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Yearly Archives: 2021 − News


New posi­ti­ve Coro­na tests in Lon­gye­ar­by­en: pro­bab­ly Omi­kron

The Sars­Cov-2 virus keeps bothe­ring the world, and this inclu­des the Arc­tic. Omi­kron seems to have arri­ved in Lon­gye­ar­by­en. The­re were three posi­ti­ve Coro­na tests in Lon­gye­ar­by­en during the Christ­mas holi­days, all of them con­cer­ning per­sons who had recent­ly arri­ved from main­land Nor­way whe­re Omi­kron is well estab­lis­hed, so Knut Sel­mer, medi­cal doc­tor and respon­si­ble for hand­ling infec­tious dise­a­ses at the hos­pi­tal in Lon­gye­ar­by­en, assu­mes that Omi­kron has come to Spits­ber­gen. In addi­ti­on, the­re are several per­sons in qua­ran­ti­ne and test results keep com­ing in, as Sval­bard­pos­ten reports.

Corona and Omikron, Spitsbergen

Coro­na has come to Spits­ber­gen, and this seems to inclu­de the Omi­kron vari­ant.

Sel­mer expects this to be the begin­ning of a major wave of infec­tions, just as else­whe­re in the world. He does not think it is pos­si­ble to keep Spits­ber­gen coro­na-free in the future, but con­si­ders it high­ly important to delay and flat­ten the cur­ve. Ever­y­bo­dy who arri­ves in Lon­gye­ar­by­en needs to get tes­ted and Nor­way has recent­ly tigh­te­ned regu­la­ti­ons con­cer­ning, amongst others, face masks. The aim in Lon­gye­ar­by­en is to keep school, kin­der­gar­tens and other ser­vices espe­cial­ly for child­ren and youth open as long as pos­si­ble.

Lon­gye­ar­by­en has, at least, a very high vac­ci­na­ti­on rate. Near 700 per­sons got vac­ci­na­ti­ons in Decem­ber, most­ly boos­ter injec­tions, but also a cou­p­le of pri­ma­ry vac­ci­na­ti­ons. The next mass vac­ci­na­ti­on in Lon­gye­ar­by­en is sche­du­led for 11 Janu­a­ry.

Immer­hin hat Lon­gye­ar­by­en eine sehr hohe Impf­quo­te. Im Dezem­ber wur­den rund 700 Per­so­nen geimpft, wobei es über­wie­gend um Auf­fri­schungs­imp­fun­gen ging. Es gab aber auch eini­ge Erst­imp­fun­gen. Die nächs­te, gro­ße Impf­ak­ti­on in Spitz­ber­gen ist am 11. Janu­ar geplant.

Corona, Spitsbergen

In spi­te of Coro­na, even in spi­te of Omi­kron,
the sun will rise and shi­ne again over Spits­ber­gen in 2022.
But it will take some time.

This is pro­bab­ly the last one of more than 100 blog and news ent­ries on this web­site in 2021. I will, of cour­se, con­ti­nue in 2022. Thank you for rea­ding, wel­co­me back and hap­py new year!

“C” as in “coro­na”, or bet­ter: Christ­mas

Many had been thin­king in Lon­gye­ar­by­en that Spits­ber­gen would remain a covid-free bub­ble, but it didn’t real­ly sur­pri­se that this is not the case. A num­ber of peop­le have tes­ted posi­ti­ve in Lon­gye­ar­by­en, inclu­ding tho­se that show sym­ptoms – not dra­ma­tic ones, luck­i­ly, as far as known at least.

So now ever­y­bo­dy who arri­ves in Lon­gye­ar­by­en needs to make a test upon arri­val. The admi­nis­tra­ti­on fears the con­se­quen­ces of a major out­break in such a remo­te loca­ti­on.

Corona, Spitsbergen

Coro­na has come to Spits­ber­gen. And if you do the same, then you have to get tes­ted upon arri­val the­re.

Nobo­dy knows what this might mean for the future, what 2022 may bring. Many in Lon­gye­ar­by­en (and else­whe­re) feel unwell as soon as someo­ne says “Omi­kron”.

Digi­tal Spits­ber­gen muse­um: new and impro­ved pages

So at the time being, a vir­tu­al jour­ney may be the bet­ter opti­on, and cer­tain­ly the che­a­per and easier one, avail­ab­le at any time. I have made a num­ber of new pages wit­hin spitsbergen-svalbard.com and impro­ved older ones, making it worthwhile to visit both well known and remo­te cor­ners of the Sval­bard archi­pe­la­go. It is fair to say that what I am buil­ding up here over years is kind of a digi­tal Spits­ber­gen muse­um, espe­cial­ly in the pan­ora­ma sec­tion which makes many loca­ti­ons in Sval­bard easi­ly acces­si­ble to anyo­ne with inter­net access world­wi­de. The new and impro­ved pages are my Christ­mas pre­sent for all Spits­ber­gen enthu­si­asts who like a digi­tal trip to some beau­ti­ful, but – in real life – hard-to-get-to pla­ces. Enjoy!

Some of the new/improved pages:

spitsbergen-svalbard.com: new pages

Some of the loca­ti­ons repre­sen­ted on spitsbergen-svalbard.com with new or impro­ved pages:
Enjoy! Access via the links in the list below.

Weihnachten, Spitzbergen

Ligh­t­ing up the Christ­mas tree in Lon­gye­ar­by­en. Befo­re Covid-19 – a long, long time ago.

Hap­py Christ­mas and the best wis­hes for a hap­py and healt­hy new year!

Use of depth-record­ing echo sound­ers may be for­bid­den in the future

Cur­r­ent­ly Nor­we­gi­an law­ma­kers appe­ar to be pro­du­cing one fan­tastic idea after the other. One of the poten­ti­al­ly upco­m­ing laws is aimed against saving water depth data. The Nor­we­gi­an minis­try of defence con­si­ders depth-record­ing echo sound­ers a poten­ti­al thre­at to natio­nal secu­ri­ty and wants to pro­hi­bit their use in Nor­we­gi­an waters, as repor­ted by NRK. Next to the 12 mile zone of main­land Nor­way, this is expli­ci­te­ly inten­ded to inclu­de the cor­re­spon­ding ter­ri­to­ri­al waters of Sval­bard and Jan May­en.

All modern ships have echo sound­ers instal­led to moni­tor the depth of the water under the ship, and fishing ves­sels rou­ti­nely use echo sound­ers to loca­te fish. Simp­ler devices just show the cur­rent value, while more sophisti­ca­ted ones – which are stan­dard on many modern ves­sels – record and save the data. If a ship navi­ga­tes repeated­ly in a cer­tain area, over time the data thus gathe­red will pro­du­ce a rough chart of the sea bot­tom topo­gra­phy – a gre­at advan­ta­ge in poor­ly char­ted waters such as lar­ge parts of Sval­bard, espe­cial­ly in the remo­ter are­as. GPS tracks with depth infor­ma­ti­on, auto­ma­ti­cal­ly or manu­al­ly recor­ded, are an important and fre­quent­ly used navi­ga­tio­nal tool in the­se waters.

echo sounder, Spitsbergen

Navi­ga­ti­on in unchar­ted waters, in this case near a gla­cier that has recent­ly retrea­ted. Accord­ing to the char­ted, the ship is sai­ling insi­de the gla­cier (brown area). Care­ful use of echo sound­ers and record­ing depth for future use is com­mon prac­ti­ce in such situa­tions.

The Nor­we­gi­an minis­try of defence wants to have a law re-acti­va­ted that pro­hi­bits saving high-reso­lu­ti­on depth values in waters deeper than 30 metres. This aut­hor can only spe­cu­la­te that the rea­son is to make access to secu­ri­ty-rele­vant are­as more dif­fi­cult and to keep mili­ta­ry instal­la­ti­ons on the sea floor from being dis­co­ve­r­ed.

Accord­ing to the Spits­ber­gen Trea­ty, no coun­try inclu­ding Nor­way is allo­wed to have per­ma­nent mili­ta­ry instal­la­ti­ons in Sval­bard, hence intro­du­cing mea­su­res to pro­tect such instal­la­ti­ons does not make sen­se. The Nor­we­gi­an mili­ta­ry, howe­ver, seems to con­si­der the ter­ri­to­ri­al waters of Sval­bard gene­ral­ly so sen­si­ti­ve that they wish to inclu­de Sval­bard, whe­re lar­ge are­as are poor­ly char­ted or not char­ted at all.

Fishers are raging becau­se they see a risk of their dai­ly rou­ti­nes being cri­mi­na­li­sed, with con­se­quen­ces poten­ti­al­ly inclu­ding high fines or up to a year in pri­son. Accord­ing to the minis­try of defence, the law is “in princip­le” not aimed against fishe­ry and at least in theo­ry their rou­ti­nes should not be affec­ted – that is, at least, the inten­ti­on. What the law actual­ly says remains to be seen. The idea is rather to keep for­eign, poten­ti­al­ly unfriend­ly powers from sys­te­ma­ti­cal­ly char­ting Nor­we­gi­an waters.

