The future of the Boundary Waters: “A lot depends on the 2020 elections” – Interview with Steve Piragis

The outdoor equipment and canoe trip outfitting company Piragis Northwoods, plays a leading role in the campaign to safeguard the Boundary Waters on the Canadian border of Minnesota. Steve Piragis has published the case as an impressive political LT&C-Example where several tourism businesses are engaged to protect the vast wilderness area from pollution through prospected mining activities. Can there be any progress on this crucial march of one of our penguins in times of Trump ruling the United States? How to deal with this question, Peter Prokosch is trying to find out in an interview with Steve Piragis:

Steve, I still remember when we both were sailing with an LT&C-Study tour in Antarctic waters, and you got the news that Donald Trump was elected as president of the United States. You did not anticipate that as good news for the future success of your Boundary Waters campaign. Let me first ask you the question: When and how started it, and what made you and your tourism business engaging in this nature protection campaign?

Well, Peter, we became aware of the possibility of sulfide-ore mining here way back in the 1970s when two Canadian mining companies were engaged in pretty extensive core drilling to assess the resource. That all went away in the 1980s as the price of copper went bust on international markets. With prices rising for metals in the 1990s mining interest was renewed and new miners came into the region. Duluth Metals, now owned exclusively by Antofagasta of Chile took over the federal mining leases then and began extensive exploratory operations. That was the signal that we’d better do something and that we were up against an imminent threat to the watershed of the Boundary Waters. We formed a small group within an existing local environmental group called Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness in 2013. At that time we discovered that the federal minerals lease was about to renew for a final ten year period. If that renewal were to be approved, we would most likely see a mine plan, and the chances of stopping this toxic type of mining would be very difficult. Our group challenged the Interior Department under President Obama to review the contact and notice that renewal was not automatic but up to the discretion of the Secretary of Interior. We requested that the government investigate if this was an appropriate watershed for this type of mining. Under Obama in December of 2016 the leases were denied renewal as we had requested and this triggered a 2 years study of the watershed relative to copper mining which would likely have lead to a 20 year withdrawal of all federal mineral leasing in the watershed, our ultimate goal being permanent withdrawal in the 20 year span by Congressional action.  

Well, Peter, along came the election you and I shared aboard Ortelius in the Southern Ocean and the reversal of all that occurred in our favour under Obama.  

What is the picture today, and what difference made decisions or the policy of the present Trump administration?

Today we are in court challenging the action of the Trump Interior Department and asking that the leases of minerals to the Chilean mining giant be denied as they legally were in 2016. We are a plaintive in the case as our standing in the economy of the Ely area would be negatively impacted by the wrongful decision of the Trump people. That case is pending in Federal Court. Meanwhile, the mining company continues to work on a mine plan and would like to push along to the environmental review phase for a mine. This phase, in general, leads ultimately to a mine. The question if that happens is not if this is a place to mine sulfide ore but how mining can take place under state and federal standards. Standards allow some pollution of metals and other pollutants into the water and air shed. We hope now that the Governor of our state will not allow an environmental review to proceed until the lawsuit is resolved and the two years study asking if this is even a viable option for this watershed. We await his decision, and we await the results of our suit. 

What makes you optimistic that you sometimes will win this case?

Sometimes reason wins out over greed in this country despite long odds. Our economic studies and our science that is peer-reviewed points decisively to the conclusion that our local economy would suffer if mining is allowed. Pollution of this great wilderness would be inevitable. We are on the side of protection for future generations of what is America’s most popular wilderness. We have the evidence to back it up, and we have hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens on our side. Our resolve is unrelenting. A lot depends on the 2020 elections.  

What can others involved in tourism learn from your experiences?

Peter, I think the universal lesson is that citizens have to be involved in national decisions that affect their local areas. It is essential to jump in early before the momentum of big corporations takes over control, and it becomes too late to act. We were fortunate to have local activists with lots of environmental law experience and dynamic leadership. I believe we were also fortunate to have so many folks who know this resource and have experienced the Boundary Waters to call on to act in their states and to provide financial support to the Campaign to Save The Boundary Waters. The keys are: act fast, get the best lawyers you can muster, get supporters motivated in large numbers and never give in to any compromise and never give up.

