Artificial Snow to Safeguard Saimaa Ringed Seal Nesting Gets Biodiversity Award 2013-2014

Press release 2014-12-05 at 8:31

Saimaa Ringed Seal in Ice Hole by Mervi Kunnasranta550.jpg
@ Mervi Kunnasranta/Metsähallitus

Ministry of the Environment and International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUNC)

The Biodiversity Award for 2013-2014 goes to the voluntary work to safeguard the nesting of Saimaa Ringed Seal by covering the nests with artificial snow. Nature education for children gets an honorary award.

Minister of the Environment, Ms. Sanni Grahn-Laasonen congratulated the winner chosen by the National Committee of Finland for IUCN, the International Union for Conservation of Nature. “The work done for the Saimaa Ringed Seal is a good example of voluntary work that the Finns do to protect threatened species. To complement the work done by the authorities, the role of the volunteers is extremely important also in the monitoring and evaluation of the red-listing of the species”, says Minister Grahn-Laasonen, who presents the award to the winner of the competition today at the national IUCN Red List 50th Anniversary Gala today.

“Living on Lake Saimaa, I have followed the Saimaa Ringed Seals already for twenty years and participated as a volunteer in the monitoring of the seal stock by counting nests. Making snow mounds to save the seal pups in the nests was great. A total of 28 snow mounds was the result of our team, and each nest was inhabited by the seals”, says Mr. Risto Eronen of Puumala in eastern Finland, the representative of the volunteers who was awarded.

Volunteering Vital for Species Conservation

The snow cover of Lake Saimaa was exceptionally thin during the winter of 2014 and snow mounds needed by the Saimaa Ringed Seal (Pusa hispida saimensis) were not formed naturally. A snow-mound nest is necessity for the reproduction of the seal. Worried about the fate of the Saimaa Ringed Seal, the majority of the volunteers were local inhabitants, summer residents or members of various organisations. “Without the help of the volunteers this work would not have been successful. The volunteers made it also possible to start the work rapidly”, says the manager of the Saimaa Ringed Seal LIFE Project, Dr. Raisa Tiilikainen of Metsähallitus, Parks & Wildlife Finland.

The work was a success: in the spring of 2014, as many as 59 seal pups of the 64 pups were born in the nests the female seals had made in the artificial mounds. The chances of seal pups to survive in the nests during snowless winters are 50 to 70%. Thanks to the artificial snow mounds, the survival rate is over 80%. More than a hundred volunteers work during a period of two weeks totalling 169 full-time equivalent days, i.e. as much as eight months. The total number of artificial snow mounds was 240.

The preliminary results have raised interest also outside Finland. A new, simple and innovative solution to mitigate the adverse effects of climate change has been found.

The Biodiversity Award winner received a photographic piece of art by nature photographer Heikki Willamo.

Honorary Award to Nature Education of Children

The jury of the competition, the IUCN National Committee of Finland, wanted to award a cooperation project on school forests (Koulumetsähanke) and the kindergarten Metsäpolku of Taipalsaari Municipality in eastern Finland for building up and strengthening the nature relation of children.

IUCN is the largest and oldest global environmental organisation. It seeks solutions for environmental and development challenges together with governments, NGOs, UN organisations, the private sector and municipalities. Finnish IUCN members include Ministry of the Environment, Finnish Association of Nature Conservation, Finnish Society for Nature and Environment (Natur och miljö), WWF Finland, Birdlife Finland and the Finnish Wildlife Agency.

Additional Information:

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IUCN Vice-President, Ms. Marina von Weissenberg, Ministry of the Environment, mobile +358 50 307 0806, firstname.lastname@ymparisto.fi [marina.vonweissenberg]

Vice-Chair of IUCN National Committee of Finland, Dr. Esko Hyvärinen, Ministry of the Environment, tel. +358 295 250 094, firstname.o.lastname@ymparisto.fi