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Natural and human history

Map: Tusenøyane

Gene­ral & pro­tec­tion sta­tus

The name ‘Tusenøya­ne’ is descrip­ti­ve and means ‘Thousand Islands’, which is to some degree appro­pria­te, alt­hough the actu­al num­ber of islands is nowhe­re near a thousand. None of the islands is lar­ger than a very few km2. They are quite expo­sed to the open sea and in shal­low, not very well char­ted waters, so most of them are quite inac­ces­si­ble. They are part of the Sou­the­ast Sval­bard Natu­re Reser­ve.

Sin­ce 2014, most of Tusenøya­ne may not be visi­ted any­mo­re from 15th May to 15th August each year to pro­tect birds.

Addi­tio­nal­ly, some of the island may not be visi­ted any­mo­re at all (Zieg­lerøya, Delit­schøya, Spekkhol­men and most of Halv­må­neøya) to pro­tect his­to­ri­cal remains. The­se rest­ric­tions are stron­gly con­tro­ver­si­al, but they are in force.

In many ways – geo­lo­gy, land­scape, eco­lo­gy – Halv­må­neøya and Ryke Yse­øya­ne may be con­side­red to be part of Tusenøya­ne, but offi­ci­al­ly, they are not part of this archi­pe­la­go, as they are on the east side of Edgeøya, a bit fur­ther away.

For more, detail­ed infor­ma­ti­on: the Gui­de­book Spits­ber­gen-Sval­bard

Guidebook Spitsbergen-Svalbard


The Tusenøya­ne con­sist enti­re­ly of dolerite/diabas rocks (both very simi­lar to basalt), upper Juras­sic to Creta­ce­ous in age. The Tri­as­sic sedi­ments, into which the basal­tic rocks intru­ded, have been com­ple­te­ly remo­ved by ero­si­on, they still exist fur­ther north, whe­re they form the Edgeøya. Other rocks can be found only as erra­tic bould­ers (‘ice age dirt’).


Small, rocky islands wit­hout gla­ciers. Many of the Tusenøya­ne are quite bar­ren and cover­ed with lar­ge basal­tic bould­ers, other ones have a beau­tiful, mos­sy tun­dra with small tun­dra lakes. Land­scape-wise and geo­lo­gi­cal­ly, also Halv­må­neøya and Ryke Yse Øya­ne belong to the Tusenøya­ne.

Tusenøyane: Havmerra

Bar­ren land­scape on the litt­le island of Hav­mer­ra.

The­re are no signi­fi­cant ele­va­tions and no gla­ciers on Tusenøya­ne. The coast­li­ne is often made up of litt­le cliffs or bould­er bea­ches.

Tusenøyane: rocky landscape, Halvmåneøya

Bar­ren and rocky land­scape on Halv­må­neøya, typi­cal for Tusenøya­ne.

Flo­ra and fau­na

High arc­tic. Part­ly very bar­ren, part­ly quite rich moss tun­dra. Espe­ci­al­ly the mos­ses are quite vul­nerable – try to step on stones or are­as with dry vege­ta­ti­on, which is less vul­nerable.

Tusenøyane: Tundra, Lurøya

Tun­dra, drift­wood and a litt­le lake on Lurøya:
typi­cal land­scape set­ting for Tusenøya­ne.

The­re are small lakes on some of the islands, whe­re often Red-throa­ted divers breed – beau­tiful birds in a beau­tiful envi­ron­ment, but easy to dis­turb at the nest. Keep your distance! The Tusenøya­ne are an important place also for Com­mon eider ducks and geese. The lar­ge are­as of shal­low water pro­vi­de good fee­ding grounds for wal­rus, which live on shells, which again live in the mud at the bot­tom.

Tusenøyane: walrus

Wild­life on Tusenøya­ne (I): wal­rus herd.

Polar bears are also quite com­mon in Tusenøya­ne.

Tusenøyane: polar bear

Wild­life on Tusenøya­ne (II): polar bear.


Ear­ly in the 17th cen­tu­ry, the wha­lers knew the area and estab­lished some shore sta­ti­ons here. Wal­rus may actual­ly have been more important for them in this par­ti­cu­lar regi­on than wha­les.

Tusenøyane: triple blubber oven, whalers

17th cen­tu­ry tri­ple blub­ber oven on Spekkhol­men.

Tusenøya­ne were also a favou­ri­te hun­ting area for the Pomors, who may have been the­re befo­re Wil­lem Barents offi­ci­al­ly dis­co­ver­ed Spits­ber­gen in 1596. In the ear­ly 20th cen­tu­ry, Nor­we­gi­an trap­pers caught lar­ge num­bers of polar bears here, espe­ci­al­ly on Halv­må­neøya and in the Tjuv­fjord on the sou­thern side of Edgeøya.

Tusenøyane: trapper station Bjørneborg, Halvmåneoya

Trap­per sta­ti­on Bjør­ne­borg, Halv­må­neoya.

Tusenøya­ne (gal­lery)

Click on thumb­nail to open an enlar­ged ver­si­on of the spe­ci­fic pho­to.

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last modification: 2021-11-14 · copyright: Rolf Stange