Conserving the Norwegian fjords for future generations

Barba is a vessel built with one purpose: to be a platform to inform conservation efforts and inspire people to make a change for the sake of our oceans. In that capacity she spends a lot of time travelling north of her home port in Stavanger on missions to take scientists, conservationists and documentarians into the hardest to reach areas of pack ice beyond the Arctic Circle, to study marine animals.

Musto have partnered with Barba’s captain, Andreas B. Heide, in his conservation mission. We’re onboard to see this partnership in action.

Our destination this time is not north but west, into the Lysefjord. It’s one of the trips that Andreas uses to highlight how the actions of humanity could impact the fjords’ ecosystem.

Although this isn’t the best time of year to see orca and whales in the waters of Lysefjord, we embark hoping to get a clearer view of the ecosystem that thrives in this mythical landscape - both above and below water - and a better idea of what can be done to save it.

As we sail out of Kvitsøy, a tiny island off the mainland, we have a surprise encounter with Norway’s marine life. Well, Andreas does. “What do you want for lunch?” he asks, as he dons a dry suit and oxygen tank. But he’s overboard before anyone can reply. An hour later, Barba is heaving with crabs and scallops. Thanks to the constant currents that wash through the sandy channels around Kvitsøy this is the perfect place to find a delicious seafood feast.

Full and content, the journey through the mouth of the Lysefjord and beyond is a breeze. The dark water is completely still as we navigate the glacial valleys. The sheer scale of the fjord is incredible. This is a truly beautiful place. And there’s very rarely any sight of human influence. It’s hard to believe the water in these peaceful channels tell a different tale.

Andreas has most recently been focused on studying the levels of micro-plastics in the water surrounding Norway and all the way up the coast to Iceland. Together with a team of other scientists and researchers, he’s been using ground-breaking techniques to document micro- and nano-plastic levels in the waters and whales of the North Atlantic.

Their findings have been shocking. Tiny particles from clothing, furniture, even fishing nets, enter marine animals and pass through cell membranes, entering the circulatory system and causing damage at a cellular level. Plastic bags, disused fishing nets and single-use bottles already kill approximately 100,000 marine mammals and turtles every year, alongside 1 million seabirds. The unknown impact of micro- and nano-plastics will see this figure dramatically increase. 

The team is now working to inspire action to reduce human plastic consumption and show that we can all make a difference when fighting this issue. “You can do a lot for conservation whoever you are,” says Andreas passionately. “If you’re a banker, you can make healthier investments. If you work at the supermarket you can encourage people to buy less plastic. Conservation doesn’t need to be out in the field. As a consumer and a voter in a democratic country, you have the freedom to make better decisions.”

One way of doing this is to take storytellers like us into the heart of nature to show our readers and viewers the beauty that will disappear if we don’t take action.

On land, conservation is just as vital to the continued preservation of the fjords. Flørli was one of the first hydropower plants in Norway, which was pioneering when it opened in 1918. It certainly set a trend: these days around 95% of Norway’s power comes from the water, with thermal and wind power making up the remaining 5%. This is incredibly impressive, considering less that 30% of the UK’s energy is from renewable sources.

It’s now a popular hiking destination which sees tens of thousands of outdoor enthusiasts pass through every year. While the pollution coming into Lysefjord’s water is part of the global problem, local organisations are playing a significant role in reducing human impact above ground. Lysefjord has achieved the prestigious title of Sustainable Destination, only given to places that work systematically to reduce the negative impact of tourism.

As we sailed into the tiny harbour at Florli, Andreas pointed out the top of the ridge that we were heading up to. It was clear that this was going to be more of a climb than a hike. Which is our forte. The three hours spent ascending was incredibly peaceful. Despite being a tourist destination, we still felt that we were alone among these giant mountains of rock. Which is testament to the fantastic work being done here to conserve the natural environment.

In places the idyllic silence would be broken by the call of a bird of prey or the hammering of a waterfall that lay just around the next bend. The only real evidence of humanity was the parts of the hike where we would cross paths with the epic 4444 step staircase that winds its way over rock, through waterfall and among the trees to reach the cliff top.

Mounting the final rock of our hike and turning to look out over the fjord left us speechless. The endless view of the Lysefjord was indescribable. You get the feeling that you’re on the throne of a Nordic god, surveying the whole kingdom of Norway stretching out to the horizon. The scale is extraordinary.

From this god’s eye view, the world is invincible. The environmental issues we’d explored with Andreas, just a blip in time. But the reality is that it’s not. As we learnt from Andreas, the fine balance between nature and humanity is rapidly swinging out of control. Even places as remote as this are being compromised. 

Sailing back towards Stavanger, Andreas talked more about how he and his team are creating change for the oceans. “The key for inspiring action is both raising awareness and evoking emotions for the environment by bringing people closer to it,” he believes. “The result of our findings and our subsequent storytelling through brands like Musto and Momentum Life will have an hugely positive impact.” Andreas’ optimism is like a rallying cry. We disembark feeling hopeful and proud that we can play even a small part in his mission.

You can follow Andreas’ adventures at barba.no or @barbaboat on Instagram.

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