Author Archives: Mark Sabbatini

‘A BETTER, MORE INCLUSIVE AND MORE TOLERANT FUTURE’: An interview with Viljar Hanssen 10 years after surviving Utøya


Viljar Hanssen, 27, was a high school student in Longyearbyen when he became one of the most recognizable survivors of the July 22, 2011, massacre at Utøya. He suffered near-fatal injuries after being shot five times, ultimately losing an eye and suffering severe impairment of his motor functions.

BACK TO THE FUTURE: Presenting the first-ever “sustainabilty” print issue of Icepeople as we return to our four-page origins to save trees and Covid contamination (and money)

In what we’ll call a return to the glorious original days when Icepeople was a mere four-page bathroom reader, presenting the first-ever “sustainability” print issue (PDF), which in part legitimately is due to local establishments expressing concern about distributing large paper editions given the major effort to reduce single-use plastics and other waste.

‘(NEAR) RECORD NUMBER OF ANIMALS AND TWO CRUEL DEATHS’: Annual Svalbard reindeer count shows Mother Nature was kind, but humans discarding steel wires were a fatal snag


Photo by Trine Lise Sviggum Helgerud / Norwegian Polar Institute

It was a highly favorable winter for nearly 1,700 Svalbard reindeer, the second-highest count ever in an annual census, but for researchers conducting the count it’s two reindeer who didn’t survive who are much in mind as they were fatally snagged in wires discarded by humans.

GREAT GUNS – RIGHT TO SHOOT FURTHER LIMITED BY GOV’T: Ban on shooting w/in 500 meters of structures expands beyond Longyearbyen to Barentsburg, Vannposten and Pyramiden


You need a weapon to get from Longyearbyen to other settlements in Svalbard, but don’t try firing it when you get there – it’s now illegal to do so within 500 meters of buildings and facilities as a shooting ban zone in Longyearbyen now applies to those other areas.

Alas, after 13 years I am leaving Svalbard on the governor’s orders because my finances and health cannot fulfill the self-sufficiency rules here…but Icepeople most definitely is not


Screenshot from story/photo in Svalbardposten courtesy of Siri Åbø Wiersen

After 13 years and the hope I could publish Icepeople for the rest of my life in Svalbard, I am departing next Wednesday on orders from the governor because my finances and health have deteriorated to the point I cannot exist under the self-sufficiency rules here.

I cannot emphasize enough: this is not the end of Icepeople, as I will continue to publish news about Svalbard (thanks to the virus and my health I’ve been doing a lot of it by email, phone, etc. the past year or so anyhow) – and more importantly there are people here who will be contributing material of the sort that can only come from folks who are actually here.

METROPOLIS OF MICROFIBERS IN THE SEA: Longyearbyen’s lack of waste treatment means residents send as many particles from washed clothes into local waters as Vancouver


A lot of folks think it’s pretty crappy Longyearbyen doesn’t treat its wastewater before discharging it into the supposedly pristine waters at its edge, but it turns out locals doing a different type of water cleansing are contributing to the problem in the form of microfibers coming loose from clothes they wash.

Because the water containing those fibers is untreated, the amount generated by Longyearbyen’s 2,400 residents is the same as the 1.3 million residents who live in Vancouver, Canada, according to a new study.

RISING TIDE SOAKS ALL BOATS: 30 percent hike in Longyearbyen’s port fees necessary to cover costs, city says; some local and smaller mariners in particular feel swamped


A 30 percent hike in Longyearbyen’s port fees is causing exactly the wave of controversy one might expect: City officials say it’s necessary to pay for costs (especially after reducing many municipal fees last year to help locals suffering from the COVID-19 pandemic), while boat owners say the sudden hike a horrible burden due to the ongoing virus-caused economic crisis and a series of port fee hikes the past several years.

SEAL OF DISAPPROVAL: Person fined 20,000 kr. for illegally shooting seal on ice near Svea; carcass abandoned at harbor


Photo by Geir Wing Gabrielsen / Norwegian Polar Institute

A person who illegally shot and killed a bearded seal last month on the sea ice near the shut-down Svea coal mine has been fined 20,000 kroner, according to The Governor of Svalbard.

FOLK SONGS FOR A NUCLEAR VILLAGE: ‘Doomsday music vault’ planned in same abandoned Svalbard mountainside coal mine as vault containing digitalized books, art and other data


If there is a nuclear winter, Svalbard is turning into quite the culinary and cultural hotspot for it.

A “doomsday music vault” designed to protect the world’s landmark recordings for up to 1,000 years in the abandoned Mine 3 inside a mountain above Svalbard Airport is being created using the same digitalization process as a data vault that opened in the same location in 2017. Both will be adjacent to the more famous Svalbard Global Seed Vault that since its debut in 2008 has inspired numerous “doomsday” preservation efforts (including a proposed sperm vault in outer space and an “all of the above” vault on the moon staffed by robots).

GREEN MEANS GO: Norway matches EU rules, allows vaccinated travellers and those in ‘green’ countries to enter without quarantine as of Monday – but ‘full opening’ stage delayed


Travellers from 23 European countries can enter Norway without quarantine requirements as of Monday, although a negative COVID-19 test within 24 hours is still required to enter Svalbard. However, the government also announced it is delaying a “full opening” at least until the end of July due to concerns Delta coronavirus variant.

Tourists from outside the EU/EEA are still banned from entering, regardless of vaccination status. Also, some of the “green” countries, including Sweden and Denmark, have regions where higher-level restrictions remain in effect.