Individual travellers

Individual trtavellers Svalbard
Photo: Øystein Overrein / Norwegian Polar Institute

The traffic has a potential for having negative effects on birds, mammals and cultural heritage sites. The majority of individual travellers behave properly, but there are exceptions. The time series illustrates the numbers and dispersal of individual travellers (both tourists and scientists) out in the remote areas far from the settlements in Svalbard.

What is being monitored?

Number of people in areas where prior notification is mandatory

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The number of individual travellers outside Management Region 10 (incl. Nordenskiöld Land, Dickson Land, Bünsow Land, parts of Sabine Land and areas surrounding Ny-Ålesund), and who will travel on sea ice or land briefly from a boat in Isfjorden, Van Mijenfjorden and Kongsfjorden.

The number has varied between 400 and 700 since 1998. By the exception of 2017, there has been an increase in the number of individual travellers since 2013. There was an increase during the International Polar Year in 2007–2008. The number depends upon the ice and weather conditions, private initiative, what other tour operators have to offer and travel in connection with research. An increasing number of yachts are sailing outside Management Region 10.

Status and trend

The number of individual travellers has varied between 400 and 700 since 1998 until 2014. Since then the number has increased, and 2017 was an exception. Scientists make up a varying proportion of this figure, depending on the kinds of projects taking place at any one time and where they are located. There were more scientists than normal in the International Polar Year in 2007–2008.

Tourism statistics show that recreation is the aim of some ⅔ of the travellers, whereas scientists normally comprise ¼ of the number, but generally stay longer.

Causal factors

According to the Governor of Svalbard’s Office, the number of privately owned yachts visiting Svalbard and sailing along the west coast has been increasing. Some also venture much further. An increase in the number of small boats in Longyearbyen and Ny-Ålesund may have contributed.

The International Polar Year accounted for some of the increase from 2006 to 2007–2008. Since 2013 the number has increased, probably due to both scientist and other travellers.

Most traffic takes place in June–August.

Consequences

As a category "individual travellers" spans a wide range of types of travellers who have different reasons for their stay. Some scientists take part in research projects, which include catching, anaesthetising and tagging animals. Others just undertake passive counting, or study glaciers, plants, marine organisms, and so on. Tourists experience the wildlife, scenery and cultural heritage sites without being guided or directed by a guide. This brings with it great responsibility for correct behaviour.

The number of days individual travellers are in the field is more important than the number of people, but the data set fails to pick this up. How many groups are concerned is also important. For instance, 30 people in 5 groups and 5 base camps impact on the environment differently from 30 people in 6–10 groups of differing sizes who travel around and visit a large number of places. Base camps may cause wear and tear on the vegetation and lead to path formation. Itinerant groups will affect far more localities.

The traffic has a potential for having negative effects on birds, mammals and cultural heritage sites (cf. comments in the Interpretation of Cruise Tourism). Individual travellers perform landings at locations they choose themselves, without being led by an expedition leader or a guide. Obviously, they have to meet the requirements laid down in the Svalbard Environmental Protection Act and the Regulation on Tourists, but they do not have to follow the Site Guidelines, like AECO members and their tourists must. Groups of scientists often remain at the same place for quite a long period of fieldwork.

The majority of individual travellers behave properly, but there are exceptions. Lack of knowledge about the regulations is generally the cause. Individual travellers are known to have breached the Cultural Heritage Act in recent years. Often this concerns camping or burning bonfires within the security zone surrounding protected cultural heritage sites. Everyone is responsible for acquiring knowledge about legislation and provisions. Institutions involved in education or science have the same responsibility.

A few polar bears have been shot in self-defence in recent decades outside Management Region 10. Several were shot by scientists and some by tourists or guides. When people travel in areas frequented by polar bears, conflict situations may be created that are fatal for the polar bears or people. Thorough training, correct equipment for scaring away bears and knowledge of how to use it are important.

About the monitoring

It is important to monitor the number of individual travellers in regions of Svalbard where travel plans have to be notified beforehand, i.e. everywhere except inside Management Region 10 (incl. Nordenskiöld Land, Dickson Land, Bünsow Land, parts of Sabine Land and areas surrounding Ny-Ålesund, and travel on sea ice and short landings from boat in Isfjorden, Van Mijenfjorden and Kongsfjorden).

The data set gives an indication of the number and distribution of individual travellers in remote areas far from the settlements.

Places and areas

Relations to other monitoring

Monitoring programme
International environmental agreements
Voluntary international cooperation
Related monitoring