The highly controversial process of new regulations in the large nature reserves in East Svalbard is now largely coming to an end: the new law is coming in force on 01st May 2014. The quarrel has been open and partly heated since at least 2007.
The result is largely following the Sysselmannen’s proposal from January 2013. It remains, in the eyes of the present author, valid and true that the expertise behind the new regulations is, in large parts, weak or not existent. Nevertheless, most of those traveling the areas in question should at least largely find themselves able to get used to the new situation (and if not, they will have to, anyway) without too drastic changes. Regarding some potentially important details, it remains to see how it will work in practice. This concerns access to the new, so-called scientific reference areas.
Six partly new zones will be determined in the large Nature Reserves in East Svalbard. Some of them are large, others restricted to single locations. Different regulations apply to these zones (see map below):
Zone A (yellow): “Scientific reference areas”. Anyone who wants to travel there needs to notify the Sysselmannen at least 4 weeks in advance. The Sysselmannen can require changes of plans or stop them altogether. The result could potentially still come close to a complete closure of the areas in question, which are large, although mostly (but not completely) irrelevant for tourism. The scientific need for and value of such reference areas remains very controversial, no solid arguments that support such a need or value beyond general, rather diffuse remarks of general prevention, have been put forward. This did not keep DN and other interested parties from declaring that such areas were necessary. By the way, an obligation to apply for permission to travel in the East Svalbard Nature Reserves – which cover the proposed reference areas and far more – is already in force and has been so for many years. Time will have to show what the new regulations will really bring. Anything is possible from a little bit more paperwork before the trip to a factual closure of large areas.
Zone B (orange): No admission between May 15 and August 15. This means in practice a closure of parts of Lågøya and all of Tusenøyane for most of the relevant season. This is the only “detail” where the map below needs to be updated: the closed area does not include the whole island, but the west coast and the northern tip. The latter is the only part of the island that is regularly visited by tourists. A similar regulation is already in force for the bird reserves, but these are restricted to smaller areas and locations, mostly the actual breeding colonies on smaller islands, rather than larger islands and whole island groups.
Zone C (green dots): site-specific regulations are to apply. This is a procedure which is getting increasingly common for polar tourism, for example in Antarctica. The site-specific rules are to be compiled by the tourism industry (represented by AECO) under the Sysselmannen’s supervision. A lot of work on these site-specific regulations has already been done. In the east Svalbard nature reserves, there are 4 relevant locations: Polarstarodden (Storøya), Andréeneset and Kræmerpynten (Kvitøya), Dolerittneset (“Kapp Lee”) and Andréetangen (Edgeøya).
Zone D (red dots): smaller areas around cultural heritage sites that are closed completely year round. In force since 2010.
Zone E (red): This is Kong Karls Land. No admission around the year. Has already been in force since for many years.
Additionally, it has been decided that ships sailing in the east Svalbard nature reserves may not carry more than 200 passengers. Grey water and toilet waters may not be discharged within 500 metres off shore and not at all in Rijpfjord, a site for long-term oceanographic studies. Together with the ban on heavy fuel on board ships traveling inside the nature reserves, which has already been in force for some time, these parts of the new regulations make a lot of sense from a conservation perspective.
This map is from the Sysselmannen’s proposal from January 2013 and is used here for practical reasons. The only details that needs some updating is Lågøya, which is not completely closed (15 May-15 August), but only along the west coast and northern tip (Purchasneset), indicated by the red line on the map. The official maps as enclosed with the new law text can be accessed in the Norwegian online law library