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Home* News and Stories → New rules coming in 2025

New rules coming in 2025

It’s the news we had been kind of wai­ting for. Kind of. Hoping they wouldn’t come in the end, at least not like this: the new rules are now sche­du­led to enter force on Janu­ary 01, 2025. From then on, Spits­ber­gen won’t be the same any­mo­re, with signi­fi­cant rest­ric­tions on the free­dom to move around over lar­ge parts of the archi­pe­la­go. The Nor­we­gi­an govern­ment published their decis­i­on today (Fri­day, Febru­ary 09).

It is lar­ge­ly exact­ly what had been put on the table well over two years ago, despi­te gre­at public inte­rest with a lot of input during the public hea­ring pro­cess. All this did obvious­ly not beco­me part of the decis­i­on as it was final­ly made. Obser­vers such as AECO and the local tou­rism orga­niza­ti­on in Lon­gye­ar­by­en have expres­sed their dis­ap­point­ment over what they con­sider a pro­cess whe­re the decis­i­on was made befo­re the public dis­cus­sion even star­ted. Many had main­tai­ned hopes that the govern­ment would recon­sider cer­tain parts of the ori­gi­nal pro­po­sal in the light of the hea­ring pro­cess and public dis­cus­sion, but this did cle­ar­ly not hap­pen.

Closing national parts, Spitsbergen

The are­as mark­ed red will lar­ge­ly be clo­sed from Janu­ary 2025.

The most important chan­ge for many will be that the lar­ge pro­tec­ted are­as, the natio­nal parks and natu­re reser­ves, will most­ly be clo­sed for tou­rists. The­se are­as com­pri­se appro­xi­m­ate­ly 65 % of the Spits­ber­gen archi­pe­la­go, as illus­tra­ted in the map.

The chan­ges

The over­view of the most important chan­ges as far as they are curr­ent­ly known:

  • Natio­nal parks and natu­re reser­ves will most­ly be clo­sed for tou­rists from 2025, except 43 loca­ti­ons sel­ec­ted by the govern­ment. This does not app­ly to indi­vi­du­al tra­vel­lers and locals.
  • Within natio­nal parks and natu­re reser­ves, ships may not car­ry more than 200 pas­sen­gers.
  • Dro­nes may not be used in pro­tec­ted are­as.
  • A speed limit of 5 knots appli­es within 500 met­res from cer­tain bird colo­nies.
  • Mini­mum distances from wal­rus hau­lout sites: 150 m for moto­ri­zed boats, maxi­mum speed 5 knots within 300 met­res.
  • Mini­mum distances from polar bears will be set, pro­ba­b­ly 300 or 500 met­res depen­ding on the sea­son.
  • Brea­king fast ice will be for­bidden, with excep­ti­ons for ship­ping rou­tes to Lon­gye­ar­by­en, Barents­burg, Ny-Åle­sund and for the coast guard.
  • Per­mis­si­on pro­ce­du­res for camps will be tigh­ten­ed.
  • Bans on moto­ri­zed traf­fic on fjord ice will be enhan­ced.

Some of the­se aspects are alre­a­dy to vary­ing degrees in force or com­mon good prac­ti­ce.

Con­se­quen­ces

Lar­ger ships within the seg­ment known as expe­di­ti­on crui­se ships, car­ry­ing bet­ween 100 and 200 pas­sen­gers, have in recent years alre­a­dy lar­ge­ly focus­sed on well-estab­lished stan­dard landing sites within the usu­al con­text of crui­ses of a week or so. The­se ships will pro­ba­b­ly be able to con­ti­nue their ope­ra­ti­ons with com­pa­ra­tively minor adjus­t­ments. And as for pri­ca­te yachts, not­hing may chan­ge for them at all. Tho­se who will be most serious­ly affec­ted are most likely small ships which ope­ra­te long trips of two weeks or even more, while rely­ing hea­vi­ly on a high degree of fle­xi­bi­li­ty when it comes to picking landing sites in the given con­text of wea­ther, ice and wild­life on a cer­tain day in a par­ti­cu­lar area. Their ope­ra­ti­on basis will lar­ge­ly vanish with the new regu­la­ti­ons.

Com­ment

Dis­clai­mer: I can not cla­im to be a neu­tral obser­ver. I am part of the tou­rism indus­try with a strong focus on small ships and long trips with many landings.

Having said that, I want to com­ment on the new regu­la­ti­ons from the per­spec­ti­ve of someone with com­pre­hen­si­ve prac­ti­cal expe­ri­ence in the said trade. Having this expe­ri­ence makes me a bia­sed, but, well, an expe­ri­en­ced obser­ver – that’s what comes with expe­ri­ence (and that’s pro­ba­b­ly about the only kind of fun­ny part of this text).

Let’s assu­me the the basic idea of the who­le pro­ject was to do some­thing to pro­tect natu­re. Con­side­ring the broa­der poli­ti­cal pic­tu­re, I am not even so sure about this. As we have seen in the recent past, Nor­way plans to deve­lop oil and gas also in the Barents Sea; some of the are­as we are tal­king about here will be open for com­mer­cial fishing also in the future, name­ly bot­tom traw­ling in waters deeper than 100 m in the Hin­lo­pen Strait; and Nor­way has recent­ly taken important steps towards deep-sea mining in lar­ge parts of the nor­the­ast Atlan­tic. Con­side­ring this who­le pic­tu­re, it seems ridi­cu­lous that tou­rists impo­se a thre­at to the envi­ron­ment that would jus­ti­fy clo­sing an area about the size of Den­mark.

