Ecosystem overviews

Greenland Sea ecosystem overview

Our Ecosystem Overviews use risk-based methods to identify the main human pressures and explain how these affect key ecosystem components in each ICES ecoregion

​​​​The Greenland Sea ecoregion is the eastern part of Greenland's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and comprises continental shelf waters and offshore areas. The Denmark Strait between Iceland and Greenland separates the ecoregion into northern and southern subregions that differ in ice coverage, influence of polar and Atlantic waters, and anthropogenic activity. The ecoregion borders five other ICES ecoregions: Oceanic Northeast Atlantic, Icelandic Waters, Norwegian Sea, Barents Sea, and Central Arctic Ocean.​

Key signals

 ​​​​​Human activities and their pressures

  • Fishing is the most important human activity in the ecoregion. Fishing pressure is generally close to levels to achieve maximum sustainable yield for commercially harvested stocks, with the exception of pelagic redfish (Sebastes mentella).
  • Hunting affects several marine mammal species and has contributed to population declines in​​ several species in the ecoregion.
  • The ecoregion has fewer types of human activities compared to other ecoregions, and it is a sink for contaminants and litter transported from global sources outside the ecoregion.

State of the ecosystem

  • There are species-rich and structurally complex benthic communities present in the ecoregion. The high biomasses of large sessile species, constitute in some cases vulnerable marine ecosystems (VMS e.g. sponges and corals) that are susceptible to the impacts of mobile bottom-contacting fishing gear.
  • The stock sizes of commercial species, with the exception of pelagic redfish species, are for the most part above the biomass trigger reference point at which fishing pressure must be further reduced.
  • Several migratory whale species, e.g. fin whales (Balaenoptera physalus), blue whales (Balaenoptera musculus), humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae), minke whales (Balaenoptera acutorostrata), and bowhead whales (Balaena mysticetus), are increasingly observed in the ecoregion.
  • Abundance of the Greenland Sea hooded seal (Cystophora cristata), harp seal (Pagophilus groenlandicus), and narwhal (Monodon monoceros) populations remains at very low levels.
  • Ivory gull (Pagophila eburnea), which is of conservation concern, has an overall stable breeding population in the ecoregion.

Climate change

  • There is evidence of changing surface water temperature and salinity, with pronounced sub-regional differences and consequences for the timing and intensity of stratification throughout the ecoregion.
  • The extent of both summer and winter sea ice has decreased over the past decades.
  • These climate-induced modifications to the abiotic habitat have caused changes in the spatial distribution of several fish species, such as mackerel (Scomber scombrus) and bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus); marine mammals, like humpback whale; and seabirds, such as common eider (Somateria mollissima) and great cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo).

​Environmental and socioeconomic context

  • Fisheries is the most essential economic sector for Greenland and is dominated by offshore fisheries in the ecoregion.
  • Local communities in the ecoregion are dependent on inshore fishery and local hunting.
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Greenland Sea ecosystem overview

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