Legal opi­ni­on: law pro­po­sals should be with­drawn

The ongo­ing dis­cus­sion of the high­ly con­tro­ver­si­al legal pro­po­sals by the Nor­we­gi­an government con­cer­ning Sval­bard (the Spits­ber­gen archi­pe­la­go) is fuel­led by a legal opi­ni­on that, in essence, con­clu­des that the pro­po­sals should be with­drawn. The legal opi­ni­on was draf­ted by a law office based in Lon­gye­ar­by­en on behalf of Aeco (Asso­cia­ti­on of Arc­tic Expe­di­ti­on Crui­se Ope­ra­tors, an inter-tra­de orga­ni­sa­ti­on), Visit Sval­bard (tou­rism office and indus­try orga­ni­sa­ti­on in Lon­gye­ar­by­en) and Sval­bard Nærings­fo­re­ning (tra­de and indus­try asso­cia­ti­on in Lon­gye­ar­by­en) erstellt. Sval­bard­pos­ten got a copy of the legal opi­ni­on and made the key points public.

This is what it is all about:

Con­tro­ver­si­al legal pro­po­sals (1): clo­sing lar­ge parts of Sval­bard

In essence, it is about a seri­es of law pro­po­sals made by the pre­vious Nor­we­gi­an government. The­re is a new government in Oslo after par­la­men­tia­ry elec­tions in Sep­tem­ber.

The pro­po­sal which attracts most public atten­ti­on and con­tro­ver­sy also out­side Sval­bard and Nor­way is one that aims at prac­ti­cal­ly clo­sing lar­ge parts of the Sval­bard archi­pe­la­go for the public. The “public” that has at least spo­ra­dic access to the­se rather remo­te are­as is main­ly ship-based tou­rism during the sum­mer sea­son. This kind of traf­fic has for a long time alrea­dy been stron­gly regu­la­ted (inclu­ding, but not limi­ted to, a ban on hea­vy oils on ships, limits on pas­sen­ger num­bers on board and ashore in most are­as etc.). In addi­ti­on to tou­rism, the­re is sci­ence and – on a much lower quan­ti­ta­ti­ve level – the local popu­la­ti­on and indi­vi­du­al tou­rists, main­ly tho­se who come with their own yachts.

The law pro­po­sal is visi­b­ly aimed against ship-based tou­rism, but would hit all of the­se sec­tors. In princip­le, most of Svalbard’s land are­as and coast­li­nes are so far legal­ly acces­si­ble for tou­rists, with the excep­ti­on of a num­ber of smal­ler are­as, islands and loca­ti­ons, that are clo­sed – sea­so­nal­ly or per­ma­nent­ly – to the public becau­se they are con­si­de­red espe­cial­ly vul­nerable. During the sum­mer sea­son, several hund­red loca­ti­ons over most of the archi­pe­la­go are visi­ted by tou­rists; the main part of the traf­fic, howe­ver, takes place at a rela­tively limi­ted num­ber of well-known and reala­tively easi­ly acces­si­ble loca­ti­ons. Many of the lar­ge num­ber of remai­ning loca­ti­ons are more “exo­tic”, much less well known and much less regu­lar­ly or actual­ly only rare­ly visi­ted. They are, nevertheless, important espe­cial­ly in the con­text of lon­ger voya­ges which aim at expe­ri­en­cing the varie­ty of Svalbard’s land­s­capes.

The rele­vant law pro­po­sal would drasti­cal­ly redu­ce the liber­ty of action in most parts of Sval­bard. Accord­ing to the pro­po­sal, lan­dings shall only be per­mit­ted at altog­e­ther 42 loca­ti­ons in the pro­tec­ted are­as, which inclu­de most of the archi­pe­la­go. Due to wind, wea­ther, ice and the pre­sence of polar bears, it is very com­mon that a given loca­ti­on is actual­ly not avail­ab­le at a given point of time: in such cases, it has so far been com­mon to move “around the cor­ner” to ano­t­her loca­ti­on which can be visi­ted without pro­blems or even risk. Fle­xi­bi­li­ty is thus an inte­gral part of the safe­ty and qua­li­ty con­cept of the­se voya­ges. The loss of fle­xi­bi­li­ty would accord­in­gly direct­ly redu­ce the qua­li­ty (and, poten­ti­al­ly, safe­ty) of the who­le ope­ra­ti­on. Con­si­der on top that, during peak sea­son, several dozen ships would com­pe­te for a small num­ber of sites that remains legal­ly acces­si­ble, and you are left with almost next to not­hing at all.

The fol­lowing two maps may illus­tra­te the loss of fle­xi­bi­li­ty which the law pro­po­sal as it cur­r­ent­ly is would invol­ve, loo­king at the examp­le of Nord­aus­t­land. Simi­lar maps could be drawn for almost any other part of Sval­bard.

New law, closing Svalbard

Lan­ding sites on Nord­aus­t­land and neigh­bou­ring islands that have been visi­ted by tou­rists in recent years (not com­ple­te).

New law, closing Svalbard

Lan­ding sites in the same area that would be legal­ly acces­si­ble accord­ing to the cur­rent law pro­po­sal (com­ple­te).

If a legal mea­su­re as drastic as this one would actual­ly be in accordance with the Spits­ber­gen Trea­ty, which in princi­pal gua­ran­tees citi­zens and com­pa­nies of signa­to­ry coun­tries free access to the archi­pe­la­go, is yet ano­t­her ques­ti­on. But in order to get a pro­per ans­wer, this ques­ti­on would pro­bab­ly have to be asked by the government of a trea­ty mem­ber other than Nor­way.

Con­tro­ver­si­al legal pro­po­sals (2): exten­ded regis­tra­ti­on sche­mes for traf­fic

Ano­t­her part of this law pro­po­sal aims at exte­ned regis­tra­ti­on sche­mes and admi­nis­tra­ti­on efforts for traf­fic out­side the sett­le­ments.

Con­tro­ver­si­al legal pro­po­sals (3): distan­ces to polar bears and wal­ru­ses

Also a part of the law pro­po­sal that inclu­des the abo­ve-men­tio­ned points, this part is so cen­tral and important that it needs to be high­ligh­ted on its own, rather than get­ting lost at the end of a long text some­whe­re else: the law inclu­des a legal mini­mum distance of 500 metres to polar bears in any situa­ti­on and 300 metres to wal­ru­ses at sea.

Espe­cial­ly a gene­ral mini­mum distance of 500 metres to polar bears would des­troy the basis of a lar­ge part of the ship-based tou­rism indus­try in Sval­bard: see­ing polar bears is amongst the main rea­sons for many tou­rists who visit Sval­bard, espe­cial­ly in the con­text of several-day-long trips on smal­ler ships (expe­di­ti­on ships). Polar bear obser­va­tions wit­hin much shor­ter distan­ces from ships or smal­ler boats (“ten­der boats”, often Zodiacs or simi­lar boats) are more or less com­mon rou­ti­ne on many of the­se trips and do not invol­ve dan­ger for humans or ani­mals. Car­ri­ed out pro­per­ly and respect­ful­ly, such ope­ra­ti­ons do usual­ly not cau­se dis­tur­ban­ce of wild­life; chan­ges of beha­viour that may occa­sio­nal­ly occur are usual­ly not rele­vant – unless one con­si­ders it princi­pal­ly unac­cep­ta­ble that a polar bear walks a few metres away – and lead to an immedia­te dis­con­ti­nua­tion of the ope­ra­ti­on or at least to a grea­ter distance.

Approa­ching polar bears in a way that may invol­ve dan­ger for humans or ani­mals or dis­tur­ban­ce is alrea­dy for­bid­den (but NOT approa­ching in gene­ral) accord­ing to the Sval­bard envi­ron­men­tal act that has been in for­ce for a long time now. Hence, the­re is no legal defi­cit but pos­si­b­ly an enfor­ce­ment defi­cit, some­thing that would actual­ly be hard to deny but at the same time a pro­blem that will not be sol­ved by stric­ter laws.

The­re is no data that sug­gest that dis­tur­ban­ce cau­sed by tou­rists real­ly is a pro­blem for polar bears in Sval­bard. The­re is no doubt that annoy­ing indi­vi­du­al cases do hap­pen whe­re tou­rists with or without gui­de (or locals) behave in an inac­cep­ta­ble way in the pre­sence of polar bears (or other wild­life, for that sake). But the­se cases are alrea­dy cove­r­ed by exis­ting law; the pro­blem is enfor­cing the law that is in for­ce and not a need for new and stric­ter laws. And, again, the­re is no data sug­ges­ting that the­re is a sys­te­ma­tic pro­blem bey­ond indi­vi­du­al cases.

Regar­ding wal­ru­ses: a cou­p­le of years ago, the Nor­we­gi­an Polar Insti­tu­te car­ri­ed out a pro­ject with auto­ma­tic came­ras pla­ced at a num­ber of wal­rus hau­lout sites to inves­ti­ga­te the pro­blems that traf­fic, espe­cial­ly tou­rist visits, might poten­ti­al­ly cau­se. The con­clu­si­on was that the­re is no indi­ca­ti­on that tou­rist traf­fic poses a rele­vant pro­blem.

