by Gary Moore
“Svalbard, Svalbard, where is Svalbard?” my friends ask when I tell them I visited Svalbard last summer. Well, Svalbard is a group of islands, an archipelago, and way north of Norway in the Arctic Ocean. It is so far north that it was the launching point for many early explorers trying to reach the North Pole. Spitsbergen is the largest island and it hosts the only towns in the archipelago, Longyearbyn and Barentsburg. The total population is less than 3,000 people. Apparently the winters are very long and brutal, not exactly a winter paradise.
Bays along the north coast of Spitsbergen served as whaling stations as early as the 1600s. By the 1800s the whale population had been decimated and the whalers turned to seals. In less than a century the seal population was decimated as well. In the early 1900s coal was discovered on the islands and mining began and continues on a small scale today. In the 1970s, after centuries of environmental neglect, Svalbard, governed by Norway, began setting aside large tracts of land as national parks and nature reserves. As a result, nearly all of Svalbard is now an arctic wildlife preserve. No more hunting and the wildlife has flourished. Even the whales are slowly making a comeback. Continue reading