Urinating in the ice cave
Despair about visitors peeing and "tagging" in the ice cave on Larsbreen.
The scent of urine, crushed icicles, hole from ice axes and names carved into the walls are what visitors encounter these days in an ice cave on Larsbreen, a few kilometers from Nybyen, according to a guide.
"The pee smell is the worst," said Vladimir Prokofiev, a guide for Spitsbergen Outdoor Activities. "The cave is not well ventilated, so it stays in the air for a long time. A tourist group I brought in said they got the impression that the cave was used as a toilet."
The ice cave is accessible by foot from Longyearbyen and open to everyone. Several people have used the opportunity to stay overnight in the cavity of the glacier, but some have left unwanted and persistent tracks, Prokofiev said.
"Originally there were large and nice ice formations in the cave," he said. "But they were broken at the start of February. In addition, people have carved names in the ice walls."
Prokofiev subsequently posted a message on the Facebook group "Ris, Ros & Info Longyearbyen" urging visitors to leave behind the fewest possible traces.
But conditions got no better – indeed, they worsened, he said.
"It surprised me," said Prokofiev, who is guiding in the cave for the third consecutive year. "Just two days later, someone had beaten on the walls with ice axes. That is vandalism. People must think about other visitors. The cave is for everyone."
"We have never had these problems before. There are a few peopler who ruin it for many."
Locked the cave
The problem is not new. Spitsbergen Travel arranged guided tours to the ice cave on Longyearbreen for nearly 20 years, but in 2011 "garbage, smoking, vandalism and urinating" suddenly became a big problem.
"It was bad up there," said Tore Magne Hoem, production manager for Spitsbergen Travel. "They did not look out for it. Our solution was to lock the igloo covering the hole because people were not behaving. We said that people were free to make their own entrance, but that this one - the one we had made - was ours."
The decision was controversial, but seemed to help.
"We wanted to send a message with this, and the effect was great," Hoem said. "A few weeks later we removed the lock, and since then we have not experienced unwanted behavior."
"Sure, we see that there have been people there outside of our tours," he said. "But as it is today, it'is not a problem."
The caves are often narrow, slippery and difficult to move in. It is easy bumping into an icicle and causing it to break. But it is something else entirely when damage is inflicted deliberately, Hoem said.
"To inscribe your name in the ice is a form of tagging and completely unnecessary," he said.
"One must take care of nature, and think of the experience for those who come afterwards," Hoem said.
Prokofiev said he does not think it is appropriate to put a lock on Larsbreen.
"The idea behind is that it should be open to all," he said. "Nature belongs to everyone."
Guri Tveito, environmental manager for The Governor of Svalbard, offered a reminder about common decency.
"The intention is for Svalbard's nature to develop to the maximum possible extent unaffected by humans," she said. "Many come here to experience pristine wilderness, and we all have a responsibility to behave accordingly,"