The Lofoten-Vesterålen area A place to love and protect

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Figure 1. A sea eagle is patrolling the sea outside Vestvågøy, Lofoten

In northern Norway, a bit north of the polar circle there are groups of islands with some of the most productive marine areas in the world. The richfullness of the sea, combined with the beautiful landscape and culture has made Lofoten part of the area coming into the Unesco World Heritage list. For those of us who are interested in both diving and hiking, the whole area is an eldorado of possibilities.

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Figure 2. The midnight sun seen from the ferry Svolvær – Bodø

It is just to applaud what WWF wrote in their fact sheet 2013: “The islands of Lofoten, Vesterålen and Senja jointly constitute an archipelago north of the Arctic Circle in northern Norway.  The islands are an unique biological production site on Earth, created by a combination of the stable and nutrient-rich inflow of water from the oceanic and coastal currents and upwelling from the deep that mixes due to the topography of the islands. This is Norway’s Amazon rainforest and Great Barrier Reef all in one!”.

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Figure 3. My two sons at Nyksund, Vesterålen.

As most other Norwegians, I have a kind of romantic feeling for the area. The first time I went there, I was 30 years old, bringing the bike on the airplane to a cabin I rented from the company I worked for. The plan was to go bicycling for three weeks and we thought we would be very wet. For three weeks, we had only sun, 20C at daytime and northern lights every night. The last night, when we were camping south in the area, waiting for the ferry, the weather turned and the camping place we were staying closed due to a storm. Happily, people in the area were nice and we were welcome to sleep in a museum for stockfish. After those days, the amount of tourists in Lofoten has rapidly increased and I do not think it is possible to meet that kind of flexible hospitality anymore, but for me it was a beginning of a strong relationship to the area. After getting my own family, I have also found out that camping and hiking with small kids might be nice in the area. Just make sure you have brought warm clothes, tents and sleeping bags or alternatively pre ordered a place to live – hotels and camping huts might be filled up everywhere during the summer season. Due to the weight of my luggage, freediving became the preferred way to explore the sea.

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Figure 4. After the kids have gone to sleep, it is time for enjoying the midnight sun.

Living in the wilderness: In Norway we have something called “Allemannsretten” or “the right of public access”.  This means that you might walk and sleep in uncultivated areas under some restrictions: The tent has to be set up more than 150 meters from the nearest building. You will also have to move your tent after two nights. The area is very much wilderness, so it should be easy to find somewhere to put up your tent. If you need some more comfort, there are quite a few affordable camping places.

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Figure 5. Playing on the beach. Kvalvika, Lofoten

If you are following sea legacy, WWF or other organizations caring for the environment in the sea, you might have noticed that there is a discussion between protection and oil drilling in the area. There will be elections on Norway at September 11. The three largest parties in Norway (Arbeiderpartiet, Høyre and Fremskrittspartiet) want to open for oil drilling. This is not without environmental risk and will be discussed in the last part of this blog.

Diving

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Figure 6. Two ampipods on kelp. Hadsel, Vesterålen

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Figure 7. A freediver coming up at Nyksund, Vesterålen

Despite the beauty of the sea, there are not too many providers of guided scubadiving, but there are some. In the northern part of Norway, you will normally have to live with the ide “it will work out well” which means you won’t work if they are there before you actually see the people.

A proper dry suitis needed the whole year, so a pre-arranged tour by a serious travel agency could decrease the stress of your holiday a lot. The normal way for the locals to go diving is to join one of the local diving clubs or just to go diving with some friends. On the other hand, there are lots of providers of guided snorkeling tours which can give you a perfect feeling of the sea.

The kelp forests starts at shoreline and there will be plenty of possibilities for seeing schools of fish etc.

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Figure 8. A school of small whitting from Bø in Vesterålen, a typical view for a snorkelling tour

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Figure 9. A school typical landscape from one of the shallow currents in the area.

If you are able to go scuba diving, the kelp forests is a perfect place to experience the area. Most of the year, the water is crystal clear and you can choose between areas with strong current and more still water.

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Figure 10. A photographer is searching for macro life on the kelp

From Andenes in Vesterålen and the outer parts of Senja, you could also go snorkeling with orcas and whales. Unfortunately, the high season is from end of November to the middle of February, but the experience is worth the cold water.You could read more about that on scubashooters blog from Sergio Riccardo here: http://www.scubashooters.net/underwater-life/winter-in-norway/

Hiking

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Figure 11. Hiking at Malnessanden – often mentioned as the most beutiful beach in Europe

While you are in the area, some hiking and climbing could be a good idea. The area has all types of terrain from the easy accessable beach trails in Vesterålen to heavy climbing in Lofoten.  You will even have the possibility for combining with surfing at Unnstad beach in Vestvågøy.