Borana Conservancy and Lodge

Borana Conservancy and Lodge

The Borana Conservancy covers 32,000 acres of unspoilt African wilds, and it is home to all members of the Big Five and safe haven for a wide range of endangered species such as Jackson’s hartebeest, Grevy’s zebra and Reticulated Giraffe. The Borana and Lewa UNESCO Heritage Site made headlines in 2014, with the decision to remove the fence that had formed a boundary between the Lewa and Borana wildlife conservancies. The resulting area is the largest Rhino Sanctuary in Kenya.
Today, Borana and Lewa Conservancies are home to the largest rhino population in East Africa, numbering over 100 Black rhino and 86 white rhinos. Other species include cheetah, wild dog, Somali ostrich, Beisa oryx, Eeland, and gerenuk. The landscape is typical to the foothills of Mt Kenya with the mountain to the South and an arid landscape to the North, intersected by a mosaic of plains, forest, and wetlands.

The year 2018 was a fantastic year for the Lewa and Borana, with 16 rhino births, (10 black rhino and six white rhino) supported by over five years of zero poachings!
The black rhino population is now a key-one rhino population (100+). This is a result of the 6.2% population growth rate between 2016-2018, a significant increase from the 3.6% growth rate recorded between 2015-2017. Similarly, the white rhino population grew by 7% in 2018 and now stands at 86 individuals.

The landscape’s birdlife is very impressive, as well. With over 350 species to spot, this is a paradise for keen birders! They include grebes, pelicans, cormorants, herons, owls and egrets, storks, ibises and spoonbills, secretary bird, flamingo, ducks and geese, loads of raptors, quails and francolins, guineafowls, rails, bustards, stilts and avocets, plovers, sandpipers. Guests can enjoy conservation activities involving the hefty herbivores, as well as heading out in walking safaris, horse safaris, mountain bike safaris and active particIpation to Ranger deployments, wildlife accounting and rhino tracking. In addition, the traditional day and night big game safaris via guided game drives and walks. 

 

  The lodge was established in 1993 as one of the original small eco-lodges in East Africa. In 2007 the Dyer family – Owners of Borana Conservancy – made a conscious and important decision to commit all retained earnings from commercial activities to support the increased costs of conservation. Since then, Lodge commercial operations have been the prime economic driver that has secured critical habitat for endangered species. 

Today, the Borana Conservancy is a Non-profit Conservation Organisation dedicated to the sustainable conservation of critical habitat and wildlife. The Shareholders of Borana Ranch set up the conservancy to undertake all of the conservation and community programmes. The Shareholders underwrite the core conservation costs and agree that all profits must be re-invested in the conservancy.  

Borana’s mission is to provide a sustainable ecosystem, in partnership with their neighbouring communities, for critically endangered species on the brink of extinction.  

Tourism is the single most significant contributor to the cost of secure underwriting habitat for endangered species. Borana’s collective commitment is to cycle revenue directly back into the conservancy.   

In 2018, 1983 tourists visited Borana, and the 868.000$ generated by tourism activities has been wholly re-invested into conservation activities.    

With the support and collaboration of local Government and wildlife management local Authorities, Borana holistic approach commits tourism, ranching and other enterprises to building local livelihoods and enhancing ecosystem integrity.

The Borana Conservancy seeks excellence in every aspect of conservation, education, alignment with National efforts, collaboration with Local Authorities, and community capacity building.

 

 

Borana’s management is currently trying to expand his area of influence through the extension of its Conservation area. 

 

 

Borana is also a candidate to be inserted in UNESCO’s Man and Biosphere global list, and also seek the GER ( Global Ecosphere Retreat) Recognition of The Long Run, election to which requires the highest performance in the 4Cs ( Community, Conservation, Culture and Commerce).

At present, Borana is the only not-for-profit lodge in East Africa. All retained earnings are re-invested in underwriting core conservation costs which include healthcare, community development, education and microenterprise programmes, along with anti-poaching and security teams across the broader landscape. 

