The Svalbard archipelago in the Barents Sea: An arctic paradise | WWF

The Svalbard archipelago in the Barents Sea: An arctic paradise

Posted on
03 April 2009
The remote Svalbard archipelago in the Barents Sea, which includes the island of Spitsbergen, is one of the most productive ecosystems in the world, and among the most biologically diverse in the Arctic.

Svalbard, and the seas and sea ice around it, is home to polar bears, seals, walrus, arctic fox, and Svalbard reindeer. Millions of seabirds breed here every summer, and the seas contain some of the largest fish stocks in the world as well as a number of whale species. Svalbard is also rich in historical sites from the early days of polar exploration, whaling and mining.

However, despite its remoteness, the islands are not immune to environmental threats. Climate change is the greatest long-term threat to the Arctic, and has already begun affecting natural ecosystems and traditional ways of life at an alarming rate. Air and water temperatures are increasing on Svalbard, glaciers are shrinking and there is less sea ice around the archipelago.

Oil and gas exploration is a new threat: some 25 percent of the world’s unexploited oil and gas reserves lie in the Arctic, some in the waters around Svalbard. Depleted reserves elsewhere in the world, coupled with high oil prices mean oil companies now see the Arctic as ripe for exploitation. With development will come a growing risk to biodiversity from increases in shipping to the potential for oil spills. Illegal fishing is threatening the long-term survival of fish stocks, while damaging chemicals, used in everyday goods around the world, are now turning up in arctic wildlife, such as the polar bear.

Tourism too can threaten this fragile enviroment. Cruise tourism and day trips by ship have become increasingly popular, and unless their impact on the environment is limited, they will add to the existing stresses to these high arctic ecosystems.

For more information, please download the brochure (link top right).

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