6 Environmental protection

6 Environmental protection

6.1 Introduction

The protection of Svalbard's distinctive wilderness character is one of several overriding objectives of Norway's Svalbard policy. The purpose of environmental protection measures on Svalbard is to ensure that the presence of humans and their activities are kept within the framework required to protect the unique wilderness of the archipelago.

If environmental protection is to be an integral part of a coherent Svalbard policy, it must be integrated effectively into the various sectors on Svalbard. Each of these sectors is responsible for helping to ensure that the environmental objectives of the Government are attained.

The management of the environment on Svalbard was dealt with in depth in Report No. 22 (1994-1995) to the Storting on environmental protection on Svalbard. This report thoroughly documented the value of the wilderness on Svalbard and its unique cultural remains. It also described in detail the pressures exerted on the natural and cultural environment by human activities on and around the archipelago, and the influence of external pressures. Moreover, an account was given of the environmental protection legislation and the basis and organization of the environmental administration, as well as international cooperation pro-cesses and obligations that are relevant to Svalbard. These descriptions and accounts have also served as the basis for this report. The main conclusions of the report gained wide acceptance in the Storting, cf. Recommendation S. No. 11 (1995-1996). The Government has based the present report on the guidelines laid down by the Storting when dealing with the report on environmental protection.

This chapter examines the status and the planned follow-up of the efforts to attain the Government's environmental objectives for Svalbard. The major challenges faced in this process are described and assessed in the light of recent developments and prognoses for various activities on the archipelago. When it comes to tourism, motor traffic, research, plans for continued coal mining and development in the Norwegian and Russian settlements, the situation has changed significantly since Report No. 22 (1994-1995) to the Stor-ting was submitted. In the light of this, a number of measures beyond those endorsed by the Storting when dealing with the report are set out. In this report the Government primarily examines environmental protection issues relating to the land areas and territorial waters of Svalbard. Regional and long-range pollution, the fisheries in the Barents Sea and climate change are dealt with as external pressures.

6.2 Protection of the wilderness character of Svalbard

The Government's environmental policy for Svalbard is based on the protection of the distinctive wilderness character of the archipelago. The Government wishes Svalbard to be one of the world's best managed wilderness areas. In the event of a conflict between environmental targets and other interests, environmental considerations are to prevail within the limits dictated by treaty obligations and sovereignty considerations.

This objective requires the maintenance of the virtually untouched nature of the environment with respect to continuous areas of wilderness, flora, fauna and cultural remains. Most of the land areas on Svalbard are still wilderness-like, according to the definition used by the Norwegian nature management authorities, cf. Box 6.1. Currently only relatively small areas concentrated around the five settlements have roads and other major infrastructure development. With the exception of the settlements and adjacent areas, the archipelago as a whole is still predominantly a large, continuous area of wilderness.

Boks 6.1 Wilderness-like areas

The Norwegian nature management authorities use the term "wilderness-like area" for areas that are more than five kilometres from major infrastructure development such as roads and power lines. This definition is based on the distance from such development, and thus gives no indication of whether the flora and fauna have been affected by other types of land use, harvesting of species or pollution.

The Government's objective is to maintain the current extent of wilderness areas on Svalbard, and to seek to avoid infrastructure development that fragment continuous wilderness areas. However, this aim involves much more than simply preserving the landscape. The flora, fauna and valuable cultural remains should also be preserved virtually intact. Thus the ecosystems must be kept intact, and natural ecological processes and biological diversity must be allowed to develop more or less undisturbed by human activities. Representative and important cultural remains shall be left undisturbed as part of the landscape.

Boks 6.2 Legislation and plans for environmental protection on Svalbard

Instead of making the legislation in force on the mainland applicable to Svalbard, separate regulations have been laid down with respect to environmental protection on Svalbard to the degree necessary. Such regulations have been laid down pursuant to Section 4 of the Svalbard Act. Current legislation in the area of environmental protection includes:

  • General provisions on nature conservation, laid down in the Regulations concerning protection of the natural environment on Svalbard (the Nature Conservation Regulations) of 1983. These regulations apply to Svalbard and the surrounding territorial waters, with the exception of activities in the land-use planning areas surrounding the settlements, provided that the proposed measures comply with an approved land-use plan drawn up in accordance with the land-use regulations (see below).
  • Provisions regarding the management and protection of species, laid down in the Regulations concerning the management of wildlife and freshwater fish on Svalbard and Jan Mayen of 1978, the Regulations concerning the management of wildlife on Svalbard of 1996, and the Regulations con-cerning the management of char and other freshwater organisms on Svalbard of 1997. These regulations apply to Svalbard and the surrounding territorial waters. Moreover, the Regulations relating to the establishment of two plant protection reserves on Svalbard of 1932 include protection provisions for plant life within two clearly defined geographical areas on central Spitsbergen (see Figure 6.1).
  • Provisions regarding the protection and man-agement of cultural remains on Svalbard of 1992. These regulations apply to Svalbard and its surrounding territorial waters.
  • Provisions on the protection of areas, laid down in the Regulations relating to the establishment of bird reserves and large nature conservation areas on Svalbard of 1973. These regulations contain protection provisions for the large nature reserves and national parks on Svalbard (see Figure 6.1). Nature reserves provide the strictest protection against human activities. These protected areas constitute a total of 56 per cent of Svalbard's land area, and 72 per cent of the waters within the territorial limit. The regulations also include protection provisions for 15 bird reserves along the western coast of Spitsbergen. Two smaller nature reserves with appurtenant protection regulations were also established in 1983 and 1984.
  • Provisions relating to land-use planning in the settlements, laid down in the Regulations concerning land-use planning in the settlements on Svalbard. These regulations apply inside clearly delimited land-use planning areas which include the settlements on Svalbard (see Figure 6.1).

In addition to statutes and regulations, management plans and action plans have been devel-oped for various aspects of environmental protection on Svalbard. Such plans lay down guidelines for future control of environmental protection on Svalbard and may include specific plans for the implementation of measures au-thorized by the existing environmental protection provisions, and proposals for any necessary revisions of these provisions. The plans comprise long-term plans, general plans and more detailed action plans related to specific issues. The management plan for tourism and outdoor recreation on Svalbard for the period 1995-1999 is one example of a general long-term plan. The management plan for Svalbard reindeer, and the management plan for Nordvest-Spitsbergen national park are examples of plans that are being developed in the areas of species management and area protection.

It must nevertheless be possible to use and experience the wilderness-like areas of Svalbard. The main challenge is to ensure that current use and traffic do not reduce the extent or quality of the areas in the long term. Human activities must therefore be restricted so that any undesirable impact and traces are avoided as far as possible. Nor should the way we travel and behave in the wild restrict the opportunities for other people to experience the wilderness in full. This is particularly relevant when it comes to off-road motor traffic. Protecting the virtually untouched nature of Svalbard's environment requires clear limits for all activities on and around the archipelago, and efficient instruments that can keep the environmental pressure exerted by activities in and around the settlements to a minimum.

Figure 6.1 Boundaries of protected areas, plant protection reserves, land-use planning areas and territorial waters on Svalbard.

6.3 Follow-up of the Government's environmental objectives for Svalbard

6.3.1 Main elements of the Government's follow-up

Report No. 22 (1994-1995) to the Storting outlines a number of general measures that will be of great importance for attaining the Government's environmental objectives for Svalbard. These include organizational measures designed to coordinate environmental management and improve its efficiency, a comprehensive upgrading of the legislation relating to environmental protection, the preparation of new conservation and management plans, and measures to improve knowledge and monitoring of the environment on Svalbard. These, together with the integration of environmental considerations into the various sectors on Svalbard and international cooperation on the protection of migratory species and prevention of long-range pollution, comprise the most important elements of the Government's follow-up efforts. Other important measures include information and awareness-raising activities, inspection and control in the field, and prosecution of violations of the legislation.

The Ministry of the Environment has delegated its authority pursuant to the environ-ment protection regulations to the Directorate for Nature Management with respect to species management, management of existing protected areas and proposals for new ones, as well as traffic, cabins, tourism and outdoor recreation. Responsibility for contingency planning in the event of acute pollution, clean up of pollution, waste management and emission requirements has been delegated to the Norwegian Pollution Control Authority. The Director-ate for Cultural Heritage has had the main responsibility for the management of cultural remains since 1991.

