New regulations for the National Parks on the west coast of Spitsbergen – South Spitsbergen National Park and North Spitsbergen National Park – have been under discussion for a considerable time. They entered force on 20 December 2019, according to a press release by the Norwegian government.
New bird sanctuary Liefdefjord: Andøyane (seen here), Stasjonsøyane, Måkeøyane and Lernerøyane are included. Common eiders and other birds may have a hidden nest behind every driftwood log, so it has never been a good idea to walk around here during the breeding season. Now these islands are seasonally protected by law.
There are a couple of changes relevant mainly for ship-based tourism in these areas. Expedition leaders, tour leaders and guides as well as individual tourists such as crews of private yachts need to be aware of these new regulations.
The most important ones are:
- There is a new bird sanctuary „Liefdefjord“, which includes the island groups of Andøyane, Stasjonsøyane, Måkeøyane and Lernerøyane. The protection mechanism is the same as for the older bird sanctuaries: all traffic is banned from the islands including the waters within 300 metres from the nearest shore from 15 May to 15 August.
This is probably the most relevant change for ship-based tourism and the only one that will involve important restrictions on regularly visited sites.
- The bird reserve Blomstrandhamna on the north side of Blomstrandhalvøya is enlarged: now, Indre Breøya is also included.
- There is now a permanent traffic ban in an area around the warm springs of Trollkjeldene. The exact location is given by a map and a set of coordinates.
Trollkjeldene comprise several warm springs with sinter terraces south of Bockfjord, a couple of kilometres inland. They are not a frequently visited site. Jotunkjeldene, the smaller springs close to the shore in Bockfjord, are not included in the new regulations and can also be visited in the future (with care, please).
- New site-specific guidelines will be introduced at a couple of locations. AECO will provide these guidelines to the Sysselmannen. These sites include: Ytre Norskøya, Sallyhamna and Smeerenburg (northwest Spitsbergen), Signehamna and Fjortende Julibukta (Krossfjord), Fuglehuken (Prins Karls Forland), Ahlstrandhalvøya (Van Keulenfjord), Gnålodden and Gåshamna (both in Hornsund).
- Things have actually even become easier in a few cases: non-motorised boats may pass close to the mainland coast within the 300 m zone of the bird sanctuaries of Boheman (near Bohemanneset in Isfjord) and Prins Heinrichøya / Mietheholmen (east of Ny-Ålesund in Kongsfjord). That will make life easier for kayakers. Any boat that has an engine has to stay outside the 300 m zone just as before, meaning that you can, for example, not pass between the mainland coast and Prins Heinrichøya / Mietheholmen with a Zodiac.
- Toilet water and greywater may not be discharged off within 500 metres from the coast. This was, so far, only valid within the Nature Reserves; now it is also in force in the National Parks.
- Motorised traffic on land is prohibited in the Nature Reserves (not new) and in the bird sanctuaries (also not new, but clarified). There is, however, an important exception: snow mobiles are allowed within the bird sanctuary at Kapp Linné until 14 May (the general rules apply, of course – no disturbance of wildlife, no driving on ground that is not frozen and snow-covered).
Trollkjeldene (Troll springs) in Bockfjord: from now on you have to keep some distance.
Jotunkjeldene, the springs which are close to the shore and more regularly visited, are not affected by new regulations.
All other existing regulations remain in force, including the possibility for trawling in depth greater than 100 metres.
Further current changes include mainly the exact wording of the regulations without implying much of a change in practice. For example, the bird sanctuaries or bird reserves are now „nature reserves for birds“ to make it clear that they have generally the same status as nature reserves, which are Norway’s most strictly protected areas.
More changes to come
The future will see further changes especially in central Spitsbergen: a new adminstration plan will look at important areas including Isfjord, Adventdalen which is next to Longyearbyen and Van Mijenfjord. Changes may include a ban on heavy oil in Isfjord and a maximum size (passenger number) of ships allowed to visit these waters. But these and other possible changes are part of another process that is currently in an early stage.