Fundamental to life: Norway innovates to protect the seas

With Europe’s longest coastline and an economy that relies on fishing, shipping and offshore energy, Norway can ill afford to treat its ocean environment poorly.

“We have oil, fish and people in the same pond,” observes Tore Lundh, former Chairman of the Programme for Industrial Environmental Technology, a commission set up after recommendations from the Brundtland Commission. “Clean and healthy seas are fundamental to life in Norway and its neighbours,” he says.
 
And arguably, Norway has risen to the ecological challenge to become one of the world leaders in marine environmental technology. By developing cutting edge applications, maintaining a strong research infrastructure and taking advantage of the vigilance of environmental groups, great progress has been made to lower the impact of marine industries on the ocean ecosystem.
 
Growth Breeds Challenges
But environmental progress is struggling to keep up with growth in Norwegian sea-based industries such as aquaculture. Observers and researchers are finding greater production is leading to some serious consequences in the natural world.
 
Marius Dalen of the watchdog environmental group Bellona highlights the damage being done to the marine ecosystem by increased levels of fish farming, particularly salmon. “Last year was one of the worst in terms of the ecological and genetic impact of escaped species, and one of the worst recorded in terms of sea lice,” he states. Dalen cites a fifteen-fold increase in lice parasite population due to recent weather conditions and the large increase in host fish being raised on farms and sea ranches.
Tore Lundh, now with the environmental cleanup firm Biologge, offers three key steps Norway can take to improve its performance. “First is to establish a positive dialogue between government offices and technology companies with solutions to industry. Second, understand the implications of contamination in the water and sediments on marine life. And third is to properly document the biological, physical and geotechnical conditions.”
 
© Kjell Ove Storvik, Norwegian Seafood Export Council
Norwegian seafood’s expanding popularity, as well as climate change and offshore energy extraction, have all combined to increase pressure on the marine ecosystem.

Research for Policy & Technology
Documenting the conditions in the seas is the task of Norway’s research infrastructure. And solid research is inarguably the key to creating better targets and technologies. Norway’s leading body in this area is the Institute of Marine Research (IMR), which ranks as the nation’s largest centre of marine science, employing a staff of nearly 700.
 
The Institute’s main task is to “provide advice to Norwegian authorities on aquaculture and the ecosystems of the Barents Sea, the Norwegian Sea, the North Sea and the Norwegian coastal zone,” according to the centre’s website. The Institute is largely funded by the Ministry of Fisheries and Coastal Affairs.
 
Headquartered in Bergen, the centre runs research stations as well as a fleet of research vessels which are at sea for a total of 1,600 days every year. And the Institute is involved in development aid projects through the Centre for Development Co-operation in Fisheries. All these activities are focused on helping ensure that Norway’s marine resources are harvested in a sustainable way.
 
Climate Change & Human impact
IMR ranks the impact of climate change on the ocean as the most important challenge on the horizon. The centre wants to be able to understand, quantify and “predict the impact of climate variability and change on the marine ecosystem” and how those changes will combine with human impact.
 
Among the human impacts on the marine environment, IMR first off cites damaging fishing practices, but also notes that pollution, fertilization, introduction of new species and/or habitat disturbance as key factors creating a new reality in sensitive ecosystems. The Institute is helping develop new technologies and pioneering studies to deal with these challenges.
 
Breakthrough 3D Sonar
One of the most innovative recent projects has been the development of a new 3D sonar. IMR partners with technology firm Simrad to develop equipment that features enough sonar beams to be able to measure in volume. This gives researchers the ability to calculate exactly how many fish are being measured in a shoal. Precise metrics like these will result in a more exact calculation of fish populations, enabling better fishing limits and sustainable goals.
 
This is a research area which “is providing the world’s scientists with the next generation of scientific multibeam systems for fishery research applications,” says Simrad’s Frank Reier Knudsen.
 
The new sonar, entitled the Simrad ME70, is described by the company as “a high resolution scientific multibeam echo sounder with very low sidelobe levels. The multibeam echo sounder combines the large and flexible sampling volume of the multibeam swath with the accuracy of the quantitative scientific echo sounder.”

© IFREMER
The Simrad ME70 is a new generation 3D sonar that give researchers far greater precision in calculating fish populations. This image is taken from the Blackmud canyon, outside the Bay of Biscay, recorded with Simrad ME70 bathymetric option. Bathymetry is the study of underwater depth, of the third dimension of lake or ocean floors.
Saving Coral Reefs
A prime example of negative human impact on the marine environment is the practice of bottom trawling, which wreaks havoc on the seabed and is particularly damaging to coral reefs. These reefs need protection due their crucial role in supporting a large variety of species. IMR is testing a new type of trawl that is pulled higher up in the water mass and that is specially constructed to avoid damage to bottom species, while still being quite capable of capturing fish.
 
Gliding to New Depths
Another promising technology, this one developed by IMR and the Bjerknes Center – an international oriented research centre with focus on high latitudes, is the Glider. This is an unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV) that will cruise slowly over long distances, (for example to the UK and back), making ongoing measurements at a wide range of depths, from surface-level to 1,000 metres. When the UUV is at the surface, it relays data to shore via satellite. The technology will give scientists the ability to measure marine depth, temperature, salinity, algae, oxygen and particulate density.
 
The research vessel is propelled by creating variability in its buoyancy, and with the aid of its “wings” it sails up and down in the water, much like a glider does on air currents.
 