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Figure 12. Sleeping in a tent is thew easiest way to spenmd the night when you are out hiking.

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Figure 13. Kvalvika beach at Moskenesøya

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Figure 14. Somewhere in Vesterålen

Conflict between nature resources and oil

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Figure 15. A fishing boat is coming in from the fjord “Vestfjorden”

The sea outside Lofoten, Vesterålenand Senjais the spawning ground of lots of important species of fish. As an example, the world’s largest cod stock has its spawning ground outside these islands. According to the Norwegian institute of marine research (imr.no) Approximately 70 % of all fish caught in the Barents Sea and the Norwegian sea has been in this area during the first moths of their life. The shelf is narrow, which make the concentration of fish eggs and juvenile fish extremely high. The regulation of cod fisheries has been sustainable in the area for quite a long time, so the stock is growing.As a result of this, the value of the cod fisheries is now 12 billion kroner per year (about 1.3 billion euro).

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Figure 16. A school of pollloc from Raftsundet between Vesterålen and Lofoten

On the other side, they have found oil fields just outside the spawning areas of the cod. The petroleum industry estimates high income for the country and promise the project will be without risk or with very low risk.  On the other hand, the Institute of Marine Research (IMR) recommend to completely protect the area and WWF has identified the area as one of three areas that should be off-limits to oil exploration.  As long as the shelf is narrow, not only the concentration of plankton and fish eggs / larvae will be high, but also the potential concentration of pollution will be high. Adult fish will have the possibility to swim away from polluted water, but the larvae will not have the same chance. According to IMR, only one of one million cod larvae will grow up in clean water. This means it is very important to keep them at good health. As long as small amounts of oil will disturb the growth and development of the fish, it should be obvious that oil production in the area is at high risk. In 2001 the area was protected for a period of 20 years.

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Figure 17. A pollac coming up for dinner. Vesterålen

What is happening now?

Monday September 11. there will be elections in Norway. The three largest parties want to start oil production in the area, even if the two out of three Norwegians are against the project. The main part of the smaller parties are against and thy have managed to stop the development of oil industry in the area.

WWF Norway write the following text in their fact sheet for the area: “There has been temporary ban on petroleum activity in Lofoten, Vesterålen and Senja since 2001, due to environmental risks for the marine life and the coexistence between petroleum industry and fishery activity. However, two of the three biggest political parties in Norway now want to start a full impact assessment for the Lofoten, Vesterålen and Senja Islands with the goal of opening up for oil and gas activity – the third of these parties and the biggest one – want to open up the most important area for marine life: Lofoten. All Norwegian environmental agencies strongly recommend that all of the three area still must remain oil free due to the high marine biodiversity and the area’s importance for renewable industries, such as fisheries and tourism. There is a parliamentary election this year, 2017, and the question regarding oil and gas activity outside the Islands of Lofoten, Vesterålen and Senja is one of the most important topics.

The open window for impacting the process is now, and WWF-Norway wants to mobilize the Norwegian and international public in order to get the unique areas of Lofoten, Vesterålen and Senja Islands kept oil free.”

If you want to give your opinion to the responsible leaders of the political parties, the Facebook address is:

Erna Solberg (Høyre): https://www.facebook.com/ernasolberg/?fref=ts
Siv Jensen (FRP): https://www.facebook.com/Siv.Jensen.FrP/?fref=ts
Jonas Gahr Støre (AP): https://www.facebook.com/jonasgahrstore/?fref=ts

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Figure 18. Seagulls are hanging at the bech. Moskenesøya, Lofoten

How to get there?

There are three ways to go to Lofoten and Vesterålen:

  1. Eco – friendly: You take the train to Bodø (nsb.no) and the ferry to Lofoten or Vesterålen.
    1. Local boats: https://www.177nordland.no/?ac_id=280&ac_parent=280
    2. Hurtigruten, a cruice ship: https://www.hurtigruten.co.uk/ Choose Bodø or Tromsøto Svolvær or Sortland. Rent a bike or use the
  2. Take the plane from Oslo to Evenes, Svolvær, Leknes, Skagen or Andenes
  3. Join an organized trip – relax and get the best experience.

Info for the area:

Lofoten: https://lofoten.info/lofoten
Vesterålen: https://visitvesteralen.com/en

WORDS and PICTURES by Rune Edvin Haldorsen

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Figure 18. A sea eagle flying towards Værøy, Lofoten

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