SEVENSEAS Marine Conservation & Travel Issue 11, April 2016 - Page 105

Coinciding with celebrations of Norway’s 75th anniversary of the Svalbard Treaty and the country’s sovereignty over the

far north archipelago in 1995, a major threat to the pristine wilderness appeared. A coal company planned to construct the first long-distance road through the archipelago’s largest green tundra area known as Reindalen. The implementation of that plan would have been the first in a series of infrastructure events that would have had extremely negative consequences for the future of Svalbard. Other Svalbard Treaty members could have then insisted on their right to follow that example of Norway and build their own roads and produce related damage to nature. This served as the impetus of the formation of a coalition of conservation NGOs (WWF, Friends of the Earth Norway (NNV) and Birdlife Norway (NOF)) and tourism bodies (the Norwegian Trekking Association (DNT), and later the Dutch “Oceanwide Expeditions” and German “Spitzbergen Tours”). A campaign entitled “No Road trough Svalbard Wilderness!” was started. A four page folder was produced and people were asked to send a postcard to the Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland.

The timing was right and the unique coalition produced incredible political weight and results. Approximately 4000 post cards were sent to protest the Svea road and they had impact on the Norwegian Parliament, the Storting. The first reaction of the Government was to put the road on ice when their w hite paper on the future of Svalbard was discussed in the Parliament. The Storting then formulated the Norwegian State Goal to make “Svalbard the best managed Wilderness area in the world” and requested the Government to put in particular Svalbard’s tundra areas, such as Reindalen, under better protection in form of new national parks.

A series of new national parks (in addition to formerly existing ones, which protected glaciers and bare mountain areas) covering the main tundra and other valuable areas have been established. Today, almost the entire archipelago is protected with 7 national parks and 21 nature reserves. The Government of Norway released a special environmental law, with particular focus on keeping the pristine wilderness. In addition, the Svalbard Environmental Protection Fund has been established. Today, about 60 000 tourists come to Svalbard by plane or ship and are required to pay a fee of 150 NOK. This fee is placed into the environment fund, which is used every year in a transparent way for education, culture heritage, information, nature conservation and research projects for the management of tourism and protected areas. Therefore, Svalbard is not only one of the best protected wilderness areas, it serves also as a leading LT&C example.

As the example of Svalbard has shown so convincingly, cooperation of tour operators and conservation organisations can have real positive impact for the protection of valuable nature. There is a clear win-win for both conservation and nature-based tourism. LT&C with its global scope has a major potential to mainstream this understanding by bringing good examples from all over the world to the surface and general tourists understanding. Thereby we increase the chance that the world achieves by 2020 a globally complete network of representative and well-managed protected areas.

So why is Svalbard good example of linking tourism and conservation?

1) Joined political action of both tour operators and conservation NGOs resulted in new national parks.

2) Entrance fees are used in a transparent and efficient way, and are used for projects and initiatives with the purpose of protecting the environment.

3) Several tour operators with their highly skilled guides are doing a great job educating tourists about the values and importance of Svalbard’s nature and its protection. Svalbard is increasingly visited and used to inspire people toward actions for nature conservation and caring for our global environment.