The­se are the most important parts of the legal pro­po­sals that con­cern the inte­res­ted public also out­side Sval­bard. But the­re is more:

Con­tro­ver­si­al legal pro­po­sals (4): qua­li­fi­ca­ti­on and cer­ti­fi­ca­ti­on of gui­des

Ano­t­her pro­po­sal aims at the qua­li­fi­ca­ti­on and cer­ti­fi­ca­ti­on of gui­des. This has alrea­dy been a mat­ter of deba­te for a long time and hard­ly anyo­ne will deny that the­re is need for action. A rea­son­ab­le, prac­ti­ca­ble cer­ti­fi­ca­ti­on sche­me would be wel­co­med by com­pa­nies, rele­vant orga­ni­sa­ti­ons (such as AECO or the Sval­bard Gui­de Asso­cia­ti­on) and many gui­des who con­si­der them­sel­ves pro­fes­sio­nals. The cur­rent pro­po­sal, howe­ver, sets the thres­hold from zero up to a level that would be very hard to reach for most. The pro­po­sal deman­ds a num­ber of cour­ses and cer­ti­fi­ca­tes that would cost an indi­vi­du­al, non-local gui­de (who would also have to pay tra­vel and accom­mo­da­tio cos­ts) an esti­ma­ted 10,000-20,000 Euro. The result might be a col­lap­se of the indus­try as almost no gui­des have the­se cer­ti­fi­ca­tes rea­dy or would be able to pro­du­ce them at more or less short noti­ce. This inclu­des expe­ri­en­ced gui­des with many years or even deca­des of expe­ri­ence who would “only” have to for­ma­li­se their know­ledge and expe­ri­ence which they have been using as part of their dai­ly rou­ti­ne for many years, but without having for­ma­li­sed the­se skills. Also many of the­se expe­ri­en­ced pro­fes­sio­nals would – espe­cial­ly con­si­de­ring the who­le legal situa­ti­on and poten­ti­al deve­lo­p­ment – think twice if they actual­ly want to go through the effort of for­ma­li­sing their exis­ting skills and know­ledge. A lot of pre­cious know­ledge might thus get lost.

Con­tro­ver­si­al legal pro­po­sals (5): depri­val of com­mu­nal voting rights from non-Nor­we­gi­an citi­zens in Lon­gye­ar­by­en

And yet ano­t­her fan­tastic idea that you have to bear in mind to have kind of a com­ple­te pic­tu­re of the cur­rent poli­ti­cal deve­lo­p­ment is the stun­ning pro­po­sal to deny “for­eig­ners” the vote to right local­ly in Lon­gye­ar­by­en (this is NOT about the natio­nal par­la­men­ta­ry elec­tions, that is not an issue any­way for tho­se who do not have Nor­we­gi­an citi­zenship).

Legal cri­ti­cism

The abo­ve-men­tio­ned legal opi­ni­on con­si­ders main­ly the part of the law pro­po­sals that is aimed at prac­ti­cal­ly clo­sing lar­ge parts of Sval­bard, but also the part that con­cerns gui­de cer­ti­fi­ca­ti­on. The legal opi­ni­on leads to anni­hi­lating con­clu­si­ons regar­ding both parts.

Gene­ral cri­ti­cism that con­cerns the who­le packa­ge inclu­des the fact the the local popu­la­ti­on and their poli­ti­cal repre­sen­ta­ti­ves, and others con­cer­ned such as indus­try asso­cia­ti­ons and com­pa­nies, have not been invol­ved (com­ment for the sake of com­ple­teness: the­re is an ongo­ing public hea­ring whe­re all asso­cia­ti­ons, com­pa­nies and indi­vi­du­als who want to can give their input, but many doubt that cri­ti­cal opi­ni­ons will actual­ly be con­si­de­red and reflec­ted by the ongo­ing pro­cess. The abo­ve-men­tio­ned par­ties were not inclu­ded at any ear­lier sta­ge).

Key points of the legal opi­ni­ons regar­ding the clo­sure of lar­ge parts of Sval­bard inclu­de:

  • The­re is doubt if the legal foun­da­ti­on is suf­fi­ci­ent for such drastic mea­su­res.
  • Poor data and sci­en­ti­fic basis for such strong restric­tions.
  • Con­se­quen­ces for are­as and loca­ti­ons, inclu­ding tho­se who are to remain acces­si­ble, are not suf­fi­ci­ent­ly con­si­de­red.
  • Important sci­en­ti­fic input given by inst­uti­ons such as NINA (Nor­we­gi­an Insti­tu­te for natu­re rese­arch. It is amongst NINA’s key tasks to sup­port legal pro­ces­ses with sci­en­ti­fic know­ledge) and the Nor­we­gi­an Polar Insti­tu­te (dito) was not suf­fi­ci­en­ty con­si­de­red. This con­cerns amongst others the requi­red mini­mum distan­ces to polar bears and wal­ru­ses.
  • Wrong app­li­ca­ti­on of the pre­cau­tio­na­ry princip­le.
  • Mil­der restric­tions other than the stron­gest ones were appear­ent­ly not con­si­de­red.
  • One-sided, nega­ti­ve pre­sen­ta­ti­on of tou­rism in Sval­bard, espe­cial­ly crui­se tou­rism, without good basis by data or sci­en­ti­fic input.

Also the legal pro­po­sal that con­cerns amongst others cer­ti­fi­ca­ti­on sche­mes for gui­des does get some sub­stan­ti­al cri­ti­cism:

  • Con­se­quen­ces for the indus­try were not suf­fi­ci­ent­ly con­si­de­red, for examp­le cos­ts esti­ma­ted bet­ween 10,000 and 20,000 Euro for non-local gui­des.
  • Limi­ted capa­ci­ties and exis­ting com­pe­tence were not suf­fi­ci­ent­ly con­si­de­red.
  • Admi­nis­tra­ti­ve con­se­quen­ces were not suf­fi­ci­ent­ly con­si­de­red: how much addi­tio­nal effort would an enlar­ge­ned regis­tra­ti­on and admi­ni­nis­tra­ti­on sche­me for traf­fic invol­ve? How many addi­tio­nal admi­nis­tra­ti­ve posi­ti­ons, time and cos­ts have to be expec­ted?
  • Con­se­quen­ces for the local popu­la­ti­on and com­mu­ni­ty were not suf­fi­ci­en­ty con­si­de­red, for examp­le the con­se­quen­ces for the attrac­ti­vi­ty of Lon­gye­ar­by­en as a place to live. Many peop­le in Lon­gye­ar­by­en are pro­fes­sio­nal­ly direct­ly or indi­rect­ly con­nec­ted to tou­rism.

Con­clu­si­on

The con­clu­si­on of the legal opi­ni­on is clear: the law pro­po­sals should be with­drawn and draf­ted again from scratch, with a new defi­ni­ti­on of the aims that are actual­ly to be achie­ved and a new con­si­de­ra­ti­on of the legal basis and sci­en­ti­fic input.

On the other hand, opti­mism amongst tho­se who are con­cer­ned that rele­vant aut­ho­ri­ties are wil­ling to lis­ten to opi­ni­ons other than their own ones is rather limi­ted, to put it mild­ly. With­drawing a pro­po­sal that is public at least indi­rect­ly implies a con­fes­si­on that some­thing was not right from the start, some­thing that aut­ho­ri­ties are usual­ly not real­ly good at.

On the other hand, as it is said in the Nor­we­gi­an moun­tain rules: it is never too late to turn around.

click here to access a page of the Nor­we­gi­an envi­ron­men­tal aut­ho­ri­ty (“Mil­jø­di­rek­to­rat”) with fur­ther docu­ments, inclu­ding (a bit fur­ther down on the page) Eng­lish trans­la­ti­ons of the Eng­lish ori­gi­nals. The­re is also a link to the page with the hea­ring pro­ce­du­re, which is open until 01 May 2022.

Two dead polar bears in ear­ly 2020: cri­ti­cism and inves­ti­ga­ti­ons

In ear­ly 2020, two polar bears died under the hands of Nor­we­gi­an aut­ho­ri­ties wit­hin just a few weeks: one was shot in the ear­ly morning hours of 01 Janu­a­ry by the poli­ce (Sys­sel­mes­ter; then Sys­sel­man­nen) several kilo­me­tres away from town, alt­hough it was not an emer­gen­cy situa­ti­on. Accord­ing to an offi­cial press release, ana­es­the­tiz­a­ti­on and trans­por­ta­ti­on to a remo­ter area were not avail­ab­le becau­se rele­vant per­so­nell was not avail­ab­le becau­se of the Christ­mas holi­days (click here to read more about this case).

Only a few weeks later, on 30 Janu­a­ry, ano­t­her polar bear died during heli­co­p­ter trans­port after ana­es­the­tiz­a­ti­on (click here and here to read more about this case).

It does not sur­pri­se that both cases were met with a lot of public cri­ti­cism. Nor­we­gi­an aut­ho­ri­ties loo­ked into the case, espe­cial­ly the second one, and came to the con­clu­si­on that the­re was not enough com­pe­tence pre­sent to hand­le the pro­ce­du­re of ana­es­the­ti­zing a polar bear in this given case and that the pro­ce­du­res were gene­ral­ly not good enough. The­re was, for examp­le, no vet pre­sent when the polar bear was ana­es­the­ti­zed alt­hough vets were pre­sent in Lon­gye­ar­by­en and could have been cal­led to assist on short noti­ce (click here to read more about offi­cial inves­ti­ga­ti­ons and cri­ti­cism of this case).

anaesthetized polar bear and helicopter Longyearbyen

Pre­pa­ra­ti­on of an ana­es­the­ti­zed polar bear near Lon­gye­ar­by­en (2016).

In addi­ti­on, the Nor­we­gi­an Bureau for the Inves­ti­ga­ti­on of Poli­ce Affairs (“Spe­sia­len­he­ten for poli­tisa­ker”) star­ted offi­cial inves­ti­ga­ti­ons later in 2020. Both Sys­sel­man­nen (gover­nor and poli­ce; today known as Sys­sel­mes­ter) and the Nor­we­gi­an Polar Insti­tu­te, an aut­ho­ri­ty direct­ly invol­ved in such cases to pro­vi­de advice and actual­ly car­ry out rele­vant parts of the hand­ling, were suspect of negli­gence.

In the end, a report was publis­hed recent­ly, con­clu­ding that the cri­mi­nal inves­ti­ga­ti­on was clo­sed becau­se the­re was no evi­dence for cri­mi­nal­ly liable beha­viour. But the report men­ti­ons rele­vant mista­kes and ina­de­qua­te rou­ti­nes and com­mits the Sys­sel­mes­ter to impro­ve the rou­ti­nes.

It is remar­kab­le that the Nor­we­gi­an Bureau for the Inves­ti­ga­ti­on of Poli­ce Affairs actual­ly took up the case, and the result is, at best, a second-class ver­dict of not guil­ty. Defi­ni­te­ly anything but a com­pli­ment for Sys­sel­mes­ter and Nor­we­gi­an Polar Insti­tu­te, the aut­ho­ri­ties who are offi­cial­ly deci­ding on and hand­ling polar bears in rele­vant cases. It can be assu­med that both polar bears might still be ali­ve given pro­per hand­ling of tho­se cases.

So far, Nor­we­gi­an poli­cy and prac­ti­cal hand­ling from offi­cial side don’t seem to know more opti­ons in such cases than sca­ring polar bears away with cars, snow mobi­les or heli­co­p­ters – a prac­ti­ce about which cri­tics say that it actual­ly tea­ches polar bears who don’t run away immedia­te­ly that it is not dan­ge­rous to be in the vicini­ty of peop­le and loud vehi­cles – and then, ana­es­the­tiz­a­ti­on and trans­port or a dead­ly bul­let. Non-let­hal deter­rents such as pep­per spray or pep­per pro­jec­ti­les or rub­ber bul­lets, which may make it very clear to a bear that being in the vicini­ty of peop­le isn’t a good thing without actual­ly inju­ring or even kil­ling the ani­mal, are not (yet?) part of the tool­box that tho­se who hand­le the­se cases on offi­cial behalf seem to have con­si­de­red a lot. It appears that the­re is still a les­son to be learnt and room for impro­ve­ment.

The “arc­tic Wed­nes­day” con­ti­nued

The “arc­tic Wed­nes­day” is about to con­ti­nue soon! Bir­git Lutz and I have sche­du­led 6 dates and the­mes for our the con­ti­nua­tion of our popu­lar seri­es of online pre­sen­ta­ti­ons in Decem­ber 2021 and Janu­a­ry 2022. No les­ser than the famous adven­tu­rer Arved Fuchs will open the new seri­es with his pre­sen­ta­ti­on “Shack­le­ton 2000”, his nar­ra­ti­on of his adven­tures in Ernest Shackleton’s foots­teps!

The pre­sen­ta­ti­ons will be held in Ger­man.

  • 01.12.: Arved Fuchs, “Shack­le­ton 2000”
  • 08.12.: Rolf Stan­ge, “Nor­we­gens ark­ti­scher Nor­den: Spitz­ber­gen”
  • 15.12.: Bir­git Lutz, “Auf Ski­ern zum Nord­pol”
  • 20.12. (a Mon­day, just for the dif­fe­rence): Bir­git Lutz & Rolf Stan­ge with “Weih­nach­ten im Eis”
  • 12.01.2022: Bir­git Lutz with “Heu­te gehen wir Wale fan­gen”
  • 19.01.2022: Rolf Stan­ge with “Das Licht des Nor­dens”

Plea­se refer to my online shop for fur­ther infor­ma­ti­on and boo­king. We hope to see you soon during the “arc­tic Wed­nes­day” pre­sen­ta­ti­ons!

Birgit Lutz & Rolf Stange: arctic Wednesday

Bir­git Lutz and Rolf Stan­ge are loo­king for­ward to the third seri­es of the “arc­tic Wed­nes­day”.

Pro­test against government poli­tics: torch­light pro­ces­si­on in Lon­gye­ar­by­en

The Sval­bard poli­cy of the government in Oslo cur­r­ent­ly frus­tra­tes a lot of peop­le, both Spits­ber­gen locals, Lon­gye­ar­by­en poli­ti­ci­ans and con­cer­ned indus­try sec­tors. Epi­cen­tres of the cur­rent frus­tra­ti­on are the poten­ti­al clo­sing of lar­ge parts of the Spits­ber­gen archi­pe­la­go and the threa­tening with­dra­wal of the right to vote on a com­mu­ni­ty level (! not natio­nal) for non-Nor­we­gi­an citi­zens living in Lon­gye­ar­by­en (see lin­ked arti­cles for fur­ther details on the­se issu­es).

The­se pro­po­sals have both been made by the government in Oslo. As of now, final decisi­ons have not been made yet.

And both pro­po­sals were made by the Nor­we­gi­an government without invol­ving local poli­ti­ci­ans or the peop­le living in Spits­ber­gen or indus­tries working the­re. The­re is the public hea­ring, but that is qui­te late in the day to invol­ve the local coun­cil. And based on expe­ri­ence from recent hea­rings, trust that the input given into such pro­ces­ses will actual­ly be heard is rather limi­ted, to put it mild­ly.

Longyearbyen

Lon­gye­ar­by­en: many peop­le living here are cur­r­ent­ly sho­cked about poli­ti­cal pro­po­sals com­ing from Oslo. If the sun is poli­ti­cal­ly going up or down over this beau­ti­ful place is a ques­ti­on that remains to be ans­we­red by natio­nal poli­ti­ci­ans soon.

Many peop­le who live in Lon­gye­ar­by­en or who other­wi­se have a strong con­nec­tion to Sval­bard are now fed up with this way to rule the place. The is “NOK er NOK” (“enough is enough”). Local groups and orga­ni­sa­ti­ons have now cal­led on the local public to join a torch­light pro­ces­si­on today (Tues­day, 16 novem­ber) in Lon­gye­ar­by­en. Poli­ti­ci­ans, locals, orga­ni­sa­ti­ons and com­pa­nies in and con­nec­ted with Lon­gye­ar­by­en and Sval­bard want to be heard and invol­ved when it comes to decisi­ons that may well deci­de over their future. The demand is that both poli­ti­cal pro­po­sals, regar­ding both the clo­sing of lar­ge parts of the archi­pe­la­go and the idea to depri­ve non-Nor­we­gi­an locals of their voting rights, disap­pe­ar from the poli­ti­cal agen­da in Oslo.

Orga­ni­sa­ti­ons that cal­led on the public to join their pro­test inclu­de Sval­bard nærings­fo­re­ning (an orga­ni­sa­ti­on of local indus­tries and com­pa­nies), AECO (an orga­ni­sa­ti­on repre­sen­ting the expe­di­ti­on crui­se ope­ra­tors), Lon­gye­ar­by­en jeger- og fis­kerfo­re­ning (club of local hun­ters and fishers), To-tak­te­ren (club for snow mobi­le and boat enthu­si­asts), Sval­bard Turn (local sports club with a lar­ge num­ber of out­door enthu­si­asts amongst the mem­bers) and the Sval­bard Gui­de Asso­cia­ti­on. Altog­e­ther, the­se orga­ni­sa­ti­ons repre­sent an impres­si­ve num­ber of peop­le in Lon­gye­ar­by­en, but also else­whe­re.

Due to the wea­ther, today’s pro­test may turn out to be a head­lamp pro­ces­si­on rather than a torch­light pro­ces­si­ons.

Longyearbyen fakkeltog

Today’s torch­light pro­ces­si­on in Lon­gye­ar­by­en. Pho­to © Fran­ka Lei­te­rer.

Stric­ter rules in the making

Obser­ving Nor­we­gi­an govern­men­tal acti­vi­ties to tigh­ten rules con­cer­ning traf­fic and tou­rism in Spits­ber­gen has been a con­stant and most­ly rather unplea­sant part of run­ning this web­site sin­ce I star­ted it in 2006. Legal pro­po­sals have, without any doubt, inclu­ded impro­ve­ments, some of them long due – one may well ask why it was pos­si­ble until recent­ly that pret­ty much anyo­ne could just rent a fire­arm legal­ly in Lon­gye­ar­by­en, almost like a bicy­cle else­whe­re. Other legal impro­ve­ments have, so far, remai­ned a dream for envi­ron­men­ta­lists, for examp­le a ban on hea­vy oil in all water­ways of the who­le archi­pe­la­go, or a limit on the num­ber of per­sons on ships allo­wed into the 12 mile zone – an acci­dent of a lar­ge crui­se ship, with pas­sen­ger and crew num­bers orders of magnitu­de bey­ond anything emer­gen­cy ser­vices could hand­le, remain a night­ma­re.

On the other hand, it is hard to belie­ve what aut­ho­ri­ties some­ti­mes come up with.

