There’s a fairly good chance that this is the first time you’ve heard of Bear Island. Don’t worry. The first time I heard about the island was less than two years ago. So what’s the deal?
Well, Bear Island is a truly unique place and it’s under threat from a greedy oil company. The good news is that it’s not too late to save this place. Not convinced yet? Let me list a couple of cool facts I’ve learned from our visit to the island with the Greenpeace ship Esperanza.
Trying to discover the sea route to India the Dutchman Willem Barents came upon the island where he spotted a polar bear – hence the name Bear Island. Polar bears occasionally reach the island on drifting pack ice.
Bird is the word
During the nesting season an estimated one million sea birds occupy the cliffs, making the site one of the largest sea bird colonies in the northern hemisphere. Some of the cliffs shoot 400 m straight out of the cold water. The most common bird on the island is the Guillemot, but my favourite is the puffin.
And all the others
The polar bear and the birds are not alone – Arctic foxes also roam the island. I suspect eggs are on the menu most of the summer! Plenty of fish sustain the many birds, but also white-beaked dolphins, minke whales, ringed seals, harp seals, hooded seals. Walruses’ used to be common, but are now scarcer around the island.
A nature reserve
Bear Island is one of the few places in the Arctic protected as a nature reserve and the island is also listed under the Ramsar convention. The protected area extends 12 nautical miles (around 22 km) out from the coast.
Statoil is threatening it
If there is an oil spill from the nearby oil well that the Norwegian state owned company Statoil is planning to drill this summer, the oil could engulf Bear Island in less than a week.
In 2009 the cargo ship Petrozavodsk ran aground beneath the majestic bird cliffs. Toxic chemicals and fuel was pumped from the ship, but further recovery of the ship was abandoned due to safety concerns around rockslides. It now lies abandoned corroding under the crashing waves. You wonder how they would clean up an oil spill from the same rocky shores…
In the winter sun never rises
Located far North in the Barents Sea, the island both experience polar night and midnight sun – where the sun is below or above the horizon for a full 24 hours. The polar night lasts from November 8th to February 3rd. From May 2nd to August 11th the sun never sets.
Nude Norwegian politicians
The island also hosts an exclusive nude dipping club. Among the members are several high ranking Norwegian politicians.
Today there are just nine inhabitants. The island hosts a meteorological station providing fresh weather forecasts, providing data for safe navigation. Besides the meteorologists a couple of biologists study island unique animals and the flora.
All over the world, the diversity of animals is plummeting. Humanity’s effects on the biosphere have been described by scientists as the sixth great extinction throughout the history of life on Earth.
Millions of us are standing together to protect the Arctic. Welcome to Bear Island. Stay with us on board and say no to Arctic oil.
Erlend Tellnes is an Arctic Campaigner on board the Esperanza.
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