Cruise industry poses risk to arctic archipelago
Svalbard is one of the Arctic's most popular tourist destinations. In 2003, more than 65,000 passenger landings were made by 28,190 passengers. In addition, the number of sites where cruise tourists went ashore increased from 138 in 2001 to 162 in 2003.
"Unless governments and cruise operators take action to stop cruise ships and passengers visiting the most vulnerable areas of the arctic, serious environmental damage is inevitable," said Miriam Geitz, the WWF Arctic Programme's Tourism Project Officer.
"A carefully managed cruise tourism operation in the Arctic is the only way forward.”
According to the report — Cruise tourism on Svalbard, a risky business? — the biggest single threat posed by ship-based activities on Svalbard is from a major oil spill.
Several groundings of cruise ships have taken place in recent years, although so far no major oil spills have occurred.
Erosion of fragile Arctic vegetation caused by tourist visits ashore, waste disposal, and sewage are also problems.
Because of the region's remoteness, oil spill response capacity is limited. To avoid a potential environmental disaster, WWF is urging the authorities to close off vulnerable parts of the islands to cruise tourism.
“It is only a matter of time before there is a major oil spill on Svalbard," said Geitz. "The only way to lessen this threat is to protect the most vulnerable Arctic nature by banning ships from important areas.”
Svalbard is an important breeding ground for many species of Arctic migratory birds, as well as a feeding area for walrus and whales, and a major denning site for polar bears.
* WWF has been working on Arctic tourism issues since 1995. Svalbard has been a focus of this work due to its unique natural characteristics and exceptional value as a high Arctic archipelago.
* Representatives from Svalbard’s tourism industry, cruise operators, and authorities became involved early on in this work through an arcticwide network. In 2002, the Norwegian government and local authorities decided to support a cooperative approach led by WWF with
the goal of reducing environmental risks associated with cruise tourism and promoting best practices.
For futher information:
Miriam Geitz, Tourism Project Officer
WWF Arctic Programme Coordination Office
Tel: +47 22 03 65 11