Cur­r­ent­ly, it seems to be a bit of both, with a dis­tinct empha­sise on the bizar­re aspect. Again, a tigh­tening of the exis­ting frame­work of regu­la­ti­ons that con­trol traf­fic and tou­rism in Sval­bard is under dis­cus­sion. The Nor­we­gi­an envi­ron­men­ta aut­ho­ri­ty (mil­jø­di­rek­to­ra­tet) has brought a pro­po­sal into a public hea­ring pha­se. The hea­ring will be open until Febru­a­ry 03, 2022. Until then, ever­y­bo­dy can give his or her opi­ni­on into the pro­cess. Based on expe­ri­ence with recent regu­la­to­ry pro­ces­ses, howe­ver, obser­vers doubt that opi­ni­ons issued by others than the aut­ho­ri­ties invol­ved will serious­ly be taken into con­si­de­ra­ti­on.

So, what’s going on? Some of the most important chan­ges that are inclu­ded in the cur­rent pro­po­sal may be sum­ma­ri­sed (and com­men­ted) as fol­lows (not com­pre­hen­si­ve). When “lar­ge pro­tec­ted are­as” are men­tio­ned, then this inclu­des the natio­nal parks Nor­thwest Spits­ber­gen, South Spits­ber­gen, For­lan­det (Prins Karls For­land), Van Mijen­fjord and Ind­re Wij­defjord as well as the natu­re reser­ves Nor­the­ast Sval­bard and Sou­the­ast Sval­bard. In other words, most of the archi­pe­la­go except Isfjord, parts of For­landsund and Kongsfjord.

So, the fol­lowing chan­ges are inclu­ded in the cur­rent pro­po­sal:

  • Ships are not allo­wed to have more than 200 pas­sen­gers on board in the natio­nal parks (this is alrea­dy the case in the natu­re reser­ves. The pro­po­sal does not inclu­de waters out­side the lar­ge pro­tec­ted are­as. In other words: lar­ge crui­se ships may still come into Isfjord with any num­ber of pas­sen­gers and crew on bord).
  • Now, the fol­lowing point is, for most, pro­bab­ly the most important and drastic one: the legal princip­le of whe­re it is allo­wed to move around in the lar­ge pro­tec­ted are­as is tur­ned around: so far, the situa­ti­on is essen­ti­al­ly that you can move around, also on land, any­whe­re unless it is for­bid­den. Now it is pro­po­sed that this should be tur­ned around: it is gene­ral­ly for­bid­den to go on land in the lar­ge pro­tec­ted are­as unless it is spe­ci­fi­cal­ly allo­wed, which is only plan­ned for 42 loca­ti­ons – in an area com­pri­sing several ten thousand squa­re kilo­me­tres. Most parts of the archi­pe­la­go would thus effec­tively be clo­sed to the public.
    An examp­le: accord­ing to the pro­po­sal made by the mil­jø­di­re­to­rat, the­re would only one lan­ding site be avail­ab­le on Prins Karls For­land (Poole­pyn­ten). Other than this one loca­ti­on, the who­le island, which is more than 80 km long, would be clo­sed to the public. More than 10 sites around the island – most­ly on the east side – have, howe­ver, been visi­ted by tou­rists more or less regu­lar­ly in recent years.
    This is just an examp­le; things would be simi­lar in the other lar­ge pro­tec­ted are­as, which com­pri­se effec­tively most of the archi­pe­la­go. The con­se­quen­ces for ship-based tou­rism as it is hap­pe­ning today (set coro­na asi­de for a moment) would be dra­ma­tic. The desi­re to expe­ri­ence the huge diver­si­ty of the land­s­cape and the need to have a choice becau­se of other ships ope­ra­ting in the same area is one rea­son, but ano­t­her, even more important one is sim­ply safe­ty: it is dai­ly rou­ti­ne that a lan­ding site has to be chan­ged on short noti­ce becau­se wind wea­ther do not per­mit a a safe ope­ra­ti­on. In such a situa­ti­on, it is com­mon rou­ti­ne to move the lan­ding to ano­t­her site with bet­ter con­di­ti­ons to ope­ra­te safe­ly, some­thing that hap­pens fre­quent­ly. The pre­sence of a polar bear in the vicini­ty is ano­t­her fac­tor that often requi­res the same kind of reac­tion. If it is not pos­si­ble any­mo­re to react in a fle­xi­ble way, pres­su­re will incre­a­se to make lan­dings under con­di­ti­ons less than ide­al or poten­ti­al­ly even in dan­ge­rous con­di­ti­ons.
    Out of the 42 lan­ding sites that are inclu­ded in the pro­po­sal, a num­ber is to be restric­tion to a maxi­mum num­ber of 39 peop­le ashore at any time.
  • The ban on moto­ri­sed traf­fic (snow mobi­les) on fjord ice in a num­ber of fjords that has so far been issued every sea­son for some years now is to recei­ve legal sta­tus. This has alrea­dy hap­pen­ed ear­lier this year regar­ding Van Mijen­fjord and Van Keu­len­fjord and the cur­rent pro­po­sal inclu­des Tem­pel­fjord, Bill­efjord and Dick­son­fjord.
  • Regu­la­ti­ons regar­ding traf­fic in the vicini­ty of polar bears are to be tigh­te­ned con­si­derable. So far, it is for­bid­den to approach polar bears in a way that may lead to dan­ger to humans or bears. The­re is, as of now, no legal­ly requi­red mini­mum distance, and it is, in rever­se con­clu­si­on, legal­ly pos­si­ble to approach polar bears in a safe man­ner – usual­ly done by boat – as long as this does not lead to any dis­tur­ban­ce. Dis­tur­bing wild­life is gene­ral­ly pro­hi­bi­ted, inclu­ding polar bears as well as any other wild­life. Accord­ing to the cur­rent pro­po­sal, the­re will be a gene­ral mini­mum distance of 500 metres from polar bears.
  • A maxi­mum speed of 5 knots in the vicini­ty of cer­tain bird colo­nies for boats (who would want to argue against that?).
  • Ships and boats have to keep a mini­mum distance of 300 metres to wal­rus hau­lout sites.
  • The use of dro­nes will lar­ge­ly be for­bid­den.

Remar­kab­ly enough, the pro­po­sal does also inclu­de some legal faci­li­ta­ti­ons, alt­hough of a rather punc­tu­al natu­re:

  • No spe­ci­fic per­mit is requi­red any­mo­re for visits to Virgo­ham­na.
  • The “no traf­fic zone” around the remains of the pomor site and wha­ling sta­ti­on in Habe­nicht­buk­ta on Edgeøya is to be abolis­hed.
  • The legal requi­re­ment for site-spe­ci­fic gui­de­li­nes is to be abolis­hed (accord­ing to the pro­po­sal, most sites in ques­ti­on would be off limits any­way).

Of the abo­ve-men­tio­ned points, the second one is the one that bears the most radi­cal chan­ge com­pa­red to the sta­tus quo, limi­t­ing the traf­fic to a small num­ber of loca­ti­ons in huge are­as that can, until now, be visi­ted rela­tively free­ly. This would have a dra­ma­tic impact on the prac­ti­ce of ship-based tou­rism as it is today. A simi­lar pro­po­sal was alrea­dy under dis­cus­sion around 2008/09. Back then, the pro­po­sal was final­ly con­si­de­red unre­a­son­ab­le and unsub­stan­tia­ted and it was hence lar­ge­ly rejec­ted.

A com­pa­ri­son bet­ween the fol­lowing to sketch maps will illus­tra­te the dif­fe­rence bet­ween today’s legal regime and prac­ti­ce (first map) and the cur­rent pro­po­sal (second map).

New rules, Spitsbergen

Lan­ding sites on Nord­aus­t­land and near­by islands that have been visi­ted by tou­rists in recent years (not com­ple­te).

Neue Regeln, Spitzbergen

Lan­ding sites in the same area that would be avail­ab­le accord­ing to the cur­rent pro­po­sal (com­ple­te).

This examp­le inclu­des just Nord­aus­t­land and the sur­roun­ding islands. Simi­lar­ly drastic illus­tra­ti­ons could be made for most other parts of Sval­bard.

It is, so far, “only” a legal pro­po­sal in a public hea­ring sta­ge that is open until ear­ly Febru­a­ry 2022. After that, the pro­po­sal will go through the usu­al pro­cess and we will see what comes out of it. Accord­ing to the envi­ron­men­tal aut­ho­ri­ty (mil­jø­di­rek­to­ra­tet), the chan­ges will come into for­ce in 2023.

Also the new Nor­we­gi­an government has announ­ced to con­ti­nue with the explo­ra­ti­on of new oil and gas fiel­ds in the Bar­ents Sea. Also bot­tom traw­ling, an eco­lo­gi­cal­ly devas­ta­ting form of fishe­ry, will remain pos­si­ble even in the natu­re reser­ves.

Intro­du­ced mice spread into the wild

The­re are, by default, no rodends in Spits­ber­gen. But things chan­ged when the sett­le­ments were estab­lis­hed in the ear­ly 20th cen­tu­ry. A vole ori­gi­nal­ly from eas­tern Euro­pe (micro­tus levis) came up most likely with ani­mal feed. The vole is well estab­lis­hed in the vicini­ty of Grum­ant­by­en alt­hough the pla­ces was aban­do­ned in 1962.

