Regulations concerning travelling in Svalbard

Upon planning a trip to Svalbard, either onboard your own vessel or as passenger on a cruise ship, you are obliged to acquaint yourself with the laws and regulations for traffic in Svalbard. The following is an outline of the most important rules. Through links in the text, the reader may read the full texts of the rules elsewhere. The website of the Governor of Svalbard is a good place to start your reading.

The Svalbard Environmental Protection Act and related regulations came into force in July 2002.  The act applies to the islands of Svalbard and the waters out to the territorial border at 12 nautical miles offshore. The introductory regulations regarding duty of care and principles regarding the exercise of authority are as follows:

  • Any person who is staying in or operates an undertaking in Svalbard shall show due consideration and exercise the caution required to avoid unnecessary damage or disturbance to the natural environment or cultural heritage (§ 5).
  • A head of undertaking shall ensure that every person who carries out work or takes part in the activities for which an undertaking is responsible is aware of the provisions set out in or pursuant to this act regarding the protection of Svalbard’s flora, fauna, cultural heritage and the natural environment otherwise (§ 5).
  • Exercise of authority under the act shall build on the precautionary principle and the overall environmental pressure on the natural environment and cultural heritage (§§ 7 and 8).

 
The following fundamental principle is stated in the act § 73:


All access and passage in Svalbard shall take place in a way that does not harm, pollute or in any other way damage the natural environment or cultural heritage or result in unnecessary disturbance to humans or animals.

Management Area 10

Management Area 10 is roughly the area from the fjord Van Mijenfjorden in the south to the fjord Isfjorden in the north (including Nordenskiöld Land) and also parts of Dickson Land, Bünsow Land and Sabine Land. Traffic regulations applying to this area differ from those outside of this area.

In the provisions there is a distinction between non-resident visitors, residents, tour operators and scientists. The scope here will be the first three groups.

Non-resident visitors

Within Management Area 10 visitors may travel on their own without notifying the Governor of Svalbard. Upon planning a trip outside this area, notification to the Governor of Svalbard is mandatory. In any case, it is wise to start your trip with a stop at the “Svalbardporten” (the Gateway to Svalbard), in Forskningsparken (Research Park) in Longyearbyen, where you can get relevant information from  Svalbard Reiseliv (Svalbard Tourism).

  • Visitors staying in the settlements or taking part in activities arranged by tour operators do not need to notify the Governor of Svalbard.
  • Visitors planning private trips within Management Area 10 do not need to contact the Governor. The same applies to boat trips within Kongsfjorden and trips within a 20 km radius of Ny-Ålesund.
  • Visitors going on longer private trips or expeditions in Svalbard outside Management Area 10 are required to have sufficient insurance or other form of guarantee to cover any expenses incurred by the authorities in connection with search and rescue operations, and are required to notify the Governor prior to the trip and must acquaint themselves with the relevant environmental and safety regulations.


 Details are found here: “Regulations relating to tourism and other travel in Svalbard”.           

A trip to Svalbard outside Management Area 10 must be reported on a special form to the Governor of Svalbard prior to the trip. The planned trip will be evaluated regarding the need for insurance/bank guarantee to cover  the cost of search and rescue operations  and the  transport of patients should the need arise. A registration card will be issued to you when the trip and insurance/bank guarantee has been acknowledged. The registration card must be brought with you on your trip for inspection, and completed and returned to the Governor after the trip.

Safety precautions must be top priority when travelling in Svalbard. The conditions can be challenging in terms of changing weather conditions, winds, difficult waters and landings, sea ice/drift ice, glaciers, fog and polar bears, among other things. More information on safety can be found in the folder “Safety in Svalbard”. Due to the risk of meeting polar bears visitors travelling in Svalbard must always have firearms and protection devices at hand, such as a big-game rifle and ammunition for self-defence, flare gun or an emergency signal flare pen for driving off polar bears and tripwire with flares for camping. To protect yourself against polar bears you need know-how about firearms and experience. For trips outside Management Area 10 it is required to bring an emergency beacon. You should also bring a satellite telephone, as there is limited range for mobile phones in Svalbard. VHF radios also have limited range but may still be useful for communication in some situations.                

There are many cabins in Svalbard, and some are not locked. Except in an emergency, a cabin may not be used without the owner's consent.

Residents

Residents are persons listed in the Svalbard population register, as well as Russians residing in Barentsburg and Poles in Hornsund. Residents may travel more freely within Svalbard, but are required to notify the Governor when entering Nordvest-Spitsbergen, Sør-Spitsbergen and Forlandet national parks and  Nordaust-Svalbard and Søraust-Svalbard nature reserves. Notification is given on a form to the Governor of Svalbard. Residents may also be required to provide proof of   insurance or a bank guarantee for search and rescue operations;  registration cards are then issued by the Governor. Residents may use open cabins for short and overnight stays. The passage restrictions detailed below also apply to this group.