Borana, with its peculiar history, landscape, position, wildlife and community, is certainly a unique case. But it has a high potential to inspire in specific global organizations or owners of properties with similar intrinsic characteristics. Those could learn from various experiences and activities of Borana. The example could serve as a model of how to evolve from non-sustainable commercial operations towards ways of tourism supporting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) concretely. Different aspects of the example could be applied to other wildlife sanctuaries, in particular, protected areas with iconic, majestic and threatened species. 

More information:

Six Blue Parks Join the Growing Network of Global Ocean Refuges

[October 24, 2019. Oslo, Norway]  Today at Our Ocean Conference in Oslo, Norway, LT&C-Partner Marine Conservation Institute and its international science council awarded six outstanding marine protected areas (MPAs) Blue Park designation. A total of 16 MPAs now hold the prestigious Blue Park Award indicating that they meet the highest science-based standards for marine life protection and management. The Blue Park Award recognizes outstanding efforts by nations, non-profits, MPA managers, and local stake-holders that effectively protect marine ecosystems now and into the future. 

“Our goal is to recognize those MPAs that deliver on biodiversity conservation, really protecting our ocean environment and inspiring others around the world to strongly protect at least 30% of the ocean’s most important places by 2030,” said Dr. Lance Morgan, President of Marine Conservation Institute. “Blue Park recognition provides regional examples of successful efforts and serves as a road map for others as we strive to protect our oceans for generations to come.”

After months of rigorous review by Marine Conservation Institute and an independent scientific panel, today’s announcement welcomes the following Blue Parks to a growing network of global ocean refuges (See this link for detailed information on each Blue Park and the system of parks: https://marine-conservation.box.com/s/xfh3bs9tn0ydh2c45vkdzq5vrz367l7p.)

  • Aldabra Atoll Special Reserve, Seychelles, size in 2,559 km2 and 988 mi2
  • Area Marina Protetta di Torre Guaceto, Italy, size in 22 km2 and 9 mi2
  • Arnavon Community Marine Park, Solomon Islands, 169 km2 and 65 mi2
  • Marine Protected Areas around the Northern Channel Islands, California, USA, 3,804 km2 and 1,469 mi2
  • Parque Nacional Isla del Coco, Costa Rica, 2,011 km2 and 777 mi2
  • Reserva Marina de Galápagos, Ecuador, 138,000 km2 and 53,282 mi2

Total Area for 2019 Blue Park Awardees is 146,565 km2 and 56,590 mi2

“Blue Parks are the antidotes to the barrage of threats to life in our oceans,” said Dr. Sarah Hameed, Senior Scientist of Marine Conservation Institute. “MPAs may not be able to stop climate change impacts immediately, but strong protected areas in the right places today will enable ecosystems to recover and build resilience for the future.”

An international council of marine scientists evaluates MPAs nominated for the Blue Park Award and determines which ones meet the standards. The Blue Park Award criteria are based on what scientists have learned about what works to safeguard marine ecosystems. The evaluation of each nominee includes location, design, management, regulations and compliance to select MPAs that effectively protect the world’s most valuable and critical ecosystems. 

“This is a time of great peril for ocean life as it faces off against increasing marine industrialization and climate change,” said Professor Douglas McCauley of UC Santa Barbara, Director of the Benioff Ocean Initiative and a member of the international science council for Blue Parks, “Blue Park Awards are shining a light on protected areas that are leading efforts to protect marine biodiversity and help promote resiliency to climate change impacts.”  

A growing number of countries and conservation organizations are encouraging the creation of hundreds of new protected areas to reach the world’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG 14) of protecting 10% of our oceans by 2020 and the proposed goal of at least 30% by 2030. Marine Conservation Institute is working to ensure as many MPAs as possible meet the high conservation standards of Blue Parks.

“Many of today’s marine protected areas are not effectively protecting the best places,” continued Dr. Hameed. “They’re often ‘paper parks’ appearing to meet commitments but lacking substance. Achieving a Blue Park Award requires meeting science-based standards we know will protect the oceans for generations to come. If we elevate and bring recognition to Blue Parks, we believe it will encourage more countries and leaders to meet this critical standard going forward.”