Von Natur aus gibt es in Spitz­ber­gen kei­ne Nage­tie­re. Die Ost­eu­ro­päi­sche Feld­maus (Micro­tus levis) ist im 20. Jahr­hun­dert mit dem Men­schen ein­ge­reist, wahr­schein­lich mit Tier­fut­ter. Gehal­ten hat sich sich in einem Gebiet mit ver­gleichs­wei­se üppi­ger Vege­ta­ti­on, näm­lich unter den Vogel­fel­sen öst­lich der 1962 auf­ge­ge­be­nen rus­si­schen Sied­lung Grum­ant­by­en, zwi­schen Lon­gye­ar­by­en und Bar­ents­burg. Traces of various sorts are fre­quent­ly found in lar­ge area stret­ching from Bar­ents­burg in the west to Sas­sen­fjord in the east. Nor­we­gi­an Polar Insti­tu­te bio­lo­gists moni­tor the popu­la­ti­on with came­ra traps and real traps which are laid out by peop­le in Lon­gye­ar­by­en.

Introduced mice, Spitsbergen

Vole (micro­tus levis) in a trap inLon­gye­ar­by­en.
Pho­to © Max Schwei­ger.

The result: the voles seem to have estab­lis­hed a sta­ble popu­la­ti­on not only in Bar­ents­burg and Grum­ant­by­en, but also in the area of Dia­ba­sod­den and Hat­ten, two adja­cent cliffs with sea­b­irds colo­nies in Sas­sen­fjord. This indi­ca­tes that the rodents can sur­vi­ve on their own in the wil­der­ness in Spits­ber­gen. This may have to do with a war­ming cli­ma­te, espe­cial­ly in the win­ter.

Experts do not con­si­der this deve­lo­p­ment a thre­at for the regio­nal eco­sys­tem and bio­di­ver­si­ty, and the Nor­we­gi­an aut­ho­ri­ties have so far deci­ded against an attempt to erra­di­ca­te the intro­du­ced voles in Spits­ber­gen. Other coun­tries, name­ly New Zea­land and Aus­tra­lia, are taking a much dif­fe­rent approach on their sub­ant­arc­tic islands, whe­re mice, rats and other intro­du­ced spe­ci­es have been erra­di­ca­ted with gre­at effort, as has been on qui­te recent­ly in South Geor­gia.

First Covid-19 case in Spits­ber­gen

On Wed­nes­day (06 Octo­ber), Spits­ber­gen got the first con­fir­med case of a Covid-19 infec­tion. The pati­ent was not a local or a tou­rist, but a crew mem­ber of a Rus­si­an fishing ship who got evacua­ted for medi­cal rea­sons near Bjørnøya, as NRK wro­te. He was flown to Lon­gye­ar­by­en and later to the uni­ver­si­ty hos­pi­tal in Trom­sø. The­re is only one inten­si­ve care bed with arti­fi­cial respi­ra­to­ry equip­ment in Lon­gye­ar­by­en.

The­re is no sus­pi­ci­on of fur­ther infec­tions, for examp­le amongst the per­so­nell of the heli­co­p­ter or in the hos­pi­tal in Lon­gye­ar­by­en. The vac­ci­na­ti­on rate in Longyearbyen’s adult popu­la­ti­on is bey­ond 90 %, and local­ly, the public opi­ni­on about pos­si­ble infec­tions is gene­ral­ly rela­xed.

Corona, Spitzbergen

Coro­na viru­ses on high seas: a crew mem­ber of a Rus­si­an fishing ves­sel was tes­ted posi­ti­ve – the first posi­ti­ve coro­na test in Lon­gye­ar­by­en.

Until now, the­re had not been any offi­cial­ly con­fir­med coro­na infec­tions in Spits­ber­gen bey­ond tho­se on board the Hur­tig­ru­ten ship Roald Amund­sen in 2020, but the Roald Amund­sen had not been to any of the sett­le­ments. The remar­kab­ly long peri­od without any coro­na infec­tions may, howe­ver, also have to do with the rather inte­res­ting local tes­ting stra­te­gy, which is descri­bed as fol­lows by some who wan­ted to get them­sel­ves or their child­ren tes­ted becau­se they had sym­ptoms which they con­si­de­red rele­vant: “You have sym­ptoms? Stay at home!” And later: “You don’t have sym­ptoms? Then you don’t need a test.” This is also a way to keep a place coro­na-free 🙂 at least on paper.

In late Sep­tem­ber, Nor­way has lifted most coro­na restric­tions, inclu­ding tra­vel restric­tions for Euro­pean coun­tries and cer­tain tra­vel­lers from other coun­tries, accord­ing to the Nor­we­gi­an government.

Non-Nor­we­gi­an locals may lose the right to vote

August and Sep­tem­ber have final­ly brought some soul food to the tra­vel blog, which I hope you have enjoy­ed. Now it is time to catch up with some news. Not all of them are good ones, unfor­tu­n­a­te­ly.

For­eign resi­dents of Lon­gye­ar­by­en may lose voting rights

Ear­lier this year, the Nor­we­gi­an government in Oslo has made a pro­po­sal that would lead to the with­dra­wal of voting rights on a com­mu­ni­ty level from non-Nor­we­gi­an locals in Lon­gye­ar­by­en. The mat­ter is com­plex; it is based on the Spits­ber­gen Trea­ty which puts the Spits­ber­gen islands under Nor­we­gi­an sov­er­eig­n­ty. Based on that, a Nor­we­gi­an law from 1925 deter­mi­ned that “Sval­bard is part of the King­dom of Nor­way”. But depen­ding on the occa­si­on, Spits­ber­gen is some­ti­mes trea­ted as part of Nor­way and some­ti­mes as a for­eign ter­ri­to­ry by Nor­we­gi­an aut­ho­ri­ties.

Non-Nor­we­gi­an citi­zens who live in Nor­way usual­ly get the right to vote and to be elec­ted on a com­mu­ni­ty level after 3 years of resi­dence. This is also valid for Lon­gye­ar­by­en sin­ce the­re is an elec­ted com­mu­ni­ty coun­cil the­re (Lokals­ty­re), which was estab­lis­hed in 2002.

Now, ear­lier this year the Nor­we­gi­an government made a pro­po­sal that ties the right to vote (and to be elec­ted) to a resi­dence peri­od of at least 3 years in a com­mu­ni­ty on the Nor­we­gi­an main­land. Resi­dence in Lon­gye­ar­by­en would not count any­mo­re, accord­ing to this pro­po­sal.

It will not sur­pri­se that this pro­po­sal was most­ly not met with sym­pa­thy in Lon­gye­ar­by­en, espe­cial­ly amongst tho­se direct­ly con­cer­ned. With­drawing voting rights from a signi­fi­cant part of the local popu­la­ti­on does not fit well into a Euro­pean demo­cra­tic con­text.

The chan­ge of government that fol­lo­wed to the par­lia­men­ta­ry elec­tions in Nor­way in Sep­tem­ber does, so far, not seem to have any con­se­quen­ces for the pro­po­sal, which was dis­cus­sed in Sep­tem­ber in Lon­gye­ar­by­en by local poli­ti­ci­ans during a coun­cil mee­ting.

Longyearbyen voting right

Lon­gye­ar­by­en has an inter­na­tio­nal popu­la­ti­on with Nor­we­gi­ans being the lar­gest group. The local coun­cil is domi­na­ted by Nor­we­gi­an dele­ga­tes.

Dele­ga­te of cent­re and right-wing par­ties sto­ke fears

It is remar­kab­le how a dele­ga­te of the right-wing “Frems­kritts­par­ti” (“Pro­gress par­ty”) com­men­ted the mat­ter, as quo­ted by Sval­bard­pos­ten (this author’s trans­la­ti­on): “… peop­le who have not been to Nor­way, who do not have rela­ti­ves in Nor­way, who do not have any con­nec­tion to Nor­way, who do not have any par­ti­cu­lar inte­rest in Nor­way, may come to Sval­bard, vote and get elec­ted them­sel­ves. For many it is logi­cal that this should not be so. This is a shame for the good citi­zens that we have here, most of whom are rea­son­ab­le peop­le, but it is a ques­ti­on of secu­ri­ty: we can just not take the risk.”

It is one of many remar­kab­le aspects of this com­ment that the spea­ker implies that Sval­bard is not part of Nor­way. Other­wi­se, resi­dence in Lon­gye­ar­by­en would natu­ral­ly imply a con­nec­tion to Nor­way and an inte­rest in the coun­try.

A dele­ga­te of the par­ty “Høy­re” (“Right”) made a simi­lar state­ment: “We risk that so many for­eig­ners come that the­re may not be a sin­gle Nor­we­gi­an in the coun­cil.”

This fear is by no means reflec­ted by rea­li­ty, neit­her in the local popu­la­ti­on nor in the com­po­si­ti­on of the coun­cil – even less by the lat­ter, actual­ly, which is stron­gly domi­na­ted by Nor­we­gi­an dele­ga­tes.

Social demo­crats and left dele­ga­tes speak out in a dif­fe­ren­tia­ted way or cri­ti­cal­ly

Mayor Arild Olsen from the social demo­cra­tic Arbei­der­par­ti spo­ke out very cri­ti­cal­ly about the popo­sal, using both prac­ti­cal argu­ments and con­si­de­ra­ti­ons of demo­cra­tic theo­ry. Dele­ga­tes of the par­ty “Venst­re” (“Left”) made dif­fe­ren­tia­ted comments.

As a result, the coun­cil was not able to come up with a cohe­si­ve state­ment and the issue will be taken up again later. The dead­line for the hea­ring is 25 Octo­ber.

