Summary of Working Paper No. 97-1998

II.4.2 Oil Vulnerability Assessment for Marine Birds occurring along the Northern Sea Route

By Maria Gavrilo, Vidar Bakken, Lyudmila Firsova, Vladimir Kalyakin, Vladimir Morozov, Irina Pokrovskaya and Kjell Isaksen.

According to Thomassen et al. (1994) the effects of the opening of international navigation along the Northern Sea Route (NSR) on the environment shall be evaluated in relation to pollution, waste, noise, physical disturbance and socio/economic factors. In this report we have analysed the effects in relation to pollution, especially oil pollution.

To assess each species' vulnerability to oil within an area a set of vulnerability criteria was designed by Anker-Nilssen (1987). There are 9 vulnerability criteria describing the vulnerability at the individual level and 8 criteria at the population level. Based on knowledge on the species' biology in the area, each of these criteria are given values from one (criterion of little importance) to three (very important criterion ).

The Northern Sea Route covers a huge area and stretches along the coasts of four Siberian seas with highly different environmental conditions. Also the species composition, the ecology of the species, and the state of knowledge on the avifauna differ greatly between these areas. The risk of accidents also varies for different areas. So far, there is no information about the area of risk for oil spills from NSR-activity. Hence, it is not possible to define exactly the areas potentially exposed to oil spills along the NSR. In this report we have defined the whole coastline along the NSR as the area of risk. The northernmost limit of the area follows the geographical boundary of the Siberian seas, that is, all the main islands are included.

On the basis of the geographical distribution of the species, subspecies and populations, as well as of the landscape-biotopical features of the coast, the following natural regions were identified: Novaya Zemlya, West Siberia, Taimyr-Severnaya Zemlya and Yakutia, Chukotka.

Of the 311 seasonal populations considered, 92 were found to be highly vulnerable to oil spills. Another 28 populations may potentially also come into this category after a specification of some features of their biology and distribution in the NSR-area. The rest of the populations (191) have less vulnerability to oil spills.

This oil vulnerability assessment has not only made it possible to identify the most vulnerable populations with regard to oil pollution, but also to identify the most significant gaps in the knowledge on biology and distribution of the marine birds in this area. Hence, this should form a valuable basis for making priorities on future studies aimed at eliminating these gaps in our knowledge.