A separate environmental department with its own head of department has been established at the office of the Governor. This department is responsible for pollution control and nature and cultural heritage management. The Governor cooperates closely with the Directorate for Nature Management, the Norwegian Pollution Control Authority, the Directorate for Cultural Heritage and the Norwegian Polar Institute on drawing up plans for and carrying out various tasks.

In 1996 a committee was appointed to draft a comprehensive environmental protection act for Svalbard. The committee submitted its recommendation in spring 1999 in NOU 1999:21 The Act relating to Environmental Protection on Svalbard. The draft act is now being circulated for comment, and the Government will follow up this process and submit a bill on environmental protection on Svalbard to the Storting.

When dealing with Report No. 22 (1994-1995), the Storting requested the Government to submit a proposal for new protected areas on Svalbard to ensure that important biologically-productive land areas are protected. The Government intends to submit a conservation plan for Svalbard with proposals for new protected areas and proposals for amending or rescinding old plant protection legislation. A proposal for revised regulations for existing protected areas will also be submitted. Work on the conservation plan commenced in 1998. The Government has also drawn up a proposal for a conservation plan for Bjørnøya.

A separate environmental monitoring system for Svalbard and Jan Mayen has been drawn up. This system will be part of national efforts to monitor biological diversity. It is based on existing monitoring activities, and will be linked to the environmental objectives for Svalbard by using environmental indicators. The monitoring system applies to both natural and cultural environments, and is intended to make it easier to evaluate target achievement and to identify areas where additional measures and policy instruments are needed. This work is being carried out in cooperation with the Directorate for Nature Management, the Norwegian Polar Institute, the Norwegian Pollution Control Authority, the Directorate for Cultural Heritage and the Governor.

Some of the major challenges connected with various kinds of environmental pressure caused by human activities are described below. Further details are also given with respect to the Government's efforts and plans to meet these challenges.

6.3.2 Land-use management and infrastructure development outside the settlements


Only a small proportion of the total land area of Svalbard has so far been affected by major infrastructure development and mechanical damage caused by cross-country vehicles. However, some of the biologically richest and most productive parts of the island are inadequately protected or not protected at all.

Figure 6.2 Major infrastructure development and mechanical damage from vehicle tracks in areas in central Spitsbergen where there is continuous vegetation cover.

If we are to succeed in maintaining the extent of the wilderness-like areas and shielding areas that are particularly vulnerable or valuable from future development, it is vital that strict conditions are imposed on activities involving developments outside the existing settlements. This applies particularly to central parts of Spitsbergen, where the biologically richest land areas of the archipelago coincide geographically with the bulk of human activities and known deposits of resources that may be exploited in the future. Figure 6.2 shows infrastructure development and mechanical damage caused by human activities in central parts of Spitsbergen. See also Figure 7.3. None of the biologically richest land areas of central Spitsbergen is currently specially protected against infrastructure development or other disturbance.

The construction of infrastructure such as roads, pipelines and power lines that run through the terrain may have a particularly detrimental impact on the wilderness. In this connection, it should be mentioned that in autumn 1999, the Russian mining company Trust Arktikugol submitted an application to the Governor to construct a road from Barentsburg to Colesbukta along a specified alignment.

Such developments have major landscape and aesthetic consequences in the open landscape that is typical of the large valleys and coastal plains of central Spitsbergen. They are visible from very far off and can destroy the wilderness-like nature of the environment in large areas. The sparse vegetation and the permafrost make the terrain extremely vulnerable to physical damage, while road construction and other construction in permafrost areas require relatively extensive intervention. Road construction and increased traffic may also lead to changes in the traditional migratory patterns of reindeer to areas for grazing and calving. Such effects have been documented, e.g. in North America, over far greater areas than those directly affected by development.


A number of measures may help to prevent new developments from reducing the size of or splitting up wilderness-like areas that are not protected. For example, the general legislation on authorization to carry out developments in non-protected areas can be strengthened, and new protected areas can be established.

In the draft environmental protection act for Svalbard, restrictive provisions are proposed as regards permits and conditions for activities that involve major infrastructure development outside the settlements. In the event of a conflict between environmental considerations and other interests, the environmental considerations shall prevail. This is necessary both to prevent the loss of wilderness-like areas, and to shield biologically valuable and vulnerable areas from development.

The Government proposes that a special permit from the Governor should be required for all major infrastructure development outside the land-use planning areas around the settlements, and that environmental impact assessment must be required for all projects that are likely to have more than an insignificant impact on the natural environment. The environmental impact assessment should be used as a basis for deciding whether to grant a permit, and particular weight should be given to the impact of the project on the wilderness character or conservation value of the area.

In cases where a permit is granted for activities requiring infrastructure development outside the land-use planning areas, strict conditions must be imposed with respect to the scope and extent of the developments, their location and physical design, traffic and other activities connected with them, and if necessary, on cleaning up and restoring the areas involved when activities cease. The aim of these conditions should be to minimize the scope and impact of developments resulting from the activity, and to ensure that they are carried out in a way that makes it possible to restore the affected areas to their original natural state when the activities have been concluded.

However, the Government wishes to emphasize the difference between these areas and protected areas, where infrastructure development may not be permitted, with the exceptions set out in the conservation legislation. The establishment of new protected areas may help to safeguard some of the biologically richest wilderness-like areas from new developments. The plans for the establishment of new protected areas are described in section 6.3.4 Protected areas.

In order to retain an overview of land-use management and infrastructure development etc., the geographical locations should be entered in digital databases using the same standards as on the mainland. This will be useful when the material is updated in the future, when digital maps will also be available for Svalbard.

6.3.3 Motor traffic


As Svalbard has no road network linking the various settlements, all traffic and transport outside the settlements is by boat, aircraft or cross-country vehicle. Traffic is generated by business operations, the public administration, research and recreational activities. In recent years there has been an increase in boat traffic and particularly in snowmobile traffic as a result of an increase in the number of people visiting the archipelago.

There has been a sharp increase in tourism on Svalbard in recent years. Since 1992 the number of guest nights in Longyearbyen has risen from approximately 20 000 to more than 45 000 in 1998, an increase of approximately 125 per cent in five years. There is more on this in section 7.4.4 Travel and tourism. The growing number of tourists is reflected in the sharp rise in snowmobile traffic from Longyearbyen. The number of rental days has quadrupled since 1992, and has now reached more than 5 000 rental days per year.

Petrol sales in Longyearbyen during the snowmobile season from January 1996 to July 1999 provide an indication of the total volume of snow-mobile traffic, cf. Figure 6.3. Petrol sales increased through the 1998 season, but showed a slight decline in the 1999 season. It is assumed that permanent residents' use of snowmobiles is fairly stable as regards both volume and driving patterns, and mainly comprises driving between the settlements and to and from cabins.

From the end of the 1980s and up to 1993 there was a marked decline in helicopter traffic on Svalbard. However, since 1993 this traffic has again increased, due to the fact that helicopters are used for research and inspection purposes, and in connection with rescue operations, the ambulance service and assistance to the fishing fleet. Helicopters are also used in the tourist business, for example to transport passengers and goods to and from ships. Even though the extent of helicopter use is modest, there appears to be an interest in helicopter tourism on Svalbard.

The number of overseas cruise tourists during the summer season remained relatively constant for a long time, but coastal cruise traffic has been on the rise during the last two years. This form of tourism is still concentrated around a limited number of disembarkation sites on northwestern Spitsbergen. However, this concentration also has an unfavourable environmental impact, not least in the form of wear and tear on vulnerable cultural heritage sites. Large cruise ships may carry considerable quantities of bunker oil, thus representing a significant risk of pollution should they run aground or founder. See section 6.3.10 Acute pollution.

There has been a much faster increase in the influx of tourists and in motor traffic than was assumed when Report No. 22 (1994-1995) to the Storting was being drawn up. The tourist industry has followed up its sectoral responsibility through a number of self-imposed restrictions and rules for organized motor traffic in connection with tourism. This applies particularly to snowmobile traffic, and has helped to reduce the adverse effects of the increased traffic volume both on the natural environment and, for people who visit the areas where traffic is heaviest, on the stillness and untouched nature tourists hope to experience.