This does, howe­ver, not mean that the­re wouldn’t be important tasks for poli­tics. More about that soon.

Tourists, Nordaustland

Small group hiking in a remo­te part of Nord­aus­t­land: not pos­si­ble any­mo­re from 2025.

The small num­ber of remai­ning landing sites will see hea­vy traf­fic main­ly from big­ger ships that will divi­de them among­st them­sel­ves well befo­re the sea­son starts pro­ba­b­ly by means of a pre-boo­king sys­tem that the indus­try will estab­lish based on sys­tems that area alre­a­dy in use. The idea of picking landing sites depen­ding on local con­di­ti­ons given on any par­ti­cu­lar day will beco­me obso­le­te, some­thing that is also a safe­ty issue, and not a small one. And pri­va­te yachts who are often lack­ing local expe­ri­ence and know­ledge of rele­vant local regu­la­ti­ons may con­ti­nue as they plea­se. It seems safe to assu­me that even more small sai­ling boats may in the future use the loopho­le of run­ning trips as pri­va­te which actual­ly are com­mer­cial. Small groups with poor manage­ment, be it becau­se of lack of know­ledge or out of igno­rance, have often pro­ven to be a grea­ter pro­blem for the envi­ron­ment than a well-mana­ged group of 50 or 100 tou­rists or even more.

Good poli­ti­cal manage­ment would estab­lish a balan­ce of quan­ti­ty – defi­ning upper limits – and qua­li­ty – defi­ning lower limits.

Of cour­se the­re would have been – and still is – the need and pos­si­bi­li­ty to intro­du­ce a good set of rules. It may seem obso­le­te now, but just to men­ti­on a few examp­les, as has been done many times in recent years by many peo­p­le and orga­ni­sa­ti­ons, often with a back­ground of com­pre­hen­si­ve rele­vent know­ledge and expe­ri­ence: it would be an opti­on to redu­ce pas­sen­gers num­bers even fur­ther, for exam­p­le to a maxi­mum of 100 pas­sen­gers per ship (just an exam­p­le – a lower num­ber could be con­side­red if it is accept­ed that quan­ti­ty is the main pro­blem) that puts tou­rists ashore any­whe­re. Also the num­ber of ships could be limi­t­ed. As in some natio­nal parks else­whe­re in the world, the num­ber of per­mits for ships could be limi­t­ed, ide­al­ly this should have been done in, say, 2010 or 2012, when a simi­lar dis­cus­sion was alre­a­dy going on but traf­fic was still on a com­pa­ra­tively lower level. It is the gro­wing num­ber of ships and tou­rists that we have seen sin­ce then that many are worried about, a con­cern shared to some degree by this aut­hor. So, if the num­ber of ships and tou­rists is con­side­red to be the key issue, why then not redu­ce the num­ber of ships and tou­rists? Why ins­tead redu­ce the qua­li­ty of the expe­ri­ence espe­ci­al­ly for tho­se ships who bring a minor frac­tion of total visi­tor num­bers, while lea­ving the lar­gest ships and the smal­lest boats in rela­ti­ve peace? Redu­cing the free­dom to land any­whe­re to a num­ber of well-sel­ec­ted com­pa­ra­tively robust landing sites (vege­ta­ti­on would be an important fac­tor in sel­ec­ting such sites) could be intro­du­ced for lar­ger ships which car­ry lar­ger pas­sen­ger num­bers which are more likely to dama­ge vege­ta­ti­on, while the­re is no need to rest­rict move­ments for a group of, say, twel­ve pas­sen­gers plus one or two gui­des.

Con­side­ring the abo­ve-men­tio­ned idea of defi­ning a lower limit for qua­li­ty, a thought-through, prac­ti­ca­ble gui­de cer­ti­fi­ca­ti­on sche­me would be the solu­ti­on, defi­ning a mini­mum level of rele­vant know­ledge that is available within any – any (befo­re someone gets real­ly mad with me: except locals) – group tra­vel­ling Spits­ber­gen out­side the sett­le­ments or, say, out­side manage­ment area 10 (a lar­ge area main­ly around Lon­gye­ar­by­en, cove­ring most of Isfjord and the land area south of Isfjord from the west coast almost to the east coast). Pro­blem sol­ved.

It is a pity that the chan­ce was missed to design a good regu­la­to­ry frame­work for sus­tainable qua­li­ty tou­rism. Secre­ta­ry of the envi­ron­ment Andre­as Bjel­land Erik­sen, in office sin­ce 2023, did not lea­ve the impres­si­on to be par­ti­cu­lar­ly know­led­geable about or inte­res­ted in the mat­ter when making comm­ents to Sval­bard­pos­ten.

Befo­re he took over in the minis­try of cli­ma­te and the envi­ron­ment, Erik­sen was, by the way, under­se­cre­ta­ry of sta­te in the minis­try of petro­le­um and ener­gy.

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last modification: 2024-02-09 · copyright: Rolf Stange
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