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Photo: Asgeir Helgestad/Artic Light AS/visitnorway.com

Lifestyle

Take precautions before going to Svalbard

The nature on Svalbard is not only beautiful, it's also vulnerable. Researchers offer the following advice on how you can help protect it.

Kristine Bakke Westergaard of the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research. Photo: Arnstein Staverløkk More and more people want to experience nature and wildlife on Svalbard. But remember that the nature in Svalbard is vulnerable. The researchers have become more aware that the balance in nature can be quickly shifted.
“When you travel, you can inadvertently bring with you seeds and insects on equipment such as tent pegs, for example,” says Kristine Bakke Westergaard of the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research (NINA).

She is researching invasive alien species in the Arctic.

Seeds and tiny insects in the tread of your shoes

Westergaard explains that a student was given the job of cleaning hiking boots at Svalbard airport. On average, every pair had four seeds. The student cleaned hundreds of pairs of boots. 
“Tiny insects that live in the soil, can attach themselves to Velcro or under sleeping mats, and seeds in a small clump of earth on tent pegs can stay there for years. They can be spread by chance in many different ways.”

Photo: Shutterstock
Obviously, not all species can survive in the harsh conditions on Svalbard, but mountain plants and animals adapted to extreme conditions can flourish close to settlements, for example. On Svalbard, they’ve already experienced how cow parsley has spread as a stowaway from Russia and become established on Svalbard. 

“Cow parsley is not a dangerous plant, per se, but on Svalbard, all vegetation is very slow growing. Cow parsley can grow as tall as a man and we’re worried that it can become established on the nearby bird nesting cliffs as these are very fertile and south facing environment, and therefore offer the perfect conditions. The plant would then be able to provide cover for Arctic foxes that hunt birds, shade other plants and change the entire cliffs. The District Governor has had the cow parsley exterminated, but it can recover, via seeds that remain in the soil.

Photo: Asgeir Helgestad/Artic Light AS/visitnorway.com

The same thing can happen with insects: The entire balance in an area can shift. Alien Species in the Arctic, a NINA report with the focus on Svalbard and Jan Mayen, also notes that individual finds of snow crabs have been recorded on Svalbard. 

The District Governor of Svalbard's action plan against invasive alien species on Svalbard, also stresses that alien species can: 
- Devastate local flora and fauna
- Bring diseases and parasites that attack indigenous species
- cross breed with local flora and fauna and such hybridization can lead to adverse genetic changes
- Lead to economic losses and societal changes. 

Big costs

Climate change and a warmer and green Arctic opens up opportunities for new species to become established. But everyone can do their bit to prevent the spread of invasive flora and fauna.

“All travelers are urged to carefully check their baggage, clothing and equipment before leaving home, to ensure they’re not bringing any seeds, cuttings or insects of miscellaneous kinds. You should brush, vacuum clean and wash baggage, clothing, shoes and equipment. Fishing equipment should be disinfected. By doing all this, travelers can help protect the vulnerable Arctic environment against invaders from other areas,” says NINA Project Manager Jørn Thomassen in a press release. 
 

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