Svalbard comprises all islands, islets and reefs that lie between 74 ° and 81 ° north latitude and 10 ° and 35 ° eastern length. Spitsbergen is the largest island, where the Newtontoppen is the highest mountain, 1713 meters above sea level. The landscape consists of mountains, sea ice and glaciers, and changes its appearance with three seasons; summer, polar night and winter. There are currently 29 protected national parks and nature reserves on Svalbard, which together make up about 65 per cent of the land area.
Svalbard was discovered by Willem Barentsz in 1596. After him, English and Dutch, Norwegians and Danes followed, and eventually Russians. First and foremost, to exploit natural resources, but tourism and expeditions also took place early. Until the Svalbard Treaty was signed in 1920, Svalbard was seen as a kind of no man’s land, where everyone had free access to hunting and traveling around. Through the Svalbard Treaty, Svalbard became part of the Kingdom of Norway, and Norway undertook to secure endangered animal species, habitats and heritage sites.
There is a great diversity of people in Svalbard. Many with an adventurous starting point. There is not an original local or indigenous people, but most people who come remain forever “Svalbardians” in their hearts.
Longyearbyen is the world’s northernmost urban community with inhabitants from about 50 nations. People from all countries that have joined the Svalbard Treaty have the right to do business: There is Russian activity in the mining town of Barentsburg, with about 450 inhabitants. There is a Polish research station in Hornsund, and Ny-Ålesund is an important base for many international researchers.
Everyone who lives in Svalbard is conscious of the mighty nature. That we are the guests in the polar bear’s kingdom. There are around 3000 polar bears in Svalbard. In addition, there are three land mammals: Svalbard reindeer, mountain fox and mice. The mountain fox population is large and stable, and hunting based on quotas is permitted for permanent residents. The Svalbard reindeer was at one point before the Svalbard Treaty almost extinguished, but has since increased greatly, and today hunting is based on quotas. Then there are about 15-20 seal and whale species in the sea. The walrus and polar bear are completely protected.
It is a bustling bird life in Svalbard in the summer. About 30 species of birds come here to nest, for example, you will find Eider Ducks in large numbers around the entire archipelago. As winter approaches, most species withdraw. In fact, the Svalbard Grouse is the only one to spend the winter. Many species migrate to the Norwegian coast or out into the Barents Sea, which has one of the highest numbers of seabirds in the world. In late summer there are about 20 million birds here. Auk, seahorse, polar murre and teal are the most numerous. Basecamp Explorer’s Isfjord Radio Adventure Hotel is located next to Kapp Linné bird sanctuary.
The vegetation in Svalbard is characterized by a harsh climate with a short growing season and low temperatures, little rainfall and nutrient-poor soil. The diversity of species is therefore relatively limited. There are about 170 plant species, and only 6-7% of the land area has vegetation. The mostly lush areas can be found in the inner fjord areas of Spitsbergen. The plant life is very vulnerable, and all vegetation is therefore protected.