In Longyearbyen, it is an open secret that drugs beyond legal ones are being consumed by locals. During the last weekend, the Sysselmannen together with the Norwegian mainland police have caught 9 persons in connection to drug abuse, 2 of them also for dealing. All 9 are locals.
Haze in the arctic: not always a pure nature experience.
Temperate Atlantic water has entered the fjords on the west coast of Spitsbergen, resulting in a decreasing chance for a large-scale solid ice-cover in coastal waters compared to last winter. The relatively strong ice-formation of last year may be amongst the reasons: the cold, salty water that sinks down gives way to inflowing Atlantic watermasses.
In the end, the wind conditions are decisive for fjord ice formation.
Fjordeisbildung braucht ruhiges, kaltes Wetter. Hier Eis in Auflösung im Juni, Liefdefjord.
The Norwegian ministry for fishery and coast has plans to introduce compulsory pilotage in Svalbard for certain ships, such as passenger vessels with a length of 70 metres or more and a width of 20 metres or more, possibly also smaller ones, 24 metres long or more. Background is a report that states that cruise tourism involves a „serious environmental risk“, such as oil leakage in case of groundings.
Before relevant legislation may come into force, it has to go through a hearing process.
Ship aground: always a bad thing. Here the former coastguard ship Kongsøy on well charted rocks near Smeerenburg.
Big Spitsbergen policy comes from Oslo and partly from the Sysselmannen in Longyearbyen, who is appointed by the government in Oslo. Longyearbyen Lokalstyre has rather the function of community council. During elections on October 9 and 10, 907 out of 1592 voters have elected the new Lokalstyre. Arbeiderpartiet (Socialists) won with by far with 43,7 % of all votes.
The political differences between the 5 parties in Longyearbyen are rather small. The most colourful programme may be that of the „Konsekvenslista“, which has 2 elected members in the Lokalstyre. Their main goal of closing the Lokalstyre is considered chanceless even by themselves, but they see their main task in being political watchdogs.
Longyearbyen: In 100 years from company town to local democracy.
The discussion about a new administration plan for eastern Svalbard, potentially including closing larger areas for the public, has made a step further. A working group of the Sysselmannen has produced a paper that states that »current or future research in eastern Svalbard is not negatively influenced by other local activity in the area as of today. That East Svalbard is a nature reserve does already strongly regulate traffic in the area.« (Management plan for eastern Svalbard, Report of the working group Research and Education (Norwegian), Sysselmannen). A real definition for the term »reference area« is not produced, a real scientific need for such areas that are closed to any traffic (other than selected scientists) cannot be defined and is not claimed by researches.
Nevertheless it is suggested to close several large areas in eastern Svalbard as »reference areas«, to which only selected scientists that work on research areas with relevance for administration and politics have access. The map below gives an overview of the selected areas.
Closing these areas would have only minor impact on expedition cruising.
As can be expected, is the suggested version of the management plan met with strong critizism by inhabitants and local politicians in Longyearbyen, local tour operators and in the scientific world, such as UNIS:
»It seems as if authorities want to make people deliberately tired (by means of the long duration of the process). … closing so large areas seems absolutely unnecessary. Within the existing regulations, the Sysselmannen has already far reaching possibilities to limit traffic in the nature reserves in eastern Svalbard.« This is said by Heinrich Eggenfellner, second chairman of Longyearbyen Lokalstyre (the local parliament) to Svalbardposten (39/2011). Eggenfellner assumes that the process is mainly driven by higher administrative levels in Oslo, which strongly influence the working group of the Sysselmannen: »my impression is as if the whole process is controlled by the adminstrative body within the Norwegian Polar Institute and the Directorate for nature administration. They are not in line with the scientists, so the whole things seems rather absurd.«
The lacking scientific definition of »reference areas« and the lacking reasons for a real need for such areas are criticized, and so is the missing inclusion of fishing activities in the plan, while tourism and large parts of the scientific world are supposed to be kicked out.
The current suggestion does threaten the foundations for the existance of UNIS, the local university in Longyearbyen, according to its director Gunnar Sand. UNIS does largely work with primary research and education, both at a first glance not necessarily relevant for administration and politics. Sand also questions the Sysselmannens competence to determine what kind of research is relevant, on the long term, also (but not only) for administration.
The owner of this website and author of this arcticle agrees that areas, especially larger ones, should not be closed unless there is reason to do so such as real scientific or environmental needs.
The process is ongoing, a final decision and following legislation will need further time, possibly until late 2012.
Suggested so-called »reference areas« in eastern Svalbard. Map source: Norwegian Polar Institute, modified by Svalbardposten.
Many tourists do not know that Spitsbergen (Svalbard) is, opposed to mainland Norway, not part of the Schengen treaty system. Accordingly, if you need a visa to visit the Schengen area, then you will also need a visa to fly from Longyearbyen to Norway, even if you are just on a return journey from a shorter trip. As a result, when you apply for a visa at home to prepare a journey from outside Schengen area to Svalbard, it is advisable to apply for two visa rather than only one, so you can enter Norway when coming back from Spitsbergen without difficulties. If necessary, you can also get a visa from the Sysselmannen.
Remember that you will also need to show a passport or national ID card when travelling to and from Longyearbyen. Only Norwegian citizens are allowed to use, for example, a driving license. Non-Norwegian flight passengers have been denied access to their flight from Longyearbyen to Norway because they did not carry passport or ID card.
Longyearbyen airport, since early 2011 with passport control.
When camping in Spitsbergen, it is common and makes sense to secure the camp against polar bears with an alarm fence (Norwegian: snublebluss), using tripwires and small explosive devices. The most reliable version NM4 comes from Norwegian military sources, but is not available anymore for legal reasons. The follower (M2) is considered not reliable and safe enough to be used in the field for polar bear protection. As a consequence, there are currently almost no alarm systems available in Longyearbyen to secure camps against polar bears.
Next to the obvious safety aspect, there is a debate to make technical systems for protection of camps against bears legally mandatory. It still needs to be defined what such “technical systems” might be, but alarm fences are at least an obvious part of any technical alarm system. The Sysselmannen is aware that it is difficult to make a system mandatory that is not available on the market and is trying to contribute in finding a solution, but so far without success.
Under the fatal polar bear attack on August 05 in Tempelfjord, a failing alarm fence contributed to the desaster.