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Hurtigruten Group

The University Centre in Svalbard (UNIS)

Svalbard looks set to see an increase in tourism over the coming years. The question being asked by UNIS is, how can this be sustainable whilst contributing to our understanding of the ecology and biology of this remote archipelago?

The University Centre in Svalbard

Educating the next generation of Arctic experts

Situated in Longyearbyen, the University Center in Svalbard (UNIS) is the world's northernmost higher education institute at 78° north. Founded in 1993, UNIS has been at the forefront of research into Arctic biology, geology, geophysics, and technology - studying everything from the impact of climate change on sea ice and the arctic ecosystem to improving our understanding of the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights). Due to its location in the high Arctic, the students and researchers at UNIS can capitalise on the island's unique geography allowing nature to be used as a laboratory, arena for observation, and data capture.

Over the last few years, Svalbard has become a key destination for cruise and expedition ships, which presents an exciting prospect, as the tourism industry looks set to grow even further. With its location in the high Arctic, guests on board ships are more drawn to the archipelago to experience the breathtaking landscapes and iconic arctic wildlife of the islands, instead of the more traditional entertainment found on board the warmer water cruises. As a result, AECO (Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators) developed standards that ensured the exploration of the islands, should be both sustainable and with high levels of environmental protection/preservation for local culture and wildlife. Due to this, on board many of these cruises, there are several guides and expedition leaders who have knowledge of the island's unique nature, history, and culture that is further enhanced by a scientific background - leading to the potential to utilise expedition ships around Svalbard to develop closer links between science and the public through Citizen Science projects.

The International Polar Tourism Research Network also saw the potential the tourism industry had in enhancing public understanding and data capture in the region. Therefore, as the leading research institute, the team at UNIS wanted to better understand this possible relationship so launched the CRUISE#SCIENCE project to identify the mutual benefits it could bring to all stakeholders.

Hurtigruten Expeditions & UNIS

As part of our scientific partnership and collaboration program, throughout the 2018/2019 season, Hurtigruten welcomed researchers from UNIS on board MS Fram and MS Spitsbergen on various sailings around the Svalbard archipelago. From a total of 11 trips around Svalbard, UNIS took a total of 457 samples at 97 stations and conducted more than 60 demonstrations and lectures. This collaboration proved to have a great deal of added value for both Hurtigruten guests and UNIS. As such, the sampling has continued! UNIS joined 3 trips on MS Fram and 6 trips on MS Spitsbergen in 2022, and a further 12 trips are planned on MS Spitsbergen for the 2023 Arctic season.

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Penguins perched on the ice of Cuverville Island, Antarctica. Credit: Espen Mills / HX Hurtigruten Expeditions

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