Norway is dismantling their last Arctic coal mine piece by piece and turning the area it sits in into a national park twice the size of Grand Teton in Wyoming.
The goal is to turn the Svalbard Archipelago, in particular the Van Mijenfjord, into a howling wilderness once again—the best managed wilderness in the world where polar bears, seals, and countless other Arctic species can thrive in what experts say will be one of the most resilient areas under threat from climate change.
Seeds aren’t the only thing famously stored underground on Svalbard. Coal has been mined there under state monopoly for 100 years. Despite climate change pressures mounting throughout the 21st century, it wasn’t until 2016 that a government white paper announced a moratorium.
Seven national parks, 15 bird sanctuaries, one geopark, and six reserves dot two-thirds of the 23,500 square mile (61,000 square km) archipelago of islands, fjords, mountains, and glaciers. 3,000 polar bears inhabit the area, and during the late summer more than 20 million birds of 80 different species nest on Svalbard.
The Van Mijen Fjord has sea ice year round, and as such is an important hunting ground for bears. At the throat of the fjord, Svea Mine has loaded ships with coal for generations, but is now being dismembered rather than abandoned to ensure the area returns to a pristine natural state.
A June press release by the Norwegian government announced they were expanding the existing Nordenskiöld Land National Park to encompass the fjord, creating an additional 1,125 square miles (2,914 square kilometers) of wilderness called Van Mijenfjorden National Park.
“Our goal is for Svalbard to be one of the best-managed wilderness areas in the world. That requires us to implement measures to deal with climate changes, and pressure caused by increased traffic. The protection of the Van Mijen fjord and surrounding area is a direct response to this,” says minister Sveinung Rotevatn in the same release.
The borders of the new park lie atop the existing Sør-Spitsbergen National Park, making it easy for visitors to see both.