Today’s 6 winners join 10 prestigious 2017 & 2018 awardees. The network now includes 16 Blue Parks covering 1,669,388 km2 or 644,404 mi2 of ocean (approximately the size of Alaska or Iran, or 3 times the size of Kenya). These outstanding marine protected areas are securing lasting protection for marine biodiversity and their hard-won recognition has already inspired others to work towards a Blue Park Award. Nominations for the 2020 awards can be made through mid-March. Visit blueparks.org to find out how your marine protected area can become a Blue Park.

About Blue Parks

Marine Conservation Institute works with existing and new MPAs to ensure they are well- designed, effectively managed, protect our oceans and deliver on their commitment to protect marine biodiversity for generations to come. MPAs that meet these standards can achieve a Blue Park designation, the highest award of conservation excellence.  

Blue Park Awards were established by the Marine Conservation Institute to encourage governments to safeguard marine wildlife, secure critical habitats, promote resistance to climate change, and ensure the beauty of our oceans for future generations. The effort aims to assemble an effective network that protects and sustains marine life and habitats globally. Today there are 16 marine protected areas that have been awarded Blue Park status. In addition to awarding six new Blue Parks today, Marine Conservation Institute has launched collaborations with groups planning new marine protected areas in Argentina, Chile and Mozambique to ensure their efforts result in future Blue Parks.

About Marine Conservation Institute

Marine Conservation Institute, founded in 1996, works in the U.S. and globally to seek strong protection for at least 30% of the ocean by 2030—for us and future generations. Our focus on protecting the ocean’s most important places follows several lines of work: identifying and advocating for strong marine protected areas; improving laws and other tools to better conserve marine biodiversity; catalyzing effective conservation by recognizing and elevating the best marine protected areas as Blue Parks; and accurately reporting on conservation efforts with our Atlas of Marine Protection (MPAtlas.org).

Individual Blue Park Contacts:

Aldabra Atoll Special Reserve, Seychelles

Dr. Frauke Fleischer-Dogley, Seychelles Island Foundation

ceo@sif.sc 

+248 432 17 35 telephone

Arnavon Community Marine Park, Solomon Islands

Meg Ryan, Project Coordinator, The Nature Conservancy Pacific Islands Program

megan_ryan@tnc.org

+61 418 625 249 telephone

MPAs Around the Northern Channel Islands, USA

Chris Mobley, Sanctuary Superintendent, Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary 

Chris.Mobley@noaa.gov

+1 805 893 6416 telephone

Stephen Wertz, Marine Protected Areas Management Project Supervisor, California Department of Fish and Wildlife

Stephen.Wertz@wildlife.ca.gov

+1 562-342-7184 office

+1 562-343-3808 cell

Yvonne Menard, Public Information Officer, Channel Islands National Park

yvonne_menard@nps.gov

805 658 5725 office

Parque National del Isla Coco, Costa Rica

Alejandra Villalobos Madrigal, Executive Director, Friends Cocos Island

avillalobos@cocosisland.org

+506 2256 7476 telephone

Marina Reserva de Galápagos, Ecuador

Lorena Sánchez, Communications Director, Galapagos Marine Reserve

ksanchez@galapagos.gob.ec

593 099 304 0391 cell

Area Marina Protetta di Torre Guaceto 

Francesco de Franco, Manager, Torre Guaceto Management Consortium, Italy

segreteria@riservaditorreguaceto.it

39 08 3199 0882 telephone

39 335 104 5958 cell

Background Press Materials for Award

https://marine-conservation.box.com/s/xfh3bs9tn0ydh2c45vkdzq5vrz367l7p

Our Ocean 2019 Conference Website and Programme: 

www.ourocean2019.no

The plenary programme of the conference will be live streamed
Professional still photos will be made available at: www.flickr.com/utenriksdept

Proposed UNESCO Biosphere status for Lofoten region met sympathy at Nord MAB meeting in Wester Ross, Scotland

Representatives from UNSECO Biospheres in Sweden, Denmark, Scotland and Norway met October 7-9 for their annual NordMAB experience exchange in Wester Ross Biosphere in Scottland. From Norway, Kari Natland shared first experiences with the country’s first and only Biosphere Reserve, Nordhordland, established in June 2019. And Ørjan Arntzen, who in the Nord MAB circles is known since long for his idea to develop a Biosphere Reserve for the Lofoten region. This time he brought two new voices supporting his initiative: June Grønseth from the Lofoten chapter of Naturvernforbundet, and Peter Prokosch from LT&C. That the LT&C workshop earlier this year in Ramberg independently came up with the finding to apply the model of a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve for the Lofoten region, was seen as coincidence., which could lead the way. 

