Wednesday, 12 June 2013 14:01


Written by 
Svalbard Photo: Tony Siddique

Located between 74 and 81 degrees North and considered by most people the middle of nowhere, Svalbard is actually centrally located in the Arctic.

About 2600 people belonging to no less than 40 different nationalities live in Svalbard, most of them in the main town of Longyearbyen, whereas a few hundreds populate the mining community of Barentsburg and the scientific stations in Ny Aalesund.

Discovered in 1596 by Dutch explorer Willem Barentsz, Svalbard - the "Cold Coast" of the old norse - has a history that include whaling, mining, exploration, research and tourism, coal, polar explorations and research. To this day, the three pillars of the Svalbard society remain coalmining, research and tourism.

According to the Svalbard Treaty signed in Paris in 1920, Norway has sovereignty over Svalbard, however, the treaty at the same time confer on people and companies of other nations equal rights to residence in Svalbard as well as the right to fish, hunt or undertake any kind of maritime, industrial, mining or trade activity.

Anyone can come to Svalbard and work, and pay only about 8 % tax. In return, no social benefits and services taken for granted elsewhere are provided. Health care is limited and if you are not able to sustain a living for yourself you will be deported from the archipelago.

67% of the land mass on Svalbard is protected and there are 21 natural reserves and 7 national parks. As for the waters surrounding Svalbard, a definite increase in fishing vessels along the coast of Svalbard has occurred as the water now is open up to 82 degrees north almost year around on the west coast of Svalbard.

To the Norwegian authorities - The Governor’s office has 33 people employed in the three departments of the environment, the police and the administration -, garbage from fishing vessels that reaches the shores of Svalbard and constitutes a threat to the fragile environment on and around Svalbard is a major concern.

The effects of climate change, in general, are very visible on Svalbard with retreating glaciers and diminishing sea ice, especially in the fjords.

Around 60 000 to 80 000 tourists visit Svalbard by boat each year and some of the vessels carry up to 5 500 passengers. The search and rescue agreement signed by the Arctic Council member states marks a clear step forward for the safety of cruise ship tourism and other kinds of shipping in the Arctic, yet, better capacity for operations need to be provided.

Fishing vessels are kept track of by satellite surveillance, but the charts for the waters around Svalbard are poor and in need of further development. The use of pilots, too, will improve the safety of shipping.


Source: A presentation made by Deputy Governor Mr. Lars Erik Alfheim at a meeting of the Standing Committee of Parliamentarians of the Arctic Region (SCPAR) on 3 June in Longyearbyen, Svalbard




Arctic Council Indigenous Peoples' Secretariat
Fram Centre, Postboks 6606 Langnes, NO-9296 Tromsø, Norway