Figure 6.3 Petrol consumption in Longyearbyen from January 1996 to July 1999

Changes in the extent and type of activities in the settlements outside Longyearbyen may have an important impact on future traffic patterns. If coal mining in Svea continues, this will entail traffic between Longyearbyen and Svea and more snowmobile and boat traffic for recreational purposes originating from Svea. Any increase in coal production will lead to a corresponding increase in the number of coal transport ships in the Van Mijen-fjorden. The growing research activities on Svalbard are also leading to an increase in the use of motor vehicles. As a result, larger areas may be affected by motor traffic than is currently the case. The closing down of the coal mines in Pyramiden and Longyearbyen will result in less coal ship traffic in the Isfjorden and less traffic in the areas around these settlements.

The conflict between the growing volume of motor traffic and environmental considerations on Svalbard is apparent at a number of levels:

  • There is a conflict between cross-country motor traffic and the aim that Svalbard should be one of the best managed wilderness areas in the world.
  • There are direct negative impacts of noise and other disturbance of animal life, and wear and tear on vegetation, soil and cultural remains.
  • Noise, vehicle tracks, etc., detract from the wilderness experience.

The use of heavy cross-country vehicles in connection with coal mining operations and oil and gas exploration in the period prior to 1990 has resulted in obvious tracks, and in some cases in damage that worsens with time, in a number of locations on Svalbard, cf. Figure 6.2. Subsequent operations have been subject to stringent restrictions and have caused minimal damage. Snowmobile traffic and hiking have caused some local damage, but this type of pressure is still only found in very limited areas. Regrowth of the vegetation cover on Svalbard is very slow, and there is great danger of erosion damage that worsens with time in moist tundra areas. This indicates that all activities that may cause damage to the vegetation cover should be regulated.

The impact on animal life caused by cross-country vehicles has not been investigated sufficiently, but widespread motor traffic may, for example, reduce the extent to which Svalbard reindeer use their grazing and calving areas. Snowmobile traffic may also disturb breeding grounds of polar bears and seals on the ice in the fjords. It is also clear that helicopter traffic too close to seabird colonies, breeding and moulting areas for geese, resting places for walruses, etc., can cause harmful disturbance.

Figure 6.4 Polar bear and snowmobiles

Source: Photo: Bjørn Frantzen

Large concentrations of birds and mammals are important attractions for tourists. Hence cruise ships and smaller vessels may easily disturb birds and mammals during the critical phases of reproduction, feeding and moulting in spring and summer.

In summer, tourist ships generally use a limited number of landing sites. At some of these, for example Gravodden in Magdalenefjorden, the cultural remains and natural environment are very vulnerable to wear and tear. Some wear has also been registered in the vicinity of some of the more or less permanent base camps used by tour operators as the starting point for skiing and hiking trips. However, only very limited areas are affected, and the environmental pressure is thus insignificant.

The negative impact of motor traffic on people's enjoyment of the wilderness is more subjective, but is nevertheless an important issue in the context of the management and protection of the wilderness. The absence of mechanical noise, exhaust and vehicle tracks is an important part of the wilderness experience. An increase in motor traffic in wilderness-like areas will thus detract from the wilderness experience for people who consider peace and quiet and the absence of motor vehicles to be a vital part of this experience. Wilderness and peace and quiet are marketed as tourist attractions, but the lack of large snowmobile-free areas that are easily accessible from Longyearbyen makes it difficult to develop non-motorized tourist products to any appreciable extent.


The Government will regulate motor traffic in keeping with the aim of protecting Svalbard's wilderness, while at the same time taking necessary account of the special needs of the local population, researchers, commercial activities and non-motorized outdoor recreation.

The Ministry of the Environment has drawn up a management plan for tourism and outdoor recreation for the period 1995-1999, which is dealt with in section 7.4.4 Travel and tourism. In response to the plan, two small zones have been established in the vicinity of Longyearbyen in which snow-mobiles are banned. The scheme is a voluntary one, but it is largely complied with. However, these areas are relatively small, do not lend themselves to dog-sledding, and only offer limited possibilities for longer trips in an environment free of snow-mobiles. As a part of the environmental monitoring system for Svalbard and Jan Mayen, a programme has also been drawn up to monitor the environmental pressures caused by tourism and outdoor recreation on Svalbard. The Governor is responsible for the programme, which is to document trends in wear and tear on vegetation and soils, litter, and damage to cultural remains in particularly frequently visited or vulnerable sites.

The rapid increase in motor traffic since the management plan entered into force has shown that it is not an adequate regulatory tool. This is partly because it has not provided the necessary legal authority for the implementation of mea-sures.

The Government will revise the current management plan for tourism and outdoor recreation on Svalbard in line with the recent increase in tourism. This will be done in connection with the work on an environmental protection act and a new protection plan for Svalbard. On the basis of this, the Governor will draw up and implement detailed action plans including the regulation and restriction of motor traffic as an important component.

An environment protection act for Svalbard will be an important instrument for future regulation of motor traffic on Svalbard.

The Government intends to strengthen traffic regulation measures. The prohibition against motor traffic on thawed ground or ground that is not snow-covered will be tightened and enforced more stringently. As regards cross-country traffic on snow-covered and frozen ground, the Government intends to develop legislation that distinguishes between permanent residents and visitors, and that takes into account the purpose of the traffic. The Government will establish areas where snowmobiles are prohibited by law around the settlements - first and foremost Longyearbyen - thus ensuring adequate and easy access to areas of natural environment for non-motorized outdoor recreation for the local population and for tourists. The snowmobile-free areas should include valleys that provide corridors out of the settlements. As regards visitors, the Government's plan is that they will as a general rule only be allowed to use cross-country vehicles on snow-covered ground along designated routes within a clearly demarcated area of central Spitsbergen. The environmental authorities will continue to cooperate with the local tourist industry with respect to tourist traffic.

The Government also intends to tighten the general requirements to show due care as regards the natural environment and cultural remains. It will also propose legislation prescribing a minimum altitude for aircraft, and a ban on landing aircraft outside approved landing sites without special permission. In Report No. 50 (1990-1991) to the Storting, reference was made to the fact that helicopter transport causes stress to humans and animals because of the noise, and that helicopter sightseeing should therefore be avoided. The tourist industry has consequently not included helicopter trips as part of the Svalbard package. In the Government's view, helicopter trips for tourists should be confined to transport between settlements in the future as well. Helicopters should not be used as a means of transporting passengers to and from cruise ships. Out of consideration for animal life and the natural environment, great care should be taken as regards the use of helicopters for all user groups.

Furthermore, the noise and safety problems associated with snowmobile traffic in built-up areas will be counteracted through appropriate land-use regulation, cf. section 6.3.11 Land-use management in the settlements and by enforcing the traffic rules. Special snowmobile corridors and speed restrictions may be appropriate measures. Requiring the use of low-noise snowmobiles will also be considered. Measures to prevent acute pollution from cruise ships and other maritime traffic are dealt with in section 6.3.10 Acute pollution and Chapter 10 Safety at sea and mapping.

6.3.4 Protected areas


If establishing protected areas is to be an effective means of conserving biological diversity and the conservation value of the landscape, geology and cultural remains, it is essential that the protected areas include a representative cross-section of the natural environment and cultural remains on Svalbard. Biological production and biological diversity are concentrated mainly in a relatively small proportion of Svalbard's total land area. Effective protection of these areas is thus particularly important as a means of conserving the biological diversity of the archipelago.

A total of 56 per cent of Svalbard's land area is protected as nature reserves or national parks. Approximately 58 per cent of this is permanently ice- or snow-covered. The protection measures around Svalbard apply to 72 per cent of the territorial waters around the archipelago.

The protected areas cover a good selection of the habitats biological diversity associated with the coastal zone of Svalbard. The same applies to most types of cultural remains. However, this is not the case as regards the protection of Svalbard's land areas. The protected areas are very unevenly distributed among biogeographical regions, and in spite of their considerable size, they do not include a representative cross-section of the natural environment on land, cf. Figure 6.5. The biologically most productive and species-rich land areas of the archipelago are most poorly represented in the protected areas. For example, only 2 per cent of the inner fjord zone is protected. By way of comparison, more than 90 per cent of the least productive land areas in the Arctic polar desert zone are protected.

