The Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators sought about 1.25 million kroner in grants to initiate tourist cruises with a primary itinerary of cleaning up beaches in Svalbard. AECO learned shortly before Christmas it was receiving 150,000 kroner for the project, which has a total budget of about 2.75 million.
That's insufficient for the project to proceed, said AECO Executive Director Frigg Jørgensen.
"The project as it is described is not feasible for us," she said.
The grant is 12 percent of the amount sought and five percent of the total budget for the voyages that two ships, the Expedition and Orthelius, were scheduled to make. AECO told environmental fund officials the cruise organization can't cover 95 percent of the costs.
"We must admit that we are surprised," Jørgensen told Svalbardposten.
Trashed again after six years
Large amounts of garage washes up ashore every year in Svalbard. In addition to being an aesthetic blemish, much of the trash poses a threat to wildlife. It takes an average of six years from the time a beach is cleaned to when it is strewn with rubbish again.
The Clean Up Svalbard program began about a decade ago as a cooperative effort between cruise operators and The Governor of Svalbard, with cruise companies inviting passengers to clean up small amounts of trash during landings as a minor part of the itinerary. AECO's grant application last fall sought to create cruises where passengers were much more active in beach cleanups, participating in informative presentations and discussions along the way, while simultaneously creating publicity about the garbage problem and activities related to it. Passengers participating in the cruises would receive a 20 percent discount, and AECO had applied for funds to allow free passage for VIP guests such as lecturers, journalists, government officials and environmental activists.
No free trips
Svalbard Environmental Protection Fund officials, in turn, expressed surprised at AECO's decision to eliminate its cleanup cruises.
"We think that it is regrettable that AECO does not want to continue working on the project, but we understand that they think they got too small of a percentage of the project's funding," said Asbjørn Hagen, the fund's senior advisor.
"There was also an attempt to offer free seats – VIP seats – and that we did not wish to support," he said.
Hagen said the fund has supported the project's administrative costs. In addition, the environmental fund arranged for the free receipt of beach trash collected during the cruises.
Considering an experimental cruise
The idea of designated cleanup cruises is several years old, and interest shot up last year due to widespread debate about ocean pollution and on the beaches around Svalbard.
AECO's intent was to offer cruises carrying up to 200 paying guests in 2015 and 2016. One of the project's cruise operators is considering a trial voyage on their own initiative, with garbage collection receiving a little more emphasis than a regular cruise.
"Some will say that the inflow will continue regardless, but the project had an equally important purpose of creating awareness," Jørgensen said.