After extensive trials of the Glider in simulation tanks, on land, and the Bergen fjord, the unit was sent to perform its first tasks in ocean conditions in Sogne fjord. The next step was to study changes at the front between the cold polar water masses of the East Iceland Current and the warmer Atlantic Water of the Norwegian Sea. The Glider has also been slated to carry for similar studies in the Barents Sea.
 
© IMR
The Glider, an advanced unmanned research craft, is being tested for data-gathering missions by the Institute for Marine Research.

RECLAIM & ECOOP
IMR is also involved in two important pan-European marine projects. The first is RECLAIM, (REsolving CLimAtic IMpacts of fish stocks) which is focussed on understanding the impact of climate change on North East Atlantic fish populations. RECLAIM also works to help fishermen develop strategies that can be both successful and sustainable.
 
The second project, ECOOP, (European COastal Sea OPerational and Forecasting System) is working to establish a European ability to provide essential marine services (such as data, information products, knowledge and scientific advice) for European coastal-shelf seas. The effort will help supply governments, businesses and citizen groups with Ecosystem models, oil spill and contaminant dispersion and forecast studies, and ship routing applications.
 
Latest on the Barents Sea
Having a clear picture of the state of the seas is crucial for policy makers. With this in mind, IMR and the Russian Polar Research Institute of Marine Fisheries and Oceanography (PINRO) publish a detailed report on the status of the Barents Sea ecosystem. IMR and PINRO report the latest data on conditions in this important ecosystem. Key elements of the report include a section covering the effects of fisheries on wild marine life and the level of pollution currently in the ecosystem.
 
Cleanup Specialists
A noticeable trend in the private sector is the development of firms designed to meet the growing demand for environmental quality assurance and cleanup. Biologge AS was founded in 1997 to work in the area of skilled cleanup of contaminated waters, both in Norway and internationally. The company draws on its experienced staff to bring their expertise to the focus area of contaminated sediments.
 
Tore Lundh, a founding member of the company, outlines Biologge’s approach: “In 1998 we established a stepwise approach on projects containing marine contamination. Normally we advise a customer to use 1-3 years in the investigation and planning of a project. This will give necessary time to evaluate alternative technologies both in our laboratory and in the field.”
 
Lundh continues. “Our strategy has been to combine biotechnology together with subsea application. Thus in most cases we do not have to move contamination from the seabed but reduce or inactivate the contamination where it is situated. This will give a huge cost saving and a reduction in distribution of contamination when we are touching the seabed.”
 
Challenges of Perception
Based on his years of experience in the field, Lundh reflects on some of the conceptual resistance that environmental technologies face in the country: “Norwegians still have the attitude that the environment costs money,” says Lundh referring to statistics showing that the opposite is true. “Studies have shown that the cleanest industries are in fact the most profitable,” he points out. 
 
Lundh believes a change in thinking by managers is called for. “Environmental costs should be part of any management discussion, and become a cost in line with people, products, marketing and investments.”
 
Watchdogs & Advocates
NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations) play a crucial role in safeguarding the country’s marine environment and changing the business and public mindset about environmental issues.
 
A leader among Norwegian environmental groups is the Oslo-based Bellona Foundation. The organization’s roots come from its history as a direct-action protest movement that formed in 1986, but Bellona has since grown into a self-described “technology and solution oriented environmental champion”. All told, 40 experts, scientists and journalists work at the non-profit foundation.
 
A key area of interest for Bellona is marine environmental health, in particular concern over the effects of aquaculture, one of Norway’s most rapidly growing industries. Marius Dalen of Bellona points out that the environmental challenges are growing along with the increase of production of Norwegian farmed fish for export worldwide. 
 
To raise awareness about the challenges, the group has just launched a new online tool entitled Havweb. The website provides interactive pages designed to encourage more responsible aquatic farming. Havweb features animation that demonstrates, for example, the effect of organic waste generated by fish cages on the health of the fish. 
 
Another Havweb page demonstrates the spread of parasites among salmon and how the use of an environmentally-friendly solution, the deployment of a species of fish that eat the parasite, can help reduce infection rates in the farmed salmon population as a stopgap measure until an eventual vaccine is developed.
 
Green Catamaran
Another active NGO developing environmental technology is Green Warriors of Norway (Norges Miljøvernforbund). This organization, founded in 1993, is headquartered in Bergen and lists active members all over Norway, with regional offices in the west, north and southeast regions of the country.
 
© The Green Warriors of Norway
The Green Warriors of Norway (Norges Miljøvernforbund) has what they think is the world’s most environmentally conscious ship, the catamaran MS Miljødronningen
or Eco Queen.

They are currently building what they think is the world’s most environmentally conscious ship, the catamaran MS Miljødronningen or Eco Queen. “As far as possible, everything onboard will be selected with an environmental eye,” says Director Knut Oddekalv. The group is striving to meet the goal of creating a completely recyclable craft, using no pvc’s or other toxic materials in construction.
 
“The Eco Queen will also be the very first ship ever purpose-built for an environmental organization,” he said. In addition, it will also be the first catamaran ever built with a helideck for grade 2 helicopters, and it will be the first small ship equipped with a deepwater ROV that can dive to 1,500 metres.

Operating from November of 2007, the innovative craft will be primarily used as a school ship, and for monitoring, exploring and investigating spills and violations.

 

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