Figure 6.5 Proportion of various biogeographical zones on Svalbard that are protected

Inadequate protection of the biologically richest land areas of the archipelago gives cause for concern, as these are the areas that are under the greatest pressure from human activities and where new development is most likely. Thus the establishment of new protected areas including some of the most productive and species-rich land areas appears to be one of the most important means of protecting Svalbard's wilderness and biological diversity in the long term.

In areas with heavy traffic or which are otherwise vulnerable to human activities, there is also a need for better management, or protection, of biotopes and other localities that are of special importance to the protection of the archipelago's fauna and flora and cultural remains. This applies both to protected areas and other areas because the conservation legislation for the national parks and the large nature reserves is not always adequate where there are special conservation needs. In Nordvest-Spitsbergen national park in particular there are areas where there is severe wear and tear on vegetation and cultural remains. Traffic may also disturb animal life in some parts of the protected areas. Therefore, it may be necessary to regulate access to some of the most vulnerable sites for all or part of the year.

Much of Svalbard's fauna is associated with marine environments and the drift ice, with the food supply coming from the marine food chain. The rich vegetation around seabird colonies also depends on the nutrients from the sea. The terrestrial ecosystems together with the surrounding waters and drift ice constitute a closely integrated ecological unit. Protection on land and in Svalbard's territorial waters must therefore be viewed in connection with protection and management of the surrounding waters. This is particularly true in eastern Svalbard, where the nature reserves were established to protect large intact ecosystems to keep them as untouched as possible for posterity. If this aim is to be achieved in the long term, it is also necessary to protect the surrounding marine areas from activities that are incompatible with nature conservation.


The Norwegian Polar Institute has analysed how representative the protected areas are and the need for further protection, cf. "Evaluation of protected areas on Svalbard", Report No. 153 by the Norwegian Polar Institute, 1998. The report primarily deals with land areas and the coastal zone, and concludes that land areas with productive and species-rich vegetation are seriously underrepresented in the national parks and nature reserves. A number of the most important habitats for plants and animals are inadequately protected. The report especially points out the need for protection of biologically important areas that are or may come under pressure from human activities, but where developments have not so far had any major or permanent impact on the wilderness character. In this context, the valley Reindalen between Svea and Longyearbyen stands out as an area of particular conservation value.

In the report it is also proposed that the provisions of 1932 relating to the two plant protection reserves should be repealed, as this has not proved to be an effective means of protecting the flora or the natural environment in general within these areas. The flora and other natural assets of these areas can be better safeguarded by strengthening the general environmental regulations and by including parts of the botanically rich areas in new protected areas.

The Governor has started the preparation of a plan for new protected areas in cooperation with the Directorate for Nature Management. In connection with the protection plan an environmental impact assessment is being carried out to elucidate any significant impacts of protection on the environment, natural resources or the community. The proposals are for a modest but necessary supplement to protected areas on Svalbard. The two plant protection reserves where protection may be repealed cover 2 502 km2. The proposed new protected areas will total roughly the same area.

The Government intends to submit a protection plan for Svalbard that emphasizes the conservation of biologically rich land areas, which together with existing protected areas comprise a representative cross-section of Svalbard's natural and cultural environment.

To protect the important areas of natural environment between Longyearbyen and Svea against road construction or other development in the future, the Government will consider whether Reindalen, with its side valleys, should be given national park status under the protection plan. In the event that regular coal mining operations are begun in Svea Nord, permanent protection of Reindalen will be particularly important to prevent possible future development in the area. However, the protection provisions must not impede necessary motor traffic and transport between Svea and Longyearbyen on snow-covered ground in the winter.

The Government intends to revise the protection provisions for existing national parks and nature reserves on Svalbard so that the protection is strengthened and more suitable for meeting the challenges of increasing traffic in the protected areas. The current regulations are from 1973. The Governor has drawn up a proposal for new provisions which involve stricter regulation of access to some particularly vulnerable areas. The proposal will be submitted to the parties involved for comment.

Another important instrument will be the preparation of management plans for the protected areas. Such plans will be drawn up for all the protected areas on Svalbard and will be based on the new conservation regulations. The environmental authorities have started work on a management plan for Northwest-Spitsbergen national park. When this is finished, priority will be given to a management plan for the nature reserve that is being planned on Bjørnøya.

The Ministry of the Environment will also undertake an overall review and evaluation of marine protection and management measures with respect to Svalbard and adjacent waters in cooperation with the fisheries authorities. On the basis of this evaluation, the Government will implement the necessary protection and management measures in the marine areas surrounding Svalbard.

Protection of Bjørnøya

When dealing with Report No. 22 (1994-1995) to the Storting on environmental protection on Svalbard, the Storting requested the Government to draw up a plan for the conservation of Bjørnøya, cf. Recommendation S. No. 11 (1995-1996). A draft protection plan for Bjørnøya has been circulated to interested parties for comment, and an assessment has been made of the impact protection may have on various types of activity on the island and in adjacent waters. On the basis of this, the Government has drawn up a proposal for a protection plan. The Government intends to protect Bjørnøya, including the territorial waters, by making it a nature reserve.

There are several reasons why Bjørnøya is to be protected. The island is a key area for seabirds in the Barents Sea and for geese during migration to and from Svalbard. The scenery is unique and dramatic, and the island and the surrounding shallow-water areas are very valuable as relatively undisturbed areas of natural environment and a reference area for research and monitoring. The island and its adjacent shallow-water areas also constitute a distinctive natural feature which is not represented in any of the existing protected areas on Svalbard. The island also features a varied range of cultural remains of great conservation value. This is mainly because pressures on the environment are limited, both on the island itself and in the surrounding coastal waters. By protecting the island Norway will be complying with international treaties and obligations, and fulfilling national objectives that include the conservation of biological diversity and safeguarding a representative cross-section of Norwegian nature in a network of protected areas.

The nature reserve will include the whole of Bjørnøya including the marine areas out to the territorial limit, with the exception of approximately 120 hectares around the meteorological station in the north of the island. The reserve will cover approximately 177 km2 on land (including fresh water) and approximately 605 km2 of the surrounding sea. See Figure 6.6.

Figure 6.6 Protection plan for Bjørnøya

The map shows proposals for areas to be exempted from protection and areas where special provisions will apply.

A nature reserve is strictly protected, and no developments or measures that may alter the natural environment are permitted. Animals, plants and other living organisms are protected, while sea-water fisheries are currently subject to regulations laid down by the Ministry of Fisheries. It is prohibited to introduce plant or animal species, and to remove fossils or skeletal remains. Cultural remains are protected pursuant to separate regulations. The protection regulations also prohibit pollution, and contain provisions on access, including restrictions in and around the large seabird colonies in the southern part of the island.

As is the case for all other protected areas, general exemptions have been proposed for the implementation of inspection and management mea-sures and in connection with police, rescue and ambulance operations. The administrative authority may also grant permission for the necessary transport of materials, fuel and persons required for the maintenance of existing buildings, facilities and installations (radio beacons, communication masts, holiday cabins, etc.).

Research, contingency planning and safety considerations, and any need to upgrade and construct communication and navigation equipment, will be taken into consideration in the protection regulations, for example through exemption provisions.

To take into account any future petroleum activities in the waters surrounding Bjørnøya, the protection regulations will enable the administrative authorities to grant permission for necessary installations for emergency preparedness, security and control systems in an area covering approximately 3 km2 along the coast east of the station area.

Fishing inside the proposed reserve is currently regulated pursuant to regulations laid down by the Ministry of Fisheries. According to the regulations, fishing activities other than fishing for shrimps and dredging for molluscs within a distance of 20 nautical miles from land are prohibited. Currently there is no fishing activity within the territorial limit. As all the areas less than four nautical miles from land are shallower than 50 m, shrimp trawling is not a viable option. Dredging for Iceland scallops also generally takes place in waters deeper than 50 m. As there is no acute need for further restrictions with respect to fishing activities inside the reserve, until further notice fishing operations will be regulated by regulations laid down by the Ministry of Fisheries, as is currently the case. Any further restrictions on fishing activities within the reserve and in adjacent waters will be considered in a wider context at a later stage in connection with an overall review and evaluation of marine protection and management measures around Svalbard and the surrounding waters.

