STAVANGER, NORWAY (June 16th, 2018) – While Norway has a leading role in the international oil industry and underwater technology, there are significant gaps in Norwegians’ knowledge of their own coastal marine ecosystems. In an effort to highlight the vibrancy of the local marine environment and as well as the threat that oil extraction presents to ecosystem integrity, Mission Blue has declared a Hope Spot at the Jæren Coast on the southwestern coast of Norway. The Hope Spot is championed locally by the Rachel Carson Prize, an organization dedicated to enhancing the legacy of Rachel Carson, the mother of the modern environmental movement. Dr. Sylvia Earle, the founder of Mission Blue, visited the Jæren Coast last year along with scientists and Norwegian policymakers, in order to bring more awareness to this rich marine ecosystem and also to accept the 2017 Rachel Carson prize.
“Ten years before Rachel Carson wrote Silent Spring, she wrote a book called The Sea Around Us. I was fascinated by her perspective and the scope of her understanding of the ocean,” said Dr. Sylvia Earle. “I think now how excited she would be to come back and see the outpouring of community support for the Jæren Coast Hope Spot and the creatures that call it home. The spark she lit years ago is still burning brightly. And I saw it in the people at the Jæren Coast who have assembled around the desire to make the world a better place. Protecting nature is not a luxury; it is absolutely vital to everything we care about, including life itself.”
The Jæren Coast Hope Spot stretches from Ogna bay to Sola beach, and includes the protected islands of Rott, Haastein and Kjoer. The area has a high diversity of marine species and contains many unique habitats both in the sea and on its shores. It contains rich reefs and a very large and continuous kelp forest, and supports a great variety of invertebrates, fish, sharks, seals and seabirds. The area serves as important breeding and nursery habitat for numerous fish species, mollusks and crustaceans as well as skates and sharks, which have decreased dramatically in recent times. June is a special month in this part of the world which sees an annual migration of hundreds to thousands of dogfish that feed along the Jæren Coast.
“I’ve always known how important the Jæren Coast is for agriculture and fishing, for recreation and tourism,” said Heather Bergsland. “And yet, both as a local and as an environmental professional, I’m embarrassed to say that until recently I had no idea of all the treasures that are just below the surface! Sharks – here on the West Coast! Amazing kelp forests that host thousands of species! Tiny islands that are home to bird sanctuaries! With the official designation as a Mission Blue Hope Spot, the community is excited to learn more about what we have here and work to best protect and preserve it.”
“I have actually been teaching at this Hope Spot for 15 years, using local knowledge, exploring the sites and teaching children about currents, waves, life in the ocean – and why we need to take care of it,” said Ingjerd H. Haarstad, a Rachel Carsen Prize Board Member and local lifeguard and swim instructor. “When they experience the marine environment, it makes a great and lasting impact, touching them in a profound way. We want as many people as possible, young and old alike, to put their heads into the water instead of just looking at the reflecting surface. We need them to look beneath. To understand. To care. Because this Hope Spot, rather, that is of vital importance to our future…not the oilfields right next to it.”
Local constituents feel the biggest risk to the Jæren Coast Hope Spot is a lack of knowledge. This rich marine ecosystem has not yet been sufficiently researched or explored. It is an area that meets challenges from both sides, threatened by onshore and offshore impacts. Examples include emissions and runoff from agriculture and development projects onshore, pollution from marine plastic and microplastics, fishing, shipping and offshore oil activities to name a few. The Johan Sverdrup oil field was discovered just offshore from the Hope Spot – a huge field covering an area of 200 square kilometers. Unfortunately, current Norwegian protection of the area does not necessarily mean prohibiting all of these exploration activities. Declaring this Hope Spot is a realization that the biggest resource for the future is the natural marine environment itself, and not the oil under the seabed.
“The pressure on our ocean is rapidly increasing and the blue heart of the planet needs hope for survival,” said Fredrik Myhre, a marine biologist working with the World Wildlife Fund. “We need to care more for the element that actually is both the heart and lungs of our planet. That is exactly what Mission Blue’s Hope Spots provide: a possibility for unique nature and valuable animal life to be highlighted and guarded. Majestic sharks come together in large schools outside the coast of Jæren for a few weeks at the same time every year. Nobody still knows exactly why, but this could most likely be a part of the sharks migration route for breeding or feeding – or both. We need to safeguard the Jæren Coast for future generations to come, so that its beauty and important role can provide a life supporting home – for ocean life and ourselves.”
