Heritage past the Arctic Circle / Columns / The Foreigner

Heritage past the Arctic Circle. Svalbard: that mystical, magical Arctic archipelago. For Norwegians, it is an icon of remote adventure and pristine wilderness. There are severe threats to the environment from climate change. How long will the polar bears and glaciers last? We might be tempted to rush up there to visit now before it is too late, but what are the impacts of tourism on an archipelago whose main settlement, Longyearbyen, has a population of just over 2,000 people? This is a major contrast with 25,000 tourists arriving each year by air, and double that number via cruise ship.

arcticcirclenorway, climatechangearctic, arctictourism



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Heritage past the Arctic Circle

Published on Monday, 21st May, 2012 at 13:31 under the columns category, by Ilan Kelman.
Last Updated on 22nd May 2012 at 12:04.

Svalbard: that mystical, magical Arctic archipelago. For Norwegians, it is an icon of remote adventure and pristine wilderness. There are severe threats to the environment from climate change.

Svalbard Arctic Fox puppies
Svalbard Arctic Fox puppies
Photo: Ilan Kelman


How long will the polar bears and glaciers last? We might be tempted to rush up there to visit now before it is too late, but what are the impacts of tourism on an archipelago whose main settlement, Longyearbyen, has a population of just over 2,000 people?

This is a major contrast with 25,000 tourists arriving each year by air, and double that number via cruise ship.

Tourism means seeing the place; getting out to a hunter's hut to feel the aura of Arctic life, to identify Arctic flowers, and to capture that exquisite photograph of an Arctic fox.

At the same time, Arctic vegetation grows slowly. A steady stream of trampling tourists can destroy the tundra. Taking home a 'souvenir' from a hut or the surrounding area would soon make Svalbard's heritage vanish.

Some tour operators are there to make money; get in, get rich, and get out. Others care deeply for the place, however, using their tourism business as a livelihood permitting them to live there.

Norway is in the midst of completing a formal application for Svalbard to be a United Nations endorsed World Heritage Site. The dichotomy is that this forces a certain level of protection and management, but will also attract more tourists.

These debates and competing interests occur against the backdrop of social and environmental change. The number of tourists has more than doubled over the past 15 years. Longyearbyen's population has increased by one third over the same period.

Add in climate change, and major and unavoidable change still looms, even if agreement were reached on how to balance tourism with Svalbard's environment and society.

Change is the only constant, even in the High Arctic

Dr. Ilan Kelman is a Senior Research Fellow at the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research - Oslo (CICERO).




Published on Monday, 21st May, 2012 at 13:31 under the columns category, by Ilan Kelman.
Last updated on 22nd May 2012 at 12:04.

This post has the following tags: arcticcirclenorway, climatechangearctic, arctictourism.





  
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