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DISKO BAY

AND STORE HELLEFISKEBANKE ECOREGION

 

Marine mammals are significant components of this vulnerable ecosystem. Four species of seal, walrus, 14 species of whale, and polar bear occur in the area. The area is particularly important to marine mammals in winter, because vulnerable species such as narwhal, white whale (beluga), bowhead whale, walrus, and polar bear occur in significant numbers. Polar bear, walrus, bowhead whale, white whale and narwhal are all red-listed because their populations have been reduced by present or past hunting or are expected to decline because of climate change (especially polar bear). Important areas and biological hotspots have so far been identified particularly the shallows with a high diversity of benthic animals, high densities of sandeels, very high concentrations of wintering king eiders, high numbers of wintering bearded seals and white whales and the most important winter site for walrus in West Greenland. The Disko Bay area is a biological hotspot, very important for breeding, for wintering and migrating marine mammals (narwhal, bowhead whale) and for northern shrimp and Greenland halibut. A third important area, at least during winter, is the winter habitat for narwhals in central Baſfin Bay. Seabirds are abundant with several species present in the study area. Many species breed in dense colonies along the coasts, seaducks assemble in certain fjords and bays to moult, and millions of seabirds migrate through the area on their passage between breeding sites in Northwest Greenland and Arctic Canada and winter grounds of Southwest Greenland and Newfoundland. Some of the most important species are northern fulmar, common eider, thick-billed murre and little auk. During their migration they depend on zooplankton and smaller fish, such as polar cod. Thick-billed murre, common eider, black-legged kittiwake and ivory gull are all red-listed in Greenland due to declining, or in case of the common eider, previously declining populations. These three areas are designated by IUCN as 'Ecologically and culturally Biologically Significant Areas' and is by Greenland proposed to PAME as ‘Arctic marine areas of heightened ecological and cultural significance. The natural resources of the assessment area is utilised by the local human population, by subsistence and small-scale hunting (marine mammals and seabirds) and in the coastal areas, and by a substantial commercial fishery in Disko Bay and on the banks. 

Climate change is already resulting in marked changes in sea ice, temperature, salinity and nutrients in Disko Bay. Bottom trawl fishing, which can cause severe damage to seafloor structure and benthic communities, is likely to increase as sea ice cover diminishes, as is shipping. Environmental impacts from increased shipping include disturbance of marine life, introduction of invasive species and discharge of oil, chemicals and waste. A large oil spill in this region would represent a serious hazard to the environment, with the potential to cause population level impacts for some seabird species. Hunting and fishing are impacting populations of seabirds and marine mammals and seabed habitats, respectively