelp has been returning both in Nord-Trøndelag and along the Helgeland coast in Nordland county. It is harvested where appropriate.
Biodiversity affected by human activity
Several types of human activity affect biodiversity (species variety) along the Norwegian coast.
Phosphorous and nitrogen are key nutrient salts, but excessive quantities in the sea cause algal blooms which lead in turn to oxygen deficiency (hypoxia).
Aquaculture (fish farming) is by far the most important contributor to this problem along Norway’s coasts, but nutrient salts are also carried from continental Europe by ocean currents.
Aquaculture affects coastal environments by spreading salmon (sea) lice, delousing agents, nutrient salts and escaped farmed fish.
Salmon lice which infest farmed fish are a threat to wild salmon, and aquaculture facilities themselves can sometimes disrupt habitats for wild species.
Environmental toxins have a particular presence in port areas and fjords affected by discharges from industry and households along their shores.
Concentrations of these substances in fish and shellfish are so high at a number of places along the coast that the Norwegian Food Safety Authority has warned against eating various seafoods.
Environmental toxins are also carried by winds and ocean currents from other parts of the world. The seabed in a number of Norwegian fjords have high concentrations of these substances.
Fishing has overtaxed a number of fish species. Coastal cod, halibut and lobsters are overfished species which need time to recover.
New management rules for lobster (in Norwegian only) and cod have been adopted, and minimum sizes have been introduced for recreational fishing of a range of species.
Climate change is raising both air and sea temperatures, with a number of consequences. The average temperature of the waters off Norway could rise by about 2°C over the next century, and rainfall by 30 per cent.
The climatic conditions which currently prevail off western Norway could become typical for the more northerly coasts of Nordland and Troms counties within a hundred years.
Sea levels could also rise in many places. Carbon emissions mean that ocean acidity is growing, which could cause problems for such marine life forms as plankton.
Higher temperatures may also boost migration from further south, while species present in the south could move northwards along the Norwegian coast. This tendency can already be seen.
Alien species brought in ballast water on ships, for example, as well as deliberately introduced or attracted by higher sea temperatures in recent decades have already led to changes.
The red king crab (Paralithodes camtschaticus) and Pacific oysters are among the alien species which have been established along the Norwegian coast.
Important for recreation
Opportunities to use the coast for recreation are guaranteed through Norway’s right-to-roam provisions, but building along the shore limits access for swimming, sunbathing and walking.
Pressure on the shoreline varies greatly between different regions. It is at its greatest in local authorities around the Oslo Fjord, where 50 per cent of the coast has been developed.
Other threats to recreational uses of the shoreline are climate change, which could lead to warmer water and more frequent blooms of toxic algae.
Monitoring the coast
The Norwegian Environment Agency (NEA) has initiated an ecosystem monitoring programme in coastal waters (Økolyst) to follow up the environmental status of selected locations.
This provides information about important ecosystems and species in order to register changes in biodiversity and clarify whether these related to human activities.
The programme covers monitoring pursuant to the water management regulations, which aim to ensure that all water supplies have a good ecological and chemical status by 2021.
A number of legal enactments regulate developments along the Norwegian coast, with the Planning and Building Act, the Act relating to Ports and Navigable Waters, the Pollution Control Act and the Aquaculture Act as the most important.
Decisions on conservation are taken pursuant to the Nature Diversity Act, with the creation of national parks, nature reserves and marine conservation areas as important measures for protecting ecosystems and natural assets in Norwegian coastal and port areas.