100 years Sval­bard church

On Satur­day, 28 August, Sval­bard Church cele­bra­ted 100 years. The first church was built in a very short time in 1921 and it was sanc­ti­fied on 28 August 1921, but it was des­troy­ed during a Ger­man attack in 1943. Work to build a new church was star­ted in 1956, but it was not befo­re 1958 that the new buil­ding could be sanc­ti­fied. Con­struc­tion work is cur­r­ent­ly done to ensu­re a long and strong future life for today’s church.

100 years Svalbard church

The ser­vice to cele­bra­te 100 years of Sval­bard Church was held on the place whe­re the ori­gi­nal church was built in 1921.

Yesterday’s ser­vice that cele­bra­ted 100 years of Sval­bard Church was held in the loca­ti­on of the first, ori­gi­nal church from 1921 by priest Siv Lim­strand tog­e­ther with the pro­tes­tan­tic and the catho­lic bishops from Trom­sø. The parish inclu­des the who­le muni­ci­pa­li­ty of Sval­bard. The­re is no other church. Bar­ents­burg has a cha­pel.

Fare­well to Mark Sab­ba­ti­ni

Most days have been a bit grey and win­dy recent­ly, but full of joy and good expe­ri­ence out­doors, so time keeps fly­ing. After a long peri­od of absti­nence, for­ced upon me by the pan­de­mic, I enjoy being out­side and that’s defi­ni­te­ly the focus the­se days, rather than spen­ding time on the com­pu­ter. The­re would be more than enough to wri­te about, sto­ries and pic­tures from Spitsbergen’s stun­ning natu­re, so many beau­ti­ful impres­si­ons …

But that has to wait right now, we’ll get the­re later.

Things keep hap­pe­ning also up here in Spits­ber­gen, and it would be qui­te out of place to wri­te about being in the out­doors, with stun­ning sce­ne­ry, wild­life encoun­ters and inte­res­ting “dis­co­ve­ries” of phe­no­me­na such as fos­sils and others, without having writ­ten about cer­tain other events first.

Mark Sab­ba­ti­ni left Spits­ber­gen invol­un­ta­ri­ly

Espe­cial­ly when it is about someo­ne who had to lea­ve the island after more than 10 years (13, to be more pre­cise). Someo­ne who didn’t have plans to lea­ve.

The power of the Sys­sel­mes­ter, the Nor­we­gi­an government’s hig­hest repre­sen­ta­ti­ve in Sval­bard, inclu­des to expel someo­ne from the islands. This is some­thing that hap­pens rather rare­ly, for examp­le in cases of per­sons repe­tead­ly found to have used or even sold ille­gal drugs, some­thing con­si­de­red even more dan­ge­rous to a rela­tively young com­mu­ni­ty in the far north, with several mon­ths of polar night, than else­whe­re in the world.

Also tou­rists who arri­ved without any means to sup­port their stay in Spits­ber­gen have alrea­dy been sent back on the next flight. The aut­ho­ri­ties don’t want peop­le to sleep in the streets or to camp wild in or near Lon­gye­ar­by­en, some­thing that is a) for­bid­den and b) dan­ge­rous (polar bears).

So far, so under­stand­a­ble. But someo­ne who has lived here fo 13 years?

Mark Sab­ba­ti­ni: 13 years of Spits­ber­gen, 13 years of “Ice­peop­le”

The Ame­ri­can Mark Sab­ba­ti­ni, per default a news­pa­per- and media per­son, had alrea­dy spent con­si­derable time in pla­ces inclu­ding Ant­arc­ti­ca when he came to Lon­gye­ar­by­en 13 years ago and star­ted publi­shing his free, Eng­lish news­pa­per and web­site “Ice­peop­le”, an alter­na­ti­ve media plat­form next to the local news­pa­per Sval­bard­pos­ten and lan­guage-wise cer­tain­ly more acces­si­ble to an inter­na­tio­nal public. Sin­ce then, Mark has been part of Longyearbyen’s inven­to­ry, sit­ting at a table in a cor­ner of Café Frue­ne and focus­sing on his com­pu­ter while live is busy around him, kee­ping his news­pa­per and web­site updated.

But eco­no­mi­c­al­ly, “Ice­peop­le” never beca­me a source of wealth (some­thing that its edi­tor and aut­hor had never pri­ma­ri­ly inten­ded): paper edi­ti­on (the “fishwrap­per”, as Mark hims­elf calls it) and the web­site are ful­ly acces­si­ble for free, and adver­ti­sing has never brought much busi­ness. The har­dest of several eco­no­mi­c­al blows that Mark had to suf­fer, howe­ver, was the Gam­le Sykeh­jem (“Old hos­pi­tal”) sto­ry. This is a long sto­ry in its­elf (click here read more about it). In short words: Mark was one of several who bought a flat in this house which then show­ed struc­tu­ral dama­ge due to mel­ting per­ma­frost, so it had to be evacua­ted on short noti­ce and tho­se who had bought a pro­per­ty the­re suf­fe­red more or less a full loss (some more than others, depen­ding on cir­cum­s­tan­ces). Other blows that Mark had to suf­fer affec­ted his health, inclu­ding fal­ling and get­ting hurt bad­ly in times of clear ice on the street in Lon­gye­ar­by­en. This all is well-known local gos­sip and Mark has never made a secret of it.

Eco­no­mi­c­al and health-wise down­hill deve­lo­p­ment

Final­ly all reser­ves were used up, and Marks eco­no­mi­c­al situa­ti­on in the nort­hern­most sett­le­ment (if we exclu­de Ny-Åle­sund, which does not have a nor­mal popu­la­ti­on) of the rich coun­try Nor­way reached a point whe­re he had incre­a­sing dif­fi­cul­ties to fund his dai­ly spen­dings. So it went on for a while. Many did this and that to help, and it went on, with bet­ter and more dif­fi­cult times.

It is one of the con­se­quen­ces of the Spits­ber­gen Trea­ty that the­re is no net­work for social secu­ri­ty bey­ond what is pro­vi­ded by everybody’s home coun­tries. And as the Nor­we­gi­an aut­ho­ri­ties do not accept peop­le living in unsett­led situa­ti­on in Spits­ber­gen, they reser­ve the right to expel peop­le from Sval­bard who are not eco­no­mi­c­al­ly able to take care of them­sel­ves on a level accep­ted by the aut­ho­ri­ties.

New Sys­sel­mes­ter Lars Fau­se has a dif­fe­rent view­point on this who­le ques­ti­on than his pre­cur­sor, and he deci­ded to “take respon­si­bi­li­ty” as soon as he came into power recent­ly.

Mark hims­elf has told his view of this sto­ry in public a num­ber of times, inclu­ding Sval­bard­pos­ten, his own web­site Ice­peop­le and social media and in per­so­nal com­mu­ni­ca­ti­on, also to this aut­hor. He empha­si­zes that he does not only under­stand and accept the Sysselmester’s decisi­on, but he also con­si­ders it to be the right decisi­on, in the light of the deve­lo­p­ment in recent years.

Back to Alas­ka

Mark left Spits­ber­gen last Wed­nes­day, hea­ded for June­au in Alas­ka, whe­re he wants to reco­ver health-wise and eco­no­mi­c­al­ly. Then, he wants to find hims­elf a place in Alaska’s media land­s­cape, pre­fer­a­b­ly with a focus on remo­te com­mu­nities.

Mark Sabbatini

Mark Sab­ba­ti­ni during his good­bye in Lon­gye­ar­by­en last Wed­nes­day. Pho­to: Ice­peop­le.

Mark wants to con­ti­nue with Ice­peop­le, so the page will be acti­ve and updated also in the future, sup­ply­ing an inter­na­tio­nal public with inte­rest in local mat­ters with all sorts of detail­ed infor­ma­ti­on, pre­sen­ted in Mark’s own way, often with a touch of humour and writ­ten in a style that may occa­sio­nal­ly be slight­ly chal­len­ging for non-nati­ve Eng­lish spea­kers.

By the way, Mark has con­tri­bu­t­ed with proofrea­ding to a num­ber of texts used in various publi­ca­ti­ons, print and online, by this aut­hor, inclu­ding shor­ter texts such as qui­te recent­ly in Sval­bardhyt­ter or lon­ger ones inclu­ding updates of the Eng­lish ver­si­on of the gui­de­book Spits­ber­gen-Sval­bard. Accord­ing to Mark, he will be hap­py to make simi­lar con­tri­bu­ti­ons also in the future, some­thing I’ll be hap­py to make use of (as a paid ser­vice, as befo­re)

If you want to read more about the cir­cum­s­tan­ces of Mark’s depar­tu­re, then you will find ple­nty of stuff on his own site, Ice­peop­le.

So long for now, Mark! See you again!

Adven­ture Oslo air­port. And: the ans­wer

The Sval­bard­bu­tik­ken mys­te­ry

To start with, the ans­wer to the ques­ti­on in the last blog. It was about this pho­to:

Svalbardbutikken, Longyearbyen

A cor­ner in Sval­bard­bu­tik­ken, Longyearbyen’s refur­bis­hed super­mar­ket.
$64-ques­ti­on for Spits­ber­gen-nerds: what’s wrong here? 🙂

So, what is wrong? Obvious­ly, it wasn’t real­ly obvious 🙂 the pho­to on the wall is mir­ror-inver­ted. They say they will get a cor­rec­ted ver­si­on at some sta­ge.

Adven­ture Oslo air­port

Spen­ding a cou­p­le of hours in an air­port is pret­ty much the most boring thing that I can think of. why wri­te about it? Becau­se it can go wrong if you expect it to work as nor­mal.