The administrative responsibility for the protection regulations has been assigned to the Governor of Svalbard, but the plan is that the staff of the meteorological station will be responsible for the day-to-day supervision of the area in accordance with a more detailed agreement and based on a management plan.

The Directorate for Nature Management has requested that the Governor draw up a proposal for a management plan for the Bjørnøya nature reserve which will provide a more detailed description of the interpretation and implementation of the protection regulations. The management plan will be circulated to interested parties for comment as soon as the nature reserve has been established by Royal Decree.

6.3.5 Cultural heritage management


The environmental authorities are responsible for managing and enhancing the cultural heritage for the benefit of present and future generations. This is to be done by sound management of physical remains and by disseminating information about them. Our cultural heritage is a non-renewable resource which is important as a repository of knowledge and a source of emotional and aesthetic experience. It is therefore very important to prevent human activities from diminishing the value of cultural heritage sites, and to decide which sites are to be preserved through measures that will delay their natural decay.

The threat to Svalbard's cultural heritage remains is different from that on the mainland, where the threat primarily stems from pressures on land use. On Svalbard, cultural remains outside the settlements and their immediate surroundings are only rarely threatened by development plans. On the other hand, the increase in traffic to more remote areas is a growing problem.

Over time, natural processes such as wind erosion, decay, erosion and the activities of polar bears have a detrimental effect on cultural remains, and they may even disappear completely in a relatively short period of time, for example as a result of coastal erosion. These are natural developments, and in many cases countermeasures are neither feasible nor desirable. However, at some sites of particularly great historical value or interest, preventive measures may be appropriate, for example to counteract coastal erosion.

The protection of the relics of industrial operations during the 1900s is a particular challenge. From a cultural heritage point of view, it is important to preserve traces of these activities so that this era in the history of Svalbard can be documented. However, the traces of these operations may also represent serious environmental disturbance, and the remains are often so extensive that they may be considered an eyesore. A more serious problem is that old mine tailings may contain environmentally hazardous substances, including heavy metals, PAHs and PCBs. Cleaning up after industrial operations must therefore be carried out in such a way that it protects both the environment and the cultural history.


The most important element of cultural heritage management on Svalbard will continue to be restrictive practices as regards activities and developments that may damage or reduce the value of cultural sites. This applies both to research and to economic activities. This is necessary in order to achieve the Government's environmental targets as regards the cultural heritage, and as a follow-up to the obligation to establish "archaeological reserves", which Norway has undertaken under the Malta Convention for the Protection of the Archaeological Heritage of Europe. Some of the most important measures in the coming years will include monitoring, information measures, suitable measures for public access to vulnerable sites, land-use planning in the settlements, and the assessment of new protected areas and the possibility of restricting access to some of the most vulnerable areas.

The monitoring plan for environmental pressures caused by tourism and outdoor recreation also includes the monitoring of vulnerable cultural heritage sites. The Governor began the implementation of the monitoring plan in the summer of 1997. Based on the experience gained, the methods will be developed further in the coming years.

Awareness-raising is an important protection strategy. Information measures consisting of discreet signs and simple brochures were introduced at the three cultural heritage sites Gravodden in Magdalenefjorden, Virgohamna and Smeerenburg in 1996. Information material containing detailed presentations of important cultural environments from various epochs in the history of Svalbard is also being put together.

As every site is unique and can rapidly lose its value as a result of wear and development, some of the most vulnerable sites will be assessed to decide whether it is necessary or desirable to prohibit landing or restrict access. Restrictions on access are to be introduced in Virgohamna in 2000. Experience of the design, implementation, enforcement and impact of the restrictions here will provide a basis for assessing similar measures at other sites. Both the new Environmental Protection Act and the conservation plan for Svalbard that is being drawn up will serve as general regulatory instruments in which the protection and management of the natural and cultural environment will be considered in context.

In 1998 the Governor drew up a draft plan for the conservation of industrial heritage sites. This plan will be included as part of the background material for the land-use planning that has been started pursuant to the new land-use regulations. Aesthetic considerations should be taken into account when managing such sites, especially in the vicinity of the settlements. In order to protect sites that are connected with post-war industrial operations on Svalbard, consideration will be given to whether state-owned enterprises should be given greater responsibility for protecting their cultural heritage sites. This would be in keeping with the importance the Government attaches to making the various sectors responsible for environmental protection, and also be part of the effort to integrate environmental consideration into state-run operations on Svalbard.

6.3.6 Species management


Endangered and vulnerable species and their habitats must be strictly protected on the archipelago. The aim of maintaining the flora and fauna of Svalbard more or less intact also means that the harvesting of other species must be restricted to a minimum in order to avoid any impact on the natural composition of animal populations. Harvesting may affect the size, composition and distribution of a population, and any such pressures must be kept at a low level if the ecosystems are to be kept complete or intact. This means that hunting, trapping and fishing must take place within clear limits, and makes any idea of increasing the use of wildlife resources on Svalbard for commercial purposes unrealistic. Thus the environmental targets for Svalbard impose stricter requirements for use and exploitation than are needed within the framework for sustainable use on the mainland. As regards harvesting of the marine fauna, this applies only to marine mammals that are primarily resident in the Svalbard area and that constitute important elements of the ecosystem there, including beluga whales, walruses, the Svalbard subspecies of common seal, ringed seals and bearded seals. Marine mammals, salt-water fish, crustaceans and molluscs that are occasional visitors to the area must be sustainably managed in line with marine resources in other parts of the country.

Species management on Svalbard faces challenges at a number of levels. We need to:

  • protect important habitats on Svalbard from development, disturbance and other pressures caused by local activities,
  • continue strict protection of species and of habitats for vulnerable species,
  • further develop strict regulation of hunting and freshwater fishing to ensure that populations are allowed to develop relatively unaffected by human intervention, while also allowing a reasonable amount of trapping and hunting by the local population as a recreational activity,
  • help to protect migratory species and transboundary populations and their habitats outside Svalbard through international cooperation,
  • implement measures and draw up guidelines to limit confrontations between polar bears and humans.


New regulations concerning the management of wildlife on Svalbard entered into force in 1996. These regulations take account of the principles of the Wildlife Act on the mainland. They provide better possibilities for regulating hunting and trapping, and provide the authority for protecting important wildlife biotopes. They also contain more stringent provisions against disturbing wildlife, a ban on luring, pursuing or seeking out polar bears in such a way as to disturb them, and a ban on flying over large, known concentrations of birds and animals. However, the regulations do not apply to marine mammals.

The Ministry of Fisheries will lay down new regulations for the management of marine mammals on Svalbard. These will focus on overall management, and the provisions relating to hunting and trapping will be based on the principle that species are protected unless the legislation provides otherwise. The species that may be hunted will be protected during the breeding season, and the Governor has the authority to determine the scope of the hunting. The regulations will also include requirements for hunting permits, a duty to report and a hunting permit test. They will permit trappers and hunters to catch marine mammals if this is an important part of their livelihood.

In the draft regulations it is also proposed that as a general rule, it should be prohibited to shoot seals in the water or hunt from motor vehicles, aircraft or helicopters. Furthermore, a prohibition on flying within one nautical mile of or over known resting places for walruses is proposed, and the Governor will have the authority to implement other measures to regulate access to areas that are important for marine mammals. New temporary hunting seasons have been established to ensure protection during breeding seasons until the new regulations come into force.

In connection with the forthcoming revision of the conservation provisions for the national parks and the large nature reserves, it will be proposed that all the small skerries and islets along the coast inside the protected areas should be made subject to the same provisions as the existing bird reserves. The new conservation provisions will also include restrictions on access to the areas surrounding the hot springs in Bockfjorden in Northwest-Spitsbergen national park, which are the only known habitat of a number of plant species that are regarded as endangered on Svalbard. This area also features characteristic lime deposits which are vulnerable to physical wear and tear due to trampling and snowmobiling.