UNESCO defines biosphere reserves as areas comprising terrestrial, marine and coastal ecosystems. Each reserve promotes solutions reconciling the conservation of biodiversity with its sustainable use. – How to preserve the unique values of the Lofoten islands and its surrounding marine environment is publicly debated since a long time, and this year received a response from the Norwegian government in the establishment of the Lofotodden national park. However, this new national park covers only mountains in the South of the area and only a tiny stripe of the coast. For example, it does not correspond to the often expressed wish of the local people to preserve their marine surroundings with their sustainable fishery practices. And it does not tackle the issue for the entire Lofoten of more sustainable tourism measures. A Biosphere reserve could be designed and developed following the future wanted by the local people and decision-makers. It could also secure the protection of the adjacent sea from any future oil- and gas development, an issue the national “Folkeaksjonen oljefritt Lofoten, Vesterålen og Senja” only reached an interim success on. 

The participants at the Nord MAB meeting, October 7-9, 2019, in Plockton, Wester Ross

Biosphere reserves have three interrelated zones that aim to fulfil three complementary and mutually reinforcing functions:

  • The core area(s) comprises a strictly protected ecosystem that contributes to the conservation of landscapes, ecosystems, species and genetic variation.
  • The buffer zone surrounds or adjoins the core areas, and is used for activities compatible with sound ecological practices that can reinforce scientific research, monitoring, training and education.
  • The transition area is the part of the reserve where the greatest activity is allowed, fostering economic and human development that is socio-culturally and ecologically sustainable.

A Biosphere reserve can take into account the particular regional interests. It would be the ideal concept for the wider Lofoten and should include the entire Vestfjord and offshore seas important for sustainable fisheries. The World Network of Biosphere Reserves (WNBR) of the MAB Programme consists of a dynamic and interactive network of sites. It works to foster the harmonious integration of people and nature for sustainable development through participatory dialogue and knowledge sharing. Biosphere Reserves are the ideal arenas to implement, measure and monitor activities and policies in practice related to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with its 169 concrete and measurable targets. 

Folder of the Nordhordland Biosphere Reserve relating to the SDGs

At the NordMAB meeting, several representatives of Biosphere Reserves reported about their activities and ideas to implement various SDGs. They are convinced that their Biospheres are learning laboratories for sustainable development by linking cultural diversity to biological diversity. They also have multiple programmes to exchange experiences and to learn from each other. Working for a Lofoten Biosphere was highly welcomed by the participants, and, among other, Kari Natland from the newly established Nordhordland Biosphere offered her experience and involvement to bring the initiative further.

Maybe at the next NordMAB meeting, which is planned for 2020 to take place in Estonia, the Lofoten representatives can already report progress with their initiative. Another conference, which relates equally to Biospheres and the mission of LT&C, is planned for February 4-5 in the North Karelia Biosphere Reserve in Joensuu, Finland: SHAPE – Shaping ecotourism in partnership: Practical perspectives. 

If you want to get an up-to-date and comprehensive insight on Biosphere Reserves, read the new book  UNESCO Biosphere Reserves – Supporting Biological Diversity, Sustainability and Society. Martin F. Price, who participated at the NordMAB meeting as a senior expert, is the co-author of the book. (As LT&C member you may ask for a code to get a 20% discount for the book)

Want to engage or raise funds for developing a Biosphere Reserve for the Lofoten area?

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Norway established its first UNESCO Biosphere Reserve – Could the Lofoten region become​ the second?

Only three weeks after we discussed at the LT&C workshop in Ramberg the model of a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve for the Lofoten region, UNESCO announced Nordhordland to be Norway’s first biosphere reserve. The new protected area on the West coast of Norway extends from the ocean and coastline in the west, through fjord landscape, to the mountains of Stølsheimen to the east. An outstanding place for nature and people. It enables people to embrace and preserve nature at the same time. Researchers from the University of Bergen have contributed with their knowledge to the 288-page lengthy application to get the area approved. 

