Two national parks opened offshore

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Under brilliantly sunny skies and weather that attracted thousands of spectators, Norway’s Climate and Environment Minister Vidar Helgesen officially opened two new national parks on Sunday, both of them along the coast with much of the area they cover offshore and underwater. The goal, he said, is to preserve the country’s marine nature in line with the nature above ground.

Climate and Environment Minister Vidar Helgesen officially opened two offshore national parks over the weekend. Most of the area they’ll protect lies underwater. PHOTO: Klima- og miljødepartementet

“We have established two national parks with marine nature of great value,” said Helgesen, of the Conservative Party, during opening ceremonies at the new Jomfruland National Park off the coast at Kragerø. It covers 117 square kilometers, while the other new Raet National Park off Arendal covers 608 square kilometers. It’s located south of Jomfruland off the area known as Sørlandet.

Norway now has a total of 39 national parks on the mainland plus those offshore that already include Hvaler National Park in Østfold and Færder National Park in Vestfold. The Raet National Park runs from Hasseltange in Grimstad north to the island of Lyngør, which also boasts a well-preserved historic settlement off Tvedestrand.

Helgesen was glad that so many people, an estimated 3,000, turned out for the openings of Jomfruland and Raet. “The public engagement shows that coastal nature, the sea and national parks are important for many,” said Helgeland, just before a week of political gatherings and election campaign debate will begin in nearby Arendal.

The rocky beaches and coastlines that only make up around 2 percent of the national parks’ total area will also be protected from development. PHOTO: Klima- og miljødepartementet

Even though his Conservative Party leads a government that’s also controversially keen on expanding its offshore oil and gas industry, not least in the sensitive Arctic, Helgesen insisted it wants to take care of its marine nature. “This fantastic nature- and cultural landscape along the coast of Telemark and Sørlandet will be secured for coming generations,” he said.

He thinks the parks will also be important for the areas’ tourism industry. While they’re protected from any commercial development, they’re open for public use and can be explored by kayak or boat, swimming and diving. Fully 98 percent of the Jomfruland National Park off Kragerø is underwater, while 99 percent of Raet is, with their marine plants, fish and shellfish.

“There are some access restrictions to protect the fantastic birdlife, and restrictions on use of the waters and seafloor,” Helgesen said. But they’re expected to become popular visitor destinations.

Morten Johannessen, a local wildlife manager, was delighted by the establishment of the parks that he contends will prevent any damage to the marine nature in the future. Tradtional use of the area can continue as before, with fishing, boating and swimming allowed, but it won’t be possible, for example, to launch any marine plant cultivation, lay any pipelines or build any windmills for energy production.

The new national park is the second set up in Telemark County, after Hardangervidda in the mountains. “This is just fantastic,” Kragerø Mayor Jone Blikra told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). “We have the mountains and the coastline, and now Telemark County has national parks in both.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund