Svalbard’s Wildlife Tourism Could Be Severely Limited

There’s no place like the arctic and pristine nature of Svalbard, but these protected ecosystems bring in over 100,000 tourists every single year.

The Norwegian law requires the protected areas on Svalbard to be pristine and unaffected by human activity, but recent tourism spikes have led to a growing concern of the state of these natural ecosystems.

This growing concern has lead the Norwegian Environment Agency (Miljødirektoratet) to propose a list of strict regulations that could severely affect the wildlife tourism on Svalbard in the coming years.

A glacier on Svalbard
A glacier on Svalbard. Photo published with permission.

No drones, limiting cruise passengers and imposing a minimum distance to wildlife

The main proposed regulations are the following:

  • All cruise ships that are going to bring passengers to the shore cannot have more than 200 passengers.
  • There will only be 43 destinations in the protected areas on Svalbard where the cruise ships can bring passengers to the shore. These are chosen to be places that will be less impacted by human presence than other places.
  • All humans must be at least 150 meters away from walruses.
  • All humans must be at least 500 meters away from polar bears.
  • Regulations to reduce the amount of ice breaking during the autumn.
  • Regulations to reduce the use of motor vehicle transportation on ice in the spring.
  • Ban the use of drones in protected areas, as well as close to sea bird nesting colonies.

This will in effect make it impossible for large cruise ships to bring hordes of tourist to remote and pristine nature locations on the island group, and rather force them to use one of the 43 predesignated areas.

There is no doubt that this will allow the arctic ecosystems of Svalbard to be less impacted by humans in the coming years, but as expected, the tourism industry is not quite as happy.

Polar bear
A polar bear. Photo published with permission.

When and if these regulations will take effect

As of January 2023, these regulations are simply a proposal. The proposal is led by the Norwegian Environmental Agency, and issued to the Norwegian government. The Norwegian Environmental Agency often send proposals like these ones to the government where they must vote on the proposal.

The proposal could be accepted in full, accepted after modifications or completely denied. The Norwegian governmental system allows anyone to voice their concern and opinion, and it is believed that the tourism sector on Svalbard will fight this proposal quite furiously since it will directly affect their livelihood.

That said, the Norwegian Environmental Agency carry a lot of weight, and their suggestions and proposals are often implemented.

There are currently no dates as to when the proposal will be voted on, and governmental processes like this one can easily take as long as 6 months to a year.

So bookmark this page and check back every once in a while, because I will update this post as well as publish a new one when and if the changes are actually implemented.

Stortinget in Oslo is Norway’s government building. This is where the politicians will vote on the proposal. Photo published with permission.

Will these regulations affect the entire island?

The proposal for the changes to the wildlife tourism on Svalbard will only affected protected areas on the island. This means that the main city Longyearbyen and the surrounding area will be unaffected, so you can still do things like normally in this region.

That said, most of the rest of the island group is in fact a protected area with a few exceptions, so the proposal will lead to a big change for most tourist operators on the island.

Smeerenburg is one of many protected areas on Svalbard. This is in fact an old Dutch whaling town.
Smeerenburg is one of many protected areas on Svalbard. This is in fact an old Dutch whaling town. Photo by Angrense / CC BY-SA 3.0.


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