New regulations concerning the management of Arctic char and freshwater organisms on Svalbard were adopted in 1997. The regulations are based on the principle that the stock of Arctic char on Svalbard must be protected. Until more is known about this stock, temporary permission has been given to fish in rivers where this is considered to be in order. The regulations include provisions pertaining to fishing permits, fishing licences and the use of nets. They also oblige all persons who fish for Arctic char to report catches to the Governor.

6.3.7 Waste


In general the amount of waste generated by the Norwegian settlements on Svalbard is large and increasing. The amount of municipal waste in Longyearbyen has increased from 970 tons in 1989 to approximately 2 400 tons in 1998. Taking into account population growth, this means that per capita waste generation has almost doubled. In spite of some measures to promote sorting waste at source, large amounts of waste are still deposited in the landfills. When the landfill in Longyearbyen was established in 1991, its expected lifetime was 75 years. Its total lifetime is now estimated at only 30 years because of the increase in the amount of landfill waste. The bulk of the waste (an estimated 75 per cent) comes from commercial activities. There are several recoverable waste fractions where only 50 per cent of the companies sort for recovery. Only 4 per cent of the commercial waste on Svalbard was recovered in 1998. The corresponding figure for the mainland was 30 per cent. Approximately 16 per cent of household waste was recovered on Svalbard in 1998. This is a substantially lower percentage than on the mainland.

Combustible materials constitute approximately 35 per cent of the total amount of waste generated in Longyearbyen and approximately 45 per cent of commercial waste. This mainly consists of wood and other materials from construction and demolition. Cardboard and paper also constitute significant fractions, as do plastics and food waste.

Svalbard does not have a refund scheme for vehicles delivered to scrapyards, and this is clearly noticeable in Longyearbyen. Approximately 100 cars and 30 snowmobiles have been abandoned in various places in the town pending dispatch to the mainland. The costs of handling scrapped vehicles on Svalbard are relatively high. Without a refund scheme or other measures that encourage people to deliver scrapped vehicles and that also cover the costs of further handling and transport, the dumping of wrecks and other discarded items will be a growing, and very unsightly, problem.

Except in Longyearbyen, few measures have been implemented to ensure that waste is landfilled in a controlled and environmentally sound manner, and landfill standards on Svalbard are lower than those on the mainland.

This shows that there is some way to go before the waste management system is as good as on the mainland and is adapted to conditions on Svalbard in accordance with the environmental targets for the archipelago. As Longyearbyen in many ways serves as a centre for waste management on Svalbard, it is particularly important to establish a waste management system that functions properly there.

State-owned limited companies have the main responsibility for waste management on Svalbard. These companies have not been included in the grant schemes, which have focused on municipalities. In order to bring waste management on Svalbard up to an acceptable standard it is necessary to further develop the existing policy instruments and make substantial investments on Svalbard, not least in Longyearbyen.

Large amounts of refuse are also washed ashore on Svalbard, causing serious problems of littering on many beaches. As it takes a long time for this waste to be broken down, it is accumulating fairly rapidly. The bulk of the waste comes from shipping, especially from the fishing fleet in the Barents Sea and the waters around Svalbard. Currently sewage from the settlements on Svalbard is released straight into the sea. Hygiene and litter problems close to the discharge points have been partly counteracted by extending sewer pipes further out into the sea. There is little documentation of any local negative effects of the sewage.

Figure 6.7 Litter on Svalbard's beaches

Source: Photo: Asbjørn Børset


The Pollution Control Act does not apply to Svalbard, and the provisions concerning pollution in the nature conservation regulations are very general. The pollution provisions for Svalbard are being revised in connection with the drafting of a new Environmental Protection Act. In this context the regulations governing shipping around Svalbard have been reviewed, including the need for legal authority to establish schemes to inspect vessels from other countries with respect to dumping of waste and pollution.

In 1997 the Governor undertook a review of the waste problems in Svalbard's settlements. In connection with the survey of current procedures for managing waste from the settlements, mining operations, power generation and ships calling at Svalbard, a number of proposals have been submitted for measures to upgrade the current waste management procedures.

The Government will establish the framework and policy instruments needed to bring waste management on Svalbard up to a standard that at least corresponds to that on the mainland, and that is in accordance with the national environmental targets for the archipelago. On the basis of this, the environmental authorities will issue orders for measures to ensure satisfactory waste treatment.

Particular emphasis will be placed on establishing a refund scheme for vehicles delivered to scrapyards or other measures to solve the problems that arise from scrapped vehicles on Svalbard, and on establishing schemes for efficient collection and satisfactory management of other waste fractions. Measures will also be considered to limit waste and prevent waste problems, for example by restricting the import and use of packaging and other products that cause waste disposal problems on Svalbard.

6.3.8 Cleaning up earlier environmental damage


Old landfills, mine tailings, and soil polluted by coal mining operations and other activities may create local pollution problems on Svalbard. These may be caused by landfilling of various kinds of environmentally hazardous waste, and by the fact that mine tailings cause acid runoff and subsequent precipitation of heavy metals when exposed to air and water. Waste products from combustion of coal in power stations may also represent a local source of pollution. The dispersal of coal powder is also an aesthetic problem.

In 1997, the Norwegian Pollution Control Authority and the Governor of Svalbard carried out a thorough survey of landfills, polluted soil and abandoned wreckage on Svalbard. A total of 110 sites have been surveyed, most of them in the Norwegian and Russian settlements. See Table 6.1 for a preliminary ranking of the sites.

The four sites that rank highest are all in the Norwegian settlements and represent different kinds of landfills. Some of these landfills are vulnerable to erosion. There are also reports of environmentally hazardous substances in sediments outside some of the sites. Many of the 64 sites requiring further examination contain tailings from coal mining operations.

One general problem as regards efforts to deal with pollution on Svalbard is that information on the pollution situation and the significance of local sources is inadequate. This makes it difficult to find an appropriate level of resources for dealing with them and to determine priorities for studies and any measures. It is also necessary to acquire a better overview of pollution from Russian settlements.

Table 6.1 Ranking of sites that have been investigated for pollution



1. Investigation or action urgently required 4
2. Investigation required 64
3. Investigation required if use of recipient changes 19
4. No investigation necessary 23


The environmental authorities are following up the survey of landfills, polluted soil and wreckage on Svalbard with orders for further environmental studies to clarify pollution hazards and the need for measures to deal with them. This work began in 1998 with more detailed studies of sites that have been given priority. Mine tailings, landfills and areas polluted by oil have been studied. This work will be continued. The findings from the survey will also be used as the basis for on-going work on land-use plans for the settlements to ensure that unsuitable areas are not used for building purposes, and that building and construction work does not spread pollution to new areas. As is the case on the mainland, the polluter is responsible for conducting surveys and implementing necessary measures at sites where there is a risk of pollution.

To obtain a better overview of the pollution situation and the importance of local sources, in 1998 the Governor began a survey on the state of the environment in the Isfjorden area, where the largest settlements are concentrated. This will require considerable resources and the results will therefore not be available for some time.

The Government wishes to emphasise that better information on the pollution situation and the importance of local and long-range inputs will be essential in order to establish the proper environmental requirements locally, and in order to play a purposeful and catalytic role at international level with a view to reducing inputs of long-range pollution to Svalbard.

Remains from earlier mining operations and other activities may be unsightly and may also constitute a danger to reindeer and other animals. However, they may also have some value as documentation of previous activities and as part of the cultural heritage, and important choices must be made before beginning clean-up operations in such sites, cf. section 6.3.5 Cultural heritage management.

6.3.9 Local air pollution


There has been little investigation of local air pollution in the settlements. The Longyearbyen power station has a simple mechanical filtering system, and the installation of a more advanced system in the new power station in Ny-Ålesund is being considered. The Barentsburg power station has no equipment to control emissions at all. Vehicles and ships in port contribute a substantial proportion of local emissions to air. In the settlements, and particularly in Longyearbyen, people may experience local air pollution and noise from snowmobiles as a problem.

Much of the monitoring and research activity in Ny-Ålesund depends on keeping local anthropogenic pressures at a very low level. It is therefore very important to restrict emissions from local activities in Ny-Ålesund.