Last spring Norway also inaugurated the “Lofotodden National Park”, a mountain area in the South of the Lofoten. Whether this national park could become the core zone of a Biosphere Reserve was a primary question of the LT&C workshop in Ramberg. This question meanwhile triggered the interest of the regional chapter of the Norwegian Friends of the Earth organisation Naturvernforbundet. Now June Grønseth, Head of Naturvernforbundet in Lofoten, and Peter Prokosch from LT&C have been invited by Ørjan Arntzen to take part and present their ideas at a meeting of NordMAB in Scottland. Ørjan, who is also from the Lofoten, has since a long time promoted the concept of a Biosphere Reserve. Together with him, we will listen October 7-9 to the experts of NordMAB countries about their experience with Biosphere Reserves. We keep you updated.

Lofotodden National Park. Photo: Peter Prokosch

Ten Years of Education at the Hermanus Whale Festival

The eco tent at the Hermanus Whale Festival was a real winner this year with many interested visitors. Our LT&C-Example member, the Dyer Island Conservation Trust/ Marine Dynamics Team was there, for their tenth year, and had excellent engagement with children and adults alike.

 “The displays encourage children to understand our marine species and how scientists study them. As such, we had some shark fin matches, as well as matching of whale callosities. Our team of marine biologists was on hand to answer everyone’s questions. We hosted talks on sharks, penguins, marine pollution and solutions, and entertained with a fun penguin dance,” said Trust educator Pinkey Ngewu. “Many ‘surfed’ our wave of change made from recycled plastic bottles and sponsored by our corporate donor Volkswagen SA. The images of plastic in our ocean are a wake-up call to all of us and our projects such as the fishing line bin and the storm drain nets go a long way to mitigate injuries and possible death of our marine wildlife. Well done to the festival organisers. There were many families there enjoying the vibe of the festival and looking out for the southern right whales, who enjoy the sheltered bays at this time of the year, for mating and calving.”

Blue, one of eight Gansbaai penguins was there. Visit Blue at the Great White House and find all other seven penguins in Gansbaai and you could win a trip with Dyer Island Cruises. https://xplorio.com/gansbaai/gansbaai-penguin-campaign/

Early counts indicate the festival was visited by approximately 100 000 people. Save the dates for next year 24-27 September 2020!

Yakutia is the world-champion in protected area-coverage. Can ecotourism help to secure this “Gift to the Earth”?

The world struggles to reach by 2020 the agreed target of securing 17% of its terrestrial surface, covering the different ecosystems, as a protected nature area. The Sakha Republic (Yakutia; the largest region of Russia) has already more than doubled this figure with 38% of its entire territory protected in different kinds of nature reserves. Yakutia’s Minister of Ecology, Nature Management and Forestry, Sakhamin Afanasyev, presented this enormous achievement September 26 at the “Ecotourism and Protected Area” event of the Northern Sustainable Development Forum (NSDF) in Yakutsk. Co-organised and -chaired by the Yakutian Government and LT&C, this event was one of many quite different ones at the 4-day’s Forum. Much of the credit for achieving the extensive network of nature reserves were given to Sakha’s first president, Mikhail Nikolaev. The present Government is building further on his foresightful nature conservation policy in the 1990s, once titled and awarded by WWF as a “Gift to the Earth“. The protected area network grows further. Only recently, the entire New Sibrian Islands were declared a regional nature reserve. 

How can eco- or sustainable tourism help to preserve these impressive and vast natural landscapes and ecosystems for future generations? This was the main question, raised, e.g. by the initiator of the Ecotourism and Protected Areas round table from the Yaktian Government and Northern Forum, Vladimir Vasiliev. The understanding of the term “sustainable tourism” was clarified right at the beginning of the round table by Olga Zakharova from the State University of Tyumen: Tourism, which supports the UN-defined Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). She further described what could become a common perspective: “Our idea is to introduce a new concept of sustainable tourism in the Arctic at those territories which are home to northern indigenous peoples to make tourism a means of teaching the Sustainable Development Goals. Each part of the tourist route starting from preparatory activities and finishing with farewell words to the northern land can be designed through a prism of Sustainable Development Goals. This can be achieved by studying traditional values of northern indigenous peoples, their perceptions of humans’ place in the world, their traditions and economic activities.”