Fredrik’s words of today echo Rachel Carson’s words about Norway in The Sea Around Us, “Other mysterious comings and goings are linked with the advance of the year. (…) Cod approach the banks of Lofoten, and gather off the shores of Iceland. Birds whose winter feeding territory may have encompassed the whole Atlantic or the whole Pacific converge upon some small island, the entire breeding population arriving within the space of a few days. Whales suddenly appear off the slopes of the coastal banks where the swarms of shrimp like krill are spawning, the whales having come from no one knows where, by no one knows what route.” Sixty-seven years later we are still in many ways unaware of the mysteries and natural treasures below the ocean surface.
There are several Marine Protection Areas in the region, as well as the Jæren Coast Landscape Protection Area and Jæren Wetland Ecosystem, an international Ramsar area. The Jæren-Dalane area is also established as a National Salmon Fjord to provide special protection for the most important salmon stocks in the country. Still, local sentiment bellies the notion that the area has sufficient protection. Oil and gas extraction, especially, is perceived to put the area at risk.
“The local Jæren coast provides us with a wealth of resources and services, but has an intrinsic value that goes far beyond this,” said Fiona Provan, a local scientist. “Establishing a Hope Spot provides us with a great opportunity to share knowledge and to come together to build competence on how to best take care of this unique and diverse environment. ”
Marine life at the Jæren Coast abounds. Rare or threatened species include river clams and oysters, crayfish, skates and sharks such as dogfish, porbeagle and basking sharks. Threatened coral species include Lophelia pertusa and Paragorgia arborea. Norway’s largest colony of European shags is located here, as well as threatened birds such as the Atlantic puffin and black-legged kittiwake. The network consists both of marine and land protection, plant protection and bird sanctuary, where the purpose is to preserve the unique natural and cultural landscapes. The area is distinctive due to the type of beach and reef, as well as a variety of geological, botanical, zoological and historical elements.
“I’m inspired by the champions of the Jæren Coast Hope Spot and by Rachel Carson’s vision of telling stories that inspire people to care about the environment. She certainly inspired me,” continued Dr. Sylvia Earle. “She is a reminder of how the voice of an individual can change the world. When people listened to her, considered the evidence and understood what was happening to them as a consequence of the bad behavior of others, they insisted on change. And we still need to do that. Whether it’s plastics, overfishing or carbon pollution, we are still capable of being inspired by the voice of that one woman years ago who stood up and said, “what you’re doing is wrong”. We’re still capable of being inspired by those that carry on her work like the local communities along the Jæren Coast. We know we can change. The hope is alive.”
As a Mission Blue Hope Spot, the Jæren Coast is now in the international spotlight and Mission Blue and her partners are dedicated to communicating all successes and continuing threats to the area on a global level. Mission Blue and local partners on the ground at the Jæren Coast believe that if the area is adequately protected along with other critical marine habitats around the globe, a network of marine protected areas can come into existence that will nurse the global ocean back to health after decades of steep decline.
About Mission Blue
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. Under Dr. Earle’s leadership, the Mission Blue team implements communications campaigns that elevate Hope Spots to the world stage through documentaries, social media, traditional media and innovative tools like Google Earth. Mission Blue embarks on regular oceanic expeditions that shed light on these vital ecosystems and build support for their protection. Mission Blue also supports the work of conservation NGOs around the world that share the mission of building public support for ocean protection. The Mission Blue alliance includes more than 200 respected ocean conservation groups and like-minded organizations.
About The Rachel Carsen Prize
The Rachel Carson Prize is an environmental award in memory of Rachel Carson, the American marine biologist and author, who is also called the mother of the modern environmental movement. The prize is awarded to a woman who has distinguished herself in brave and outstanding work for the environment in Norway or internationally. The prize was founded in Stavanger in 1991 by Prof. Berit Ås and is presented every two years. Dr. Sylvia Earle is the 14th recipient of the prize.