Tour operators

You are considered a tour operator if you organize a trip in, or to, Svalbard with pertinent services, such as transport, accommodations and activities, receiving a commission for your work. Tour operators have certain obligations as provided by "Regulations relating to tourism and other travel in Svalbard". Tour operatiors must get acquainted with the relevant legislation and regulations, and provide for necessary training of personnel and tourists for whom they have responsibility (see  § 5 – Responsibility of tour operators and tourist carriers for the safety and behaviour of participants). See the website of the Governor of Svalbard for more detailed information.

Traffic restrictions

The main points contained in the environmental legislation are outlined below:

  • All mammals, birds and their eggs, nests and dens are in principle protected and should not be disturbed.
  • The use of ship whistle, firing shots or making  other loud  noises is prohibited within a distance of 1 nautical mile (1852 m) of bird cliffs between 1 April and 31 August.
  • It is prohibited to lure, pursue or in any other active way seek out polar bears so that the polar bears are disturbed or danger is caused for either polar bears or people.
  • Carcasses, skeletons and parts of skeletons are properties of the State and are not to be removed from the site.
  • All plants are protected against damage and against being picked. Exceptions are damage caused by legal traffic, for instance passage on foot.
  • Collection of mushrooms, seaweed and kelp for private use is permitted. 
  • It is prohibited to leave garbage in the natural environment.
  • It is prohibited to burn waste other than paper and clean wood. Driftwood may be used for campfires on site.
  • Human (toilet) waste may be buried in the river gravel, below the high tide mark or be thrown in the sea.
  • Discharge of waste at sea from ships or other vessels is prohibited. However, waste food and sanitary drainage water may be discharged at sea, in open waters.
  • It is not desirable to leave cairns or any other sings of your visit in the natural environment.

Within several of the protected areas there are traffic regulations, including the 15 bird sanctuaries, Moffen and Kong Karls Land, the southern tip of Bjørnøya and another area north on Bjørnøya. Additionally, all traffic is closed in Virgohamna and inside the fence at the point of Gravneset in Magdalenefjorden.

Cultural remains

Cultural remains in Svalbard shall be protected and safeguarded as part of Svalbard’s cultural heritage and identity (The Svalbard Environmental Act § 38).

The following cultural remains are automatically protected:

  • Structures and sites dating from 1945 or earlier.
  • Movable historical objects dating from 1945 or earlier that come to light by chance or through investigations, excavation or in any other way.
  • Elements of cultural heritage dating from after 1945 that are of particular historical or cultural value and that are protected by a decision of the Directorate for Cultural Heritage.
  • Evidence of human graves of all kinds, including crosses and other grave markings as well as bones and bone fragments found on or below the surface of the ground and skeletal remains at slaughtering sites for walruses and whales, and associated with self-firing gun traps for polar bears, are considered to be structures and sites and are protected irrespective of their age.
  • Around automatically protected cultural remains there is a 100 m security zone extending in all directions (§ 39).
  • No person may damage, dig up, move, remove, alter, cover up, conceal or disfigure protected structures and sites or movable historical objects, including within any security zone, or initiate measures that may entail a risk of this happening.
  • In the security zone it is not permitted to erect tents, light fires or undetake similar activities.

The Governor may regulate or prohibit access and passage within the security zones around protected cultural remains (§ 42).

Camping regulations

For camping in any area, except the regulated camping grounds in Longyearbyen and Ny-Ålesund, the following requirements apply:

  • Tents should be pitched in vegetation-free areas, as far as possible, to reduce the wear on the vegetation.
  • Within a 100 m radius of fixed protected cultural remains (including old fox traps), cabins and inhabited settlements camping is prohibited, including pitching of tents and campfires.
  • Campfires should always be placed on vegetation-free ground.
  • When camping activities come to an end the camp site shall be cleared. Stones, stakes and other objects that have been used to fasten tent canvas or guy ropes or to form shelters, shall be cleared away and replaced where they were found. Campfires shall be cleared and all waste must be removed and delivered to approved reception facilities.
  • Any person that plans camping activities lasting for one week or more in the same locality shall notify the Governor’s office of this at the latest three weeks prior to camping.

Fishing for Arctic char

Non-resident visitors are only permitted to fish using fishing rods and handheld fishing lines. All fishing gear that has been used outside Svalbard must be disinfected prior to use. Local residents may be granted permission for gill net fishing. All fishing is prohibited in the nature reserves. Fishing in Svalbard requires a fishing licence, which can be purchased at the Governor’s office.

Dogs on a leash

Dogs must be kept on a leash between 15 May and 15 August according to the general regulations. Northern breeds of dogs, such as samoyeds, huskies, malamutes and cross-breeds in which these strains predominate,  shall be kept on a leash or safely confined or fenced in at all times of year.

Other regulations

Please refer to the website of the Governor of Svalbard for further information on current legislation, regulations and maps of protected areas.

Published June 2008

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