Tourism, which supports nature conservation, today in the Russian Arctic remains embryonic. There is certainly potential to attract nature lovers or bird watchers to experience and getting engaged in protecting the vast wilderness areas and unique wildlife of the Russian Arctic. Still, speakers in other events of the NSDF were focusing on quite different forms of tourism. Classical cruise tourism on the Lena river was marked, and the new hope and focus of Yakutia’s tourism business are on extreme tourism. The two coldest settlements in the northern hemisphere on earth, where temperatures of minus 67,7 respectively -67,8 C have been measured, are in the Sakha Republic. Now expeditions will be offered, where participants compete to find the coldest places of the year. Costs per person: 25 000 US$ and more. Target: 25 tourists/year. 

It is high time for Arctic people, communities and governments to decide and prepare for what kind of tourists and tourism they want and what is beneficial for a sustainable future. As a representative from China mentioned, “we can easily bring you 20 million tourists, just let us know”. – China was altogether very present and active at the Northern Sustainable Development Forum. The Northern Sea Route and other transport routes between East Asia and the EU were a dominant topic. That 30% of the world’s so far unused resources are in the Arctic was another topic and geopolitical issue, which provokes many different speculations and activities. 

Right at the beginning of the NSDF, the Expert Center for Arctic Development, PORA, presented what they call the first two sustainable development ratings of the Arctic, the Polar Index. They developed a sophisticated methodology to define sustainable development. On their company rating for the Barents region, Norwegian and Russian oil companies are ranking among the first 4. It is, of course, justifiable that also oil- or other mining companies are rated according to their sustainability efforts. However, today, it is highly questionable, whether additional definitions of sustainability make sense, especially if they cater for a specific purpose. Since 2015 we are living in times, where the entire world has agreed to make an effort to achieve by 2030 the 17 defined Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with 169 very concrete and measurable targets.

As Peter Prokosch presented in the plenary session of the Forum as “a vision for the Arctic”, no other region on earth has better conditions and a higher potential to reach all 17 SDGs by 2030 than the Arctic. To explain this in more detail and promote related activities, could become a primary focus of the educational institutions, organised within the University of the Arctic (UArctic). Representatives of UArctic and own events on education played an essential role in the entire NSDF. The Northern Forum announced to host the NSDF from now on an annual basis. More focus on making the Arctic regions forerunners for sustainability in the world, measured by the SDG-index, could then be the goal.

This year’s Northern Sustainable Development Forum culminated in a fulminant gala show, “Lights over the Arctic”, performed in the colossal sports stadium of Yakutsk. One of the main messages was: “we can’t let the Earth down”. With a mix of indigenous-, classical- and modern cultural elements, the show tried to illustrate the need and value of international- and cross-cultural cooperation — the Arctic as a region of hope and sustainability lead.

How much Linking Tourism & Conservation can contribute to this commitment, the future will show. That we have been invited to co-organise the Ecotourism and Protected Areas event at the Forum, indicates at least that the LT&C mission is taken seriously and can compete with or complement others. It also connected to the 30-year old German-Russian environmental agreement and cooperation, which LT&C-member Professor Hans-Dieter Knapp from the Michael Succow foundation highlighted at the round table. The first German-Russian biological expedition in 1989 to Taimyr was the starting point of significant development of establishing new protected areas in the Russian Arctic. WWF was involved since the beginning as a driving force, as Vladimir Krever from WWF-Russia described. Today the organisation runs a systematic and comprehensive protected area programme for the Russian Arctic, supported by the German Government. Tourism does not play a concrete, supportive role in it yet.

Meanwhile, the LT&C-Taimyr national park initiative, which Natalia Malygina from the Ural university presented, may gain ground. Russia and the Taimyr region could show up with its first example of a protected area supported by tourism. Or this year’s NSDF has encouraged someone in the Sakha Republic to present the first LT&C-Example at the next Northern Sustainable Development Forum. 

Having already protected 38% of its entire territory as nature reserves, Yakutia is a world-champion