Emissions to air from power generation in Ny-Ålesund have now been reduced after the construction of a new power plant. Emissions will be reduced even further when the new equipment has been installed. This will substantially reduce the problems caused by local air pollution for measurement of long-range air pollution at Ny-Ålesund. Measures designed to reduce local emissions from Ny-Ålesund even further will also be considered.

The environmental authorities will order the owner to draw up a report on emissions and the environmental impact of the power plant in Long-yearbyen. The authorities will also assess the need for establishing licensing procedures for the power plant based on similar cases on the mainland and whether this can be done. It is assumed that Svalbard Samfunnsdrift will be obliged to carry out the survey.

6.3.10 Acute pollution


There are land-based activities that may result in substantial acute discharges of pollution in the three Norwegian settlements Longyearbyen, Svea and Ny-Ålesund, and in Barentsburg. Moreover, there are smaller bulk fuel tanks at the meteorological stations on Hopen and Bjørnøya, at Isfjord Radio, and at the Polish research station at Hornsund. These mostly contain fuel, fuel oil and lubricants. A number of incidents involving leaks from tank facilities on Svalbard have been registered in recent years, but so far the spills have only had local consequences. Should a leak reach the sea at the wrong time during the summer, even small volumes of petroleum products may have a major negative impact on seabirds and other animals.

Exploratory drilling for oil and gas has so far not caused any significant spills. We are not currently aware of any plans for further exploration for oil on land, cf. section 7.4.2 Petroleum activities on Svalbard.

Shipping to and around Svalbard constitutes by far the greatest potential source of acute pollution. Because of drift ice, fog and incomplete marine charting, the risk of accident is believed to be far greater in the vicinity of Svalbard than elsewhere along the Norwegian coast. The consequences for the natural environment of spills in the northern areas can also be very serious, for example because large proportions of birds and animal populations are often concentrated in specific areas, because oil breaks down slowly at low temperatures, and because oil recovery in icy waters is a very difficult task. In recent years some 20 incidents that could have resulted in large spills of heavy oil have been registered. For example, a cruise ship carrying approximately 500 tons of heavy bunker oil ran aground in the Murchisonfjorden in the Hinlopen Strait in the summer of 1997.

Tankers regularly deliver oil to the bulk fuel tanks in Longyearbyen, Svea, Ny-Ålesund and at Isfjord Radio. The products delivered are mainly petrol, diesel and aircraft fuel. Fuel for the fishing fleet in the area is also delivered by offshore bunkering.

During the ice-free periods of the year there are approximately 30 to 50 calls by coal ships in Longyearbyen. These vessels generally have a bunker capacity in the region of 50 to 600 tons, part of which is heavy oil. Somewhat fewer vessels call at Barentsburg every year. If the coal production at Svea is continued and increased, cf. section 7.4.1 Norwegian coal mining operations, transport will largely take place through Bellsund and the Van Mijenfjorden. There are large numbers of seabirds, ducks and geese, and large numbers of ringed seals in Bellsund. Because of the ice conditions, coal will have to be shipped out during the time of year when the environment is most vulnerable. It is expected that a large number of ships will need to call during the ice-free season from July to October. Acute oil spills in Bellsund may have serious adverse effects on local seabird populations. The area is also vulnerable because ships pass close to land in narrow, shallow waters. The danger of oil spills in Van Mijenfjorden and Bellsund will increase with the volume of production and the volume of coal shipped from Svea. In the event of an oil spill close to land, it is unlikely that even a normal oil pollution emergency response would be able to prevent considerable damage to the environment. Changing to marine diesel as the bunker fuel would reduce the environmental risk substantially, but it would also increase fuel costs and make coal transport considerably more expensive.

The number of cruise ships calling at Svalbard has increased slightly, and currently represents the greatest potential source of acute pollution. Such cruise ships have a capacity of up to 1 500 tons of bunker oil, generally heavy oil, but normally carry around 7-800 tons of heavy bunker oil.

The number of small tourist vessels operating out of Longyearbyen has been increasing from year to year. Vessels of this type are more flexible than the larger cruise ships, and can gain access to sections of the coast that are not adequately charted. Small tourist vessels have been involved in a number of accidents in recent years, but as they usually carry a light type of bunker oil, they constitute a relatively modest pollution hazard.

Throughout the year there are hundreds of fishing vessels ranging in size from 60 to 200 feet in the Svalbard area. Their bunker capacity ranges from 100 to 500 tons, mainly diesel oil. Particularly during winter fishing operations in Hinlopen, on the north side of Svalbard, there is a danger of accidents that might cause acute oil spills.

Climatic conditions around Svalbard during the winter months clearly restrict the use of traditional oil recovery equipment. Moreover, any large-scale oil recovery operation on Svalbard represents a major challenge in terms of logistics and safety.


In accordance with Report No. 25 (1993-1994) to the Storting on the Norwegian oil pollution emergency response, the emergency response system on Svalbard has been allocated more equipment. A state-owned depot has recently been established in Longyearbyen containing the same amount of equipment as the state-owned depots on the mainland.

Today there is some oil recovery equipment in Svea which belongs to Store Norske Spitsbergen Kulkompani AS (Store Norske). However, there is very little of this kind of equipment in Ny-Ålesund or Barentsburg.

With the exception of the two latest exploration drilling operations for oil, no special requirements have been laid down for emergency response systems for enterprises on Svalbard. In the course of 1999, the environmental authorities will consider preventive measures and clarify the need for emergency response systems in connection with a review of bulk fuel tanks and activities that may cause acute spills in the settlements.

Figure 6.8 Aerial photo of the shipping lane be-tween the Van Mijenfjorden and Bellsund

Source: Photo: Norwegian Polar Institute (aerial photo S90 2033 Akseløya)

The Norwegian Pollution Control Authority intends to develop the state-run emergency response system on Svalbard as regards alternative ways of combating acute pollution, better adaptation of equipment and training for local personnel. Moreover, in conjunction with the Governor of Svalbard, the Authority will seek closer cooperation with the Russian settlement with a view to co-training and coordinating the resources to be used in the event of an accident. The need for plans for temporary or permanent storage facilities for large amounts of waste from acute spills will also be assessed.

Few measures have been implemented to prevent accidents in connection with maritime traffic around the archipelago. However, the risks associated with shipping in the vicinity of Svalbard nevertheless indicate that this traffic should be regulated at least as strictly as it is in the territorial waters off the mainland, as regards both crew safety and the prevention of acute spills. The Government's efforts to enhance safety at sea are dealt with in more detail in Chapter 10 Safety at sea and mapping.

The environmental policy targets for Svalbard indicate that only a very low level of risk should be accepted as regards environmental damage in the shipping lane to the Svea mine. It will therefore be necessary to implement a number of measures to reduce the risk associated with shipping coal through the Van Mijenfjorden and Bellsund. Requirements will be laid down for better marking of the entrance to the shipping lane and other necessary measures to improve fairway safety. Special environmental requirements will also be drawn up to apply to all vessels transporting coal from Svea. In order to contain the damage in the event of spills close to land, oil spill contingency planning will be developed with an emphasis on rapid response. A risk analysis of shipping will be carried out, which in turn will constitute the basis for an analysis of the emergency response system and for finding an appropriate level of resources for the system. To ensure that measures are as specific as possible, an environmental impact assessment of the increased volume of shipping through the Van Mijenfjorden and Bellsund will be carried out.

6.3.11 Land-use management in the settlements


The settlements on Svalbard are developing and changing rapidly. This has consequences for land use. Enterprises are changing, new functions are being integrated into the communities and communications with the mainland are being developed. As a result, new buildings, facilities and infrastructure are being constructed. This trend has led to a growing demand for new land in and around the settlements, particularly in Longyearbyen. In recent years there has been a high level of construction activity. In some cases the growing demand for new land has caused conflicts over land use.

Activities based in the settlements are the major source of traffic and other activities that may have an impact on the natural environment outside the settlements. Future development of tourism, research, education and other activities which will require the use of areas outside the settlements depends on the availability of land for construction within the settlements. Major construction projects will determine socio-economic developments for many years to come, and must therefore be thoroughly assessed before they are carried out.


