Svalbard: Protection of environment and cultural heritage, safety
The list you find below will draw your attention to some important facts and rules, but is not complete. If you want to travel in Svalbard, make sure you have all information relevant for your plans – especially if you travel on your own; for organised tours, this will be done by the tour operator. If you ignore the rules, you risk trouble – be it a heavy fine from the Norwegian gourvernour or safety-wise in the field. Further information regarding the legislation may be obtained from the Sysselmannen (Gouvernour) in Longyearbyen.
All traffic in most parts of Svalbard has to be notified to the gouvernour in Longyearbyen before departure and are subject to permission. For this, an insurance which covers costs in case of search-and-rescue operations will be required, among others.
There is a number of protected areas with different status and protection levels up to the bird sanctuaries, Moffen and Kong Karls Land, all of which are no-go-areas for tourists (Kong Karls Land year-round). You may not even get closer than a defined distance. Make sure you know the regulations and where the areas are.
Keep your distance from breeding birds, especially all ground-breeders such as geese, ducks, Arctic terns. If the adult birds leaves the nest, then the egg will cool down quickly or it will be snatched by predators (fox, birds,…). Don’t be tempted to take photographs of exposed eggs – just move away quickly if you see any.
If you are attacked by Arctic terns, then you are very likely too close to their nests. Move away, don’t go closer – you don’t need that photo. The birds attack your highest part, just hold up your hand, walking stick, tripod etc. Never try to hit the birds, they will not harm you, but you may quickly injure them.
Around Longyearbyen, camping is allowed only on the official camp site.
Air raid defence.
There is no infrastructure outside the settlements (tracks, huts etc.).
There are no huts for tourists in Svalbard, except from 3 owned by local tour operators which are used for their organised tours (they can not be rented out to individual tourists due to relevant legislation). Almost every hut in Svalbard is owned by somebody, and without permission of whoever the owner is, you can’t use it. Bad weather does not justify an exception.
Protection of the cultural heritage of Svalbard
There are special rules regarding the protection of the cultural heritage. Everything that is older than 1946 is automatically protected, how insignificant ever it may seem to you, such as a rusty nail or a piece of broken glass. Younger sites can also be protected A lot has been trampled or stolen already; make sure that future visitors can also see what is there when you get there. You are not allowed to camp near cultural heritage sites, even when they are snow-covered and thus not visible. A number of historical sites is closed to all traffic.
Polar bears & weapons, glaciers, rivers
You need a suitable weapon as soon as you have left the settlements in case of polar bear contacts, and you need to know how to use the weapon and how to react. This is also valid for the surroundings of Longyearbyen, e.g. Platåfjellet, Bjørndalen, Adventdalen, Longyearbreen (the glacier behind Longyearbyen) etc. Suitable firearms can be rented in Longyearbyen provided you hold a license that allows you to have the same weapon in your home country.
This should drive every reasonably minded polar bear back.
Polar bears are quite rare within the settlements! Don’t walk through Longyearbyen like John Wayne, or through Barentsburg etc. Exception: the abandoned mining settlement Pyramiden – you must have a weapon to walk around here safely. You are not allowed to carry a weapon with you inside any public building such as the supermarket, restaurants and others. Some public places offer short term weapon storage while you visit, for example the museum and the Svalbardbutikken (supermarket) in Longyearbyen. If you can’t avoid carrying a weapon in a settlement, make sure it is visibly unloaded (remove the bolt from the rifle) and take the shortest route from A to B (from whereever you pick up the weapon to where you start your tour).
If you want to walk on glaciers or cross rivers, you need relevant experience and equipment.
For camping in the wilderness, you need some kind of polar bear alarm system. If you don’t have the manpower to do nightwatch and you don’t have a good polar bear watch dog, then a tripwire is the common technical solution. Make sure you have got your tripwire well ahead of time, at the time of writing (2012) they are almost impossible to get in Longyearbyen. Check for example Ice Bear Alarm to obtain a tripwire.