‘Dah’ to détente: Russians get money to upgrade Pyramiden, fight aliens in record round of environmental grants

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Turns out the governor agrees with the Russians: there’s too many unwanted foreigners in Svalbard – and some serious money is about to be spent doing something about it.

More than 1.1 million kroner for three projects involving alien species – including one  assessing alien plants and growth conditions in the Russian settlements of Barentsburg and Pyramiden – are among the 39 projects receiving a record 13 million kroner in the latest grants from the Svalbard Environmental Protection Fund.

The grants, the 20th round in a twice-yearly process, were announced in advance of the fund’s 10th anniversary celebration scheduled June 6-11.

“This is a record-size award during the jubilee year and it shows there was a large number of good applications in the 20th round,” a statement from the fund’s board of directors notes. “The projects granted funds help protect and preserve Svalbard’s cultural heritage and wilderness areas, through both increased knowledge and concrete measures. At the same time, it also grants funding for projects that contribute to environmentally friendly business and community development, in line with the policy objectives for Svalbard and the purpose of the fund.”

The biggest single grant was awarded to another Russian project, with the state-owned company Trust Arktikugol receiving 1.5 million kroner for to renovate the cultural center in Pyramiden. The company has aggressively been trying to upgrade its settlements to accommodate tourists in recent years and the cultural center is the showpiece in what used to be Svalbard’s largest city decades ago.

“Parts of the cultural center will be used for tourist purposes, and there are plans for a cafe, souvenir shop and sanitation facilities,” the board’s statement notes.

Store Norske, which has started converting shut-down mining faciities into tourism sites, received a total of 1.66 million kroner to refurbish the decaying Mine 6 and Mine 2B.

“Both facilities are valuable technical heritage sites in Longyearbyen’s vicinity and attractive landmarks for residents and visitors,” the fund”s baord notes.

The company long associated with coal mining also received a 400,000 kroner grant to clean up wrecked snowmobiles in the Longyearbyen area.

The University Centre in Svalbard is among numerous entities receiving research grants, including 800,000 kroner to study conflicts between people and polar bears.

“As a result of less sea ice in the fjords it is expected that in the future there will be more polar bears who will seek out people and settlements,” the board notes. “The project will contribute directly to the follow-up of measures in both national and international polar bear plans.”

UNIS is also receiving 500,000 for a status study on climate and biological diversity in Svalbard’s fjords, 300,000 for a Svalbard Automated Snow Monitoring system, and 160,000 for a Longyearbyen field guide app.

The Norwegian Polar Institute will receive 800,000 kroner to test the disturbance effect of drones on marine mammals.

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