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Home* News and Stories → Eas­tern Sval­bard Natu­re Reser­ves: poten­ti­al clo­sure of lar­gest parts still on the agen­da

Eas­tern Sval­bard Natu­re Reser­ves: poten­ti­al clo­sure of lar­gest parts still on the agen­da

A pos­si­ble clo­sure of most parts of eas­tern Sval­bard has been dis­cus­sed on the­se pages on seve­ral occa­si­ons (see for exam­p­le June 2009). The Nor­we­gi­an Direc­to­ra­te for Natu­re admi­nis­tra­ti­on (Direk­to­ra­tet for natur­for­valt­ning, (DN)) had made a pro­po­sal to clo­se most of eas­tern Sval­bard for tou­rists. The Sys­sel­man­nen dis­agreed with the pro­po­sal, which would nor­mal­ly lead to major chan­ges or dis­car­ding. The pro­po­sal has, howe­ver, been for­ward­ed to fur­ther bodies of the law-giving pro­cess wit­hout making any signi­fi­cant chan­ges, a very unu­su­al step.

The main reason for the pro­po­sal was that the are­as should be kept as »untouch­ed sci­en­ti­fic refe­rence are­as«. This rather vague reaso­ning could not be explai­ned any fur­ther, other than clai­ming a »pre­cau­tio­na­ry prin­ci­ple«. After this has met strong cri­ti­cism, natu­re pro­tec­tion was added.

The pro­po­sal is stron­gly cri­ti­cis­ed, inclu­ding:

  • Aims not well defi­ned and reasons not well explai­ned. For exam­p­le, during a mee­ting in Lon­gye­ar­by­en in Octo­ber 2008, lea­ding sci­en­tists of the Nor­we­gi­an Polar Insti­tu­te said they did not see any prin­ci­pal pro­blems with (con­trol­led) tou­rism in the are­as in ques­ti­on, con­side­ring both sci­en­ti­fic and envi­ron­men­tal aspects.
  • It is doub­ted that by exclu­ding tou­rists from the­se are­as, they can be kept as (or tur­ned into) »untouch­ed« (refe­rence) are­as, as sci­en­ti­fic acti­vi­ties take place on a com­pa­ra­ble, pos­si­ble major, sca­le any­way: signi­fi­cant num­bers of sci­en­ti­fic and sup­port staff visit the are­as – inclu­ding its remo­test parts, which are hard­ly ever visi­ted by tou­rists regu­lar­ly, spen­ding much more time in the field, using lar­ge, sta­tio­na­ry camps (tou­rists sleep on ships) and using heli­c­op­ters for trans­port on a lar­ge sca­le (com­ple­te­ly ban­ned within tou­rism).
  • More pres­su­re on loca­ti­ons that remain acces­si­ble can be expec­ted to lead to seve­ral pro­blems, such as ero­si­on. Ano­ther pro­blem is that fle­xi­bi­li­ty has, so far, been an inte­gral part of the safe­ty of pas­sen­ger landings: if weather/sea con­di­ti­ons at a given site is not favorable or a polar bear is seen near­by, it is – so far – com­mon to turn to ano­ther area within reach. Should such alter­na­ti­ve sites not be available any­mo­re, it can be expec­ted that the pres­su­re to land at a given site will increase, even under unfa­vorable con­di­ti­ons.
  • Part of the reaso­ning is con­ti­nuous increase of tou­ristic traf­fic. The fact that crui­se ship tou­rism in the last 2 years actual­ly decreased is not con­side­red. The reason for the decrease is not only the eco­no­mic­al cri­sis, but also the (las­ting) effects of new regu­la­ti­ons, such as a ban on hea­vy oil as ship fuel which effec­tively keeps some ships com­ple­te­ly away, and new safe­ty demands, which will lead to ano­ther cou­ple of ships not retur­ning, inclu­ding some that have been ope­ra­ting in Sval­bard still in 2009.
  • Intrans­pa­rent dis­cus­sion pro­cess behind clo­sed doors, exclu­ding the public and tho­se invol­ved, igno­ring the Sys­sel­man­nen who is obvious­ly a major offi­ci­al aut­ho­ri­ty with con­sidera­ble know­ledge of the actu­al regio­nal situa­ti­on.

Despi­te being rejec­ted by the Sys­sel­man­nen, the pro­po­sal has been for­ward­ed by DN to the hig­her Minis­try of the envi­ron­ment, whe­re decis­i­ons on fur­ther steps have to be taken.

A result of the pro­cess could be a loss of public con­fi­dence into sci­ence and admi­nis­tra­ti­on, if »sci­ence« is (ab)used as an argu­ment by poli­ti­cal decis­i­on makers wit­hout solid sci­en­ti­fic argu­men­ta­ti­ve basis, simi­lar to Japa­ne­se »sci­en­ti­fic« wha­ling.

Eas­tern Sval­bard: Pro­tec­ted are­as or exclu­si­ve play­ground for sci­en­tists?

Eastern Svalbard Nature Reserves: potential closure of largest parts still on the agenda

Source: Sval­bard­pos­ten and other (inclu­ding ver­bal dis­cus­sions)

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last modification: 2014-07-01 · copyright: Rolf Stange
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