Norway is betting on blue forests

| April 18th, 2023 | Highlights

Norway is betting on blue forests

By Cecilie Wathne (NBFN), Torill Sateroy (GRID-Arendal, NBFN) and Brian Tsuyoshi Takeda (Urchinomics)

One Ocean Week got off to a strong start with the Norwegian government’s ocean conference on Monday, April 17th. In addition to choosing blue forests as one of the themes for the day, the government came up with a clear message: We will prioritise blue forests both at home and abroad.

Panel discussion, ‘Vegetation of the sea – blue forests’, featuring panelists Espen Barth Eide (Minister of Climate and Environment), Cecilie Wathne (NBFN) and Brain Tsuyoshi Takeda (Urchinomics). Photo by Paul S. Amundsen/Ministry of Climate and Environment.

On Monday April 17th, the government held its ocean conference in connection with One Ocean Week. The conference, which opened with a greeting from HRH The Crown Prince, consisted of talks, interview and panel discussions with  the Prime Minister, five ministers, and a number of experts from the private sector, research institutes, and environmental organisations.

The government chose the theme ‘Vegetation of the sea – blue forests’ for one of the panel debates. The importance of marine ecosystems was also a red thread throughout the event.

The Prime Minister’s opening speech included a clear message: “The Ocean Panel has singled out blue forests as one of the leading solutions to carbon levels, ocean acidification, ocean warming and biodiversity loss. Blue forests – such as kelp and rockweed – are also a new potential industry. The government will prioritise blue forests – both in Norwegian territorial waters and around the world. We have a strong professional expertise to build on.”

Baren seafloor in Norway overrun by kelp eating sea urchins. Photo by NIVA.

Karoline Andaur, Secretary-General of WWF Norway, raised critical questions about investment priorities: Why do we prioritise mapping the moon over the sea? Why do we spend more money on carbon capture and storage (CCS) than on restoring kelp forests? According to Andaur, we must invest more in nature.

Two of us had the opportunity to participate in the blue forest panel debate itself, together with the Minister for Climate and Environment Espen Barth Eide. The main points discussed were:

  • Integrated management. Blue forests are affected by a number of risk factors, including nutrient run-off from land, coastal development, fisheries, aquaculture, and climate change. If we are going to better protect and restore these ecosystems, we must think and plan holistically.
  • Protection is preferable to restoration. We should protect the blue forest that we have, put in place the conditions necessary for lost blue forests to return on their own, and – if necessary – actively restore habitats.
  • Balance in the ecosystem. Many kelp forests in central and northern Norway have been replaced by the underwater deserts. Research points to overfishing in the 1970s as the cause. Without top predators, kelp-eating sea urchins have taken over. To hasten the return of kelp forests, the balance in these ecosystems must be restored. One solution is to harvest the empty sea urchins, fatten them up, and sell them as luxury seafood.
  • At home and abroad. Norway can contribute internationally in several ways. Already today, Norway supports blue forest projects through development, including mangrove forests in Indonesia. Norway can also contribute with knowledge exchange. We have internationally leading researchers, and are at the forefront when it comes to, for example, the development of cost-effective mapping and monitoring methods. Equally important is the effort here at home: Norway has extensive blue forest habitats. What we do is thus important both for Norway and the rest of the world – especially given that ocean warming is threatening the kelp forests in warmer regions.

It is promising that the Norwegian government has made a clear commitment to prioritse blue forests. The time has come to increasingly implement measures and tools to protect and restore these important habitats – both in Norway and globally.

A recording of the conference can be seen here. The government’s summary of the conference can be read here.


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