Test or no test, that is the ques­ti­on

The ques­ti­on keeps com­ing up wether or not coro­na tes­ting is requi­red on a trip to Spits­ber­gen. The cur­rent situa­ti­on is that immu­nis­ed tra­vel­lers (ful­ly vac­ci­na­ted or recent­ly reco­ve­r­ed, docu­men­ted with an ack­now­led­ged docu­ment such as a digi­tal Euro­pean vac­ci­na­ti­on cer­ti­fi­ca­te) do not have to show a cer­ti­fi­ca­te for a nega­ti­ve test upon ent­e­ring Nor­way or che­cking in on a flight to Spits­ber­gen. That may chan­ge at any time, as ever­ything the­se days; aut­ho­ri­ties inclu­ding the Sys­sel­mes­ter have alrea­dy deman­ded to re-intro­du­ce the test obli­ga­ti­on.

In my expe­ri­ence, it is an incre­a­sing risk that you can’t necessa­ri­ly rely on gover­nemt decisi­ons espe­cial­ly when things are chan­ging more or less every week. Then it’s wha­te­ver the air­port offi­cial you are dealing with thinks. What use is in being right if you don’t get any fur­ther with is? An non-Coro­na-examp­le: legal­ly, as a EU citi­zen you don’t need a pass­port to tra­vel from Nor­way to Spits­ber­gen, an ID card will do. But at the air­port they demand a pass­port from non-Nor­we­gi­ans. Addi­tio­nal­ly, machi­nes like auto­ma­tic check-in machi­nes or auto­ma­ted pass­port con­trol machi­nes can only read pass­ports and not ID cards, so you are well advi­sed to bring your pass­port any­way.

Digital EU-vaccination certificate, Oslo Gardermoen

Digi­tal EU-vac­ci­na­ti­on cer­ti­fi­ca­te: makes the pro­cess more effi­ci­ent in Oslo Gar­der­mo­en.
But not necessa­ri­ly effi­ci­ent.

So, back to the initi­al ques­ti­on: cur­r­ent­ly, tes­ting is not requi­red under the abo­ve-men­tio­ned con­di­ti­ons. But it may still be a good idea to have enought time to get one, just in case. The­re are tes­ting faci­li­ties at Oslo Gar­der­mo­en air­port, but you may need a cou­p­le of hours until you get the cer­ti­fi­ca­te, depen­ding on traf­fic. And, accord­ing to Sval­bard­pos­ten, the coro­na test sta­ti­on at Trom­sø air­port accepts only tra­vel­lers com­ing in from inter­na­tio­nal flights, but not out­go­ing ones desti­ned for Sval­bard. Tho­se have to use equi­va­lent ser­vices in Trom­sø cent­re. Next to the extra time, expect cos­ts of 1500 kro­ner (plus trans­por­ta­ti­on) unless you are a regis­tered resi­dent in Spits­ber­gen, then it is free.

Adven­ture Oslo air­port: tra­vel infor­ma­ti­on

The usu­al two hours from arri­val at Oslo Gar­der­mo­en air­port until depar­tu­re may be enough when it’s ear­ly in the morning. Or may­be not. It is bizar­re how rapidly the queu­es are get­ting lon­ger and lon­ger until they reach ama­zing dimen­si­ons. Last wee­kend, one could get the impres­si­on that they are dis­cus­sing tes­ting requi­re­ments in detail with every sin­gle pas­sen­ger befo­re you could con­ti­nue to the actu­al check-in area. For us, with desti­na­ti­on Lon­gye­ar­by­en and ful­ly vac­ci­na­ted, it was a very short con­ver­sa­ti­on – “have a good trip” was the only com­ment as soon as we had pro­vi­ded our infor­ma­ti­on. But get­ting that far is the point, and it takes much, much lon­ger for many other flight pas­sen­gers, and you may have hund­reds in the queue ahead of you. From then on, the pro­cess was actual­ly rea­son­ab­ly effi­ci­ent (secu­ri­ty check, pass­port con­trol). Luck­i­ly.

Oslo Gardermoen Airport

An empty air­port Oslo Gar­der­mo­en: that’s histo­ry!

Accord­ing to Nor­we­gi­an media, tra­vel­lers have recent­ly spent up to 8 hours queu­ing up in the air­port of Oslo Gar­der­mo­en, mis­sing their flights and ever­ything that comes with that (for­get about social distancing!). In the inte­rest of all tra­vel­lers, we can only hope that they impro­ve the logistics signi­fi­cant­ly soo­nest. Any­way, if you plan to tra­vel through Oslo at any time soon, make sure to have extra time.

And make sure to have even more time if you are not ful­ly vac­ci­na­ted or don’t have an accep­ted docu­ment for this.

Van Mijen­fjord: new natio­nal park

It has been a long pro­cess, hence it did not come as a sur­pri­se when the new Van Mijen­fjord natio­nal park was estab­lis­hed by law on 18 June. The new natio­nal park inclu­des the nort­hern part of Van Keu­len­fjord and adjoins the South Spits­ber­gen Natio­nal­park. As a result, the who­le sou­thern part of the main island of Spits­ber­gen from sou­thern Nor­dens­kiöld Land (the land area bet­ween Isfjord and Van Mijen­fjord) is now pro­tec­ted on natio­nal park level.

national park

Inner Van Mijen­fjord in late May: now a natio­nal park.

Suc­ces­sor of the Nor­dens­kiöld Land natio­nal park

The Van Mijen­fjord natio­nal park is the ampli­fied suc­ces­sor of Nor­dens­kiöld Land natio­nal park which was estab­lis­hed in 2003, but restric­ted to a land area on the north side of Van Mijen­fjord. The­re have been chan­ges sin­ce 2003 that have made the adjus­t­ment necessa­ry, inclu­ding the lar­ge clean-up of the for­mer mining sett­le­ment of Sveagru­va. Ano­t­her aspect that nee­ded pro­per regu­la­ti­on were the regu­lar requests by the Sys­sel­man­nen (now Sys­sel­mes­ter) who asked the public to stay clear of cer­tain sen­si­ti­ve are­as during the late spring and eary sum­mer, but without a pre­cise defi­ni­ti­on of the area and time inter­val in ques­ti­on and the legal bin­ding­ness, lea­ving room for doubt for tho­se who were ope­ra­ting in the area. This is now regu­la­ted bey­ond any grey zone poten­ti­al. Yet ano­t­her aspect is moto­ri­sed traf­fic (snow mobi­les) on fjord ice. Also here, the Sys­sel­man­nen has spo­ken out bans on such traf­fic on a regu­lar basis. Inclu­ding the­se bans which were spo­ken out on an annu­al basis in a per­ma­nent law makes it easier to know what one has to deal with. The details of some of the­se regu­la­ti­ons are of cour­se at least in part con­tro­ver­si­al; the government has cho­sen a very exten­si­ve and strict approach to the ban on moto­ri­sed traf­fic, some­thing that not all local tour enthu­si­asts in Lon­gye­ar­by­en are hap­py with as the oppor­tu­nities to visit the south part of the main island are now stron­gly restric­ted. It is defi­ni­te­ly important to some peop­le, but their num­ber is actual­ly limi­ted as even in Lon­gye­ar­by­en the­re are not too many peop­le adven­tur­ous (and inte­res­ted) enough to ven­ture on long trips into the­se are­as, far from the com­mon rou­tes. The­re were no snow mobi­le rou­tes of rele­van­ce for tou­rists in the area in ques­ti­on.

Three new bird sanc­tua­ries, snow mobi­le traf­fic stron­gly restric­ted

Van Mijenfjord national park

The new Van Mijen­fjord natio­nal park (green bounda­ry). Yel­low dots: new bird sanc­tua­ries. Red area: moto­ri­sed traf­fic on fjord ice restric­ted (see text). Shaded area: total ban on moto­ri­sed traf­fic on fjord ice.
Map © Nor­we­gi­an Polar Insti­tu­te / Sys­sel­mes­ter på Sval­bard, modi­fied.

Gene­ral­ly, the new Van Mijen­fjord natio­nal park law inclu­des the same regu­la­ti­ons that app­ly to all natio­nal parks. Bey­ond the­se, fol­lowing rules of prac­ti­cal impor­t­ance for locals and tou­rists inclu­de the fol­lowing:

  • Mid­ter­hu­ken, Ehol­men and Maria­hol­men are now bird sanc­tua­ries and it is for­bid­den to approach the­se are­as or to move wit­hin them from 15 May to 15 August. Click here to access a map that shows the exact loca­ti­ons of the­se new bird sanc­tua­ries.
  • Snow mobi­les and other moto­ri­sed traf­fic on the fjord ice of Van Mijen­fjord and Van Keu­len­fjord are now lar­ge­ly restric­ted every sea­son from 01 March. Only regis­tered locals are allo­wed to cross the fjord ice of parts of Van Mijen­fjord on the shor­test safe rou­te, while other are­as are now com­ple­te­ly off limits for this kind of traf­fic from 01 March. Click here to access a map that shows the are­as in detail. Non-moto­ri­sed traf­fic (ski, dog sledge) remains legal­ly pos­si­ble wit­hin the usu­al legal frame­work.
  • The core area o the for­mer mining sett­le­ment of Sveagru­va is exclu­ded from the natio­nal park. Here, exten­si­ve clean-up works will con­ti­nue for ano­t­her while until most of the sett­le­ment is remo­ved.
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