The Regulations concerning land-use planning in the settlements entered into force in 1997. They apply to clearly delimited land-use planning areas in Longyearbyen, Svea, Ny-Ålesund, Barentsburg and Pyramiden. The regulations require the landowner, or whoever is authorized by the owner in each settlement, to be responsible for planning procedures and to ensure that planning the use and protection of land in the land-use planning areas is a continuous process.

Svalbard Samfunnsdrift is responsible for land-use planning in Longyearbyen, Kings Bay AS in Ny-Ålesund, and Store Norske Spitsbergen Kulkompani in Svea. Trust Arktikugol is responsible for land-use planning in Barentsburg and Pyramiden. As local democracy is developed in Longyearbyen, responsibility for land-use planning may be transferred to Longyearbyen Community Council.

According to the regulations, land-use planning is to facilitate coordination of the various interests connected to land use and the design of built-up areas in the settlements. Land-use planning must also take into account landscape, cultural heritage, pollution and recreation considerations, biotope protection, resource exploitation, business and industrial development, construction and so on. The planning process must also ensure that new buildings and facilities satisfy aesthetic standards.

The purpose of the land-use regulations is to ensure that the various interests in connection with land use in the settlements are taken into account and weighed against each other. It is important to emphasize that land-use plans in the settlements must be based on local conditions, but within the framework of national guidelines. Those responsible for land-use planning must find integrated local solutions that will facilitate good long-term development patterns. Normally it will be sufficient to base development decisions on a single plan. To ensure a degree of flexibility in the planning system, land use in the settlements should not be determined in more detail than is required for the purpose of the regulations. The land-use plans also make it possible to lay down supplementary and complementary rules. Areas must be allocated for different types of land use in accordance with the guidelines for land-use management.

On the basis of a description of the consequences of a proposed plan, the authorities will assess whether the planned land use is in accordance with the overriding aims of Norway's Svalbard policy. In order to maintain a Norwegian presence and Norwegian communities on Svalbard, there must be activity in the settlements. This activity must take place within an environmentally sound framework which also takes into account the environment pressures that it will cause outside the settlements.

Broad participation is planned from all those affected by the planning process. Plans must be approved by the Governor, who may mediate if there are any objections.

The regulations require documentation of how social, environmental and natural resource aspects have been taken into account in the land-use plan. If a land-use plan is drawn up that does not adequately consider state interests, the state authorities on Svalbard may object to the plan. The Ministry of the Environment is the superior planning authority and may, in consultation with other ministries involved, effect any changes to the plan required by national interests in the event that local solutions are not arrived at through mediation.

The Governor may prohibit construction work for up to one year while waiting for a more detailed plan if the plans are found to be inadequate.

The Regulations concerning land-use planning in the settlements also lay down that land-use plans must be revised when conditions so dictate. According to the regulations, those responsible for land-use planning should assess whether plans need to be revised at least every four years.

The draft environmental protection act for Svalbard includes provisions on land-use planning based on the regulations currently in force. However, it is also proposed that some enterprises, for example those that may have an environmental impact outside land-use planning areas, must be licensed before they start operating, even if they comply with an approved land-use plan. It is also proposed that in some cases an environmental impact assessment will be required.

In the light of the rapid changes in the settlements, causing growing pressure on land and incipient land-use conflicts, the Government considers it very important that land-use plans are drawn up on the basis of the overriding aims of Svalbard policy and local conditions in each settlement. It is important to ensure that development in land-use planning areas take place within the constraints set by environmental considerations inside and outside the land-use planning area. Future legislation should be formulated to ensure that major projects are based on an environmental impact assessment in which the impact on the environment, natural resources and the community is the basis for the decision on whether or not to grant a permit.

As of October 1999 the land-use plans for Ny-Ålesund and Svea were completed, while work is still continuing on the plans for Longyearbyen and Barentsburg. The requirement for a land-use plan for Pyramiden has been temporarily dropped because operations have been closed down.

Building of cabins is an activity which requires notification pursuant to the nature conservation regulations. Exemptions include cabins located in land-use planning areas around the settlements. Further regulation of the conditions for building, owning and transfer of ownership of cabins on Svalbard is required. Provisions concerning cabins on Svalbard have been incorporated into the draft environment protection act for Svalbard.

6.3.12 External pressures


The situation with respect to pollution on Svalbard is dominated by the relatively large amounts of long-range pollution carried with air and sea currents from more southerly latitudes. This has a far greater impact on the natural environment than local sources of pollution. Inputs of persistent organic pollutants such as PCBs and pesticides give the greatest cause for concern, as they break down very slowly and accumulate in species at the top of the Arctic food chains. High concentrations of environmentally hazardous materials may have serious impacts, including reduced fertility and lowered immune resistance.

Svalbard is also in a vulnerable position if the northerly areas of the Barents Sea are opened up for petroleum activities. In the difficult and ice-infested waters, there is a greater risk of shipping accidents close to the archipelago, with oil spills as a result. Changes to the ecological system of the Barents Sea may have a major impact on the ecosystems on the archipelago. Management of fish resources in the Barents Sea is based on the principle of sustainable resource management, i.e. that the harvest of fish must be adapted to the capacity of the stocks to renew themselves. Management is based on scientific recommendations and bio-economic principles, and the annual catch of fish is strictly regulated by means of quotas. Ensuring that the management of the commercial species in the Barents Sea also takes necessary account of biological diversity as a whole will always be one of the challenges of fisheries management.

It is difficult to predict how global climate change will affect temperatures and precipitation patterns in the Arctic, but most studies suggest that the Arctic will generally warm up more than the global average. Depletion of the ozone layer is also a far more serious problem in polar areas than further south.


Norway's efforts to respond to the problems of long-range pollution, climate change and other external pressures of importance to Svalbard have recently been discussed in other white papers, including Report No. 22 (1994-1995) to the Stor-ting on environmental protection on Svalbard, Report No. 58 (1996-1997) to the Storting on an environmental policy for sustainable development, and Report No. 29 (1997-1998) to the Storting on Norwegian implementation of the Kyoto Protocol, and will therefore not be discussed here.

6.3.13 Integration of environmental protection into all sectors on Svalbard

The principle that all sectors have an independent responsibility to take environmental considerations into account in their spheres of responsibility is a central element of Norwegian environmental policy, and applies to Svalbard as well. To attain the targets the Government has set for environmental protection on Svalbard, it is essential to make use of the instruments, expertise and creativity of the sectoral authorities. The sectors are assigned a share of the responsibility for achieving environmental targets because the sectoral authorities often have access to instruments that may be important in reaching these targets. It is also desirable for business and industry to voluntarily assume a greater share of the responsibility for the environmental impact of their operations.

It is also necessary to integrate environmental considerations more fully into the activities of the public authorities on Svalbard, and to encourage closer coordination between the central authorities and the local community in Longyearbyen to meet the local environmental challenges.

In Report No. 58 (1996-1997) to the Storting on an environmental policy for sustainable development, the Government stated that it intended to clarify sectoral responsibilities by drawing up sectoral environmental action plans.

The Government's intention is to include activities that may have an impact on the environment on Svalbard in the sectoral environmental action plans of the various ministries, especially industrial activities, tourism, and research and education. The ministries concerned will collaborate on drawing up the action plans. One of the aims of the sectoral environmental action plans is to meet the Government's environmental targets for Svalbard efficiently and cost-effectively. The sectoral environmental action plans will also comprise foreign activities on Svalbard to the degree that the sectoral authorities are responsible for the relevant instruments.

The Government considers it important that the business and research communities should take responsibility for the environmental impact of their activities. However, this does not mean that the authorities have any less responsibility for introducing the measures required to attain its environmental policy targets.

The Government considers it important that all public sector activities on Svalbard are organized in a way that minimizes their impact on the environment. In this connection importance will be attached to ensuring that the activities of the Governor's office take environmental considerations into account. Knowledge and experience gained from the pilot project "Green State" initiated by the Norwegian Pollution Control Authority may make a useful contribution to this effort.

As local democracy is developed, steps will be taken to encourage the people, organizations and the business community in Longyearbyen to assume greater independent responsibility for their local environment. The Government will provide a suitable framework for the Longyearbyen community to draw up local environmental action plans - Local Agenda 21 - which may contribute to more positive environmental trends locally and help to achieve the national environmental targets for Svalbard.