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Project Protect Our Waters! A campaign to reduce wastewater pollution on Svalbard

Wastewater pollution is an issue that extends across the globe, including to the Arctic. When looking out at what appears to be a pristine Arctic environment, many are surprised at what can lie deep below the surface – wetwipes, q-tips, and cigarettes to name a few.

By Anne Gaspers, Sahar Stevenson-Jones, Hanne Kvitsand, Ida Beate Øverjordet

Many Arctic settlements have little to no wastewater treatment. Until recently, in the town of Longyearbyen at 78 degrees North on the archipelago of Svalbard, everything flushed down the toilet ended up in the fjord. In 2022, Longyearbyen Lokalstyre installed a sieve to stop large particulate matter from ending up in the fjord. The sieve is a large improvement, but it does not completely solve the issue. Rubbish can still be found, 60 meter down in the vicinity of the sewerage outlet.

The CLIMAREST project, part of the European Union Mission Restore our Oceans and Waters by 2030 programme, is working to address wastewater pollution on Svalbard. With the support of local government, businesses and organizations, the project is running a social campaign to raise awareness and reduce pressures.

A campaign with a positive tone

The campaign has a positive tone and a clear call to action! Protect our waters – everything that is flushed could end up in the ocean, please flush only toilet paper. The message printed on stickers is distributed to all hotels in Longyearbyen, and other local actors, including the local schools and sports hall. The message is also conveyed through a video distributed by Visit Svalbard, Svalbard Adventures, Longyearbyen hotels and Longyearbyen lokalstyre.

Four happy women, one holding stickers
From left to right: Rachel Karasik (NIVA), Anne Gaspers (SINTEF Ocean), Marthe Bugge (Svalbard Adventures), Sahar Stevenson-Jones (SINTEF Ocean). Marthe receives stickers, which Svalbard Adventures will place in the hotels they manage.

Who’s involved?

The campaign targets both tourists and locals alike. All hotels in Longyearbyen take part in supporting the campaign. The hotels share information about wasterwater pollution when guests check in, reminding them that only toilet paper should be flushed down the toilet. Hotels place the campaign stickers in bathrooms and share the campaign video on screens.
The local government and the local newspaper Svalbardposten, among others, are simultaneously working to target the local population. They will provide information about sewage pollution to new residents, share the campaign video, and place stickers in public bathrooms.

Smiling woman holding a poster.
Sahar-Stevenson Jones from CLIMAREST engages locals with a quiz. To her right is a sample of sediment taken from the fjord bottom that includes trash such as cigarette butts and wet wipes, set in epoxy resin.

Kicking-off the campaign

The campaign was launched during Svalbard’s Sustainability Week, which took place the first week of June 2024. At an interactive stand, we shared information on sewage pollution, displayed the campaign stickers and invited citizens to take part in the Big Toilet Quiz.

Other research activities on Svalbard

The campaign is one of several research initiatives the CLIMAREST project will undertake on Svalbard. Additionally, the project will assess the benthic diversity and health of the fjord, and evaluate technical and non-technical factors impacting wastewater management in the Arctic.

CLIMAREST is an EU Horizon project, funded by the European Union, with demonstration sites in Norway, Ireland, France, Spain and Madeira. The 8.3M euro project, as part of Mission Ocean, is a consortium of 18 partners from across Europe, each focusing on a different aspect related to Marine Ecosystem Restoration. For more information visit: climarest.eu or follow on LinkedIn and X: @climaresteu.
For more information about the CLIMAREST project’s work on Svalbard, contact Hanne.Kvitsand@sintef.no

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