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Sister Park Agreement with Glacier Bay

Unesco strives to strengthen collaboration between World Heritage sites. Partnership working provides better insight and appreciation of the diversity of natural and cultural heritage sites – and helps to preserve these values for future generations. In 2019, West Norwegian Fjords signed a sister park agreement with Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska.

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Foto Steven Schaller Foto Merete Løvoll Rønneberg

Edifying friendships

The partnership between West Norwegian Fjords and Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska came about through Unesco’s marine network. The network includes 50 marine Word Heritage Sites. Unesco refers to them as ‘The Crown Jewels of the Ocean’.

The pairing with Glacier Bay showed us that we have much in common: more or less the same volume of marine traffic, and similar challenges in management and protection. In Glacier Bay, all access to the World Heritage site is by sea. There are no roads, and no one lives within the national park area. The West Norwegian Fjords and Glacier Bay both focus on education. Glacier Bay is also involved with major research projects. Both similarities and differences mean that we have much to learn from one another.

Incentives to travel without a trace

In Glacier Bay, nature takes priority. The number of vessels allowed into the area is heavily restricted. In the most fragile areas, all travel is banned when wildlife is at its most vulnerable. There are incentives available for the most eco-friendly vessels and for those who make donations towards education and research: they will be favoured in the competition to access the World Heritage site. In this way, the national park handles its commercial interests while protecting vulnerable wildlife.

Glacier Bay has inspired our efforts to establish a more comprehensive management system for the West Norwegian Fjords. The Norwegian parliament has decided that from 2026, only zero-emission vessels will be allowed on the World Heritage fjords. This ambitious target is a challenge for the cruise industry, but may well encourage greener value creation in the areas surrounding these fjords.

Rangers stimulate considerate conduct

In Glacier Bay, park rangers talk about enormous glaciers and how the grand landscape was formed. They are experts at spotting bears that amble along the shore and wild goats that graze among wild mountain crags. They thoroughly enjoy sharing these experiences with visitors to the park.

The park rangers’ most important job is to kindle an interest. When we understand the inter-relationships within the fine web of nature, it is easier to understand why we should protect these values.

The Glacier Bay rangers share generously of their knowledge. Inspired by them, the West Norwegian Fjords have developed their own educational programme and hired a group of enthusiastic fjord rangers. By sharing, we strengthen one another. The aim is to give visitors an even better experience and raise awareness of our shared world heritage.

Young people and the World Heritage

The park rangers at Glacier Bay have developed online educational programmes for school children of different ages. Just like in Norway, not everyone can visit a national park or a World Heritage site. Thanks to the educational programmes, pupils can now make digital visits.

Imagine sitting in your classroom while putting questions direct to park rangers – and hearing them talk about how whales find enough food, or about the hierarchy in the wolf pack! Through photos and films, the rangers invite the children to join them in the countryside, thereby giving them a great wildlife experience while seated at their school desk.

This has inspired us at West Norwegian Fjords to develop our own digital programmes. We look forward to meeting up with children and young people online – but will continue to invest in face-to-face educational initiatives. There is hardly anything as inspiring to us than encounters with the real heirs to the World Heritage!

Research for our shared World Heritage

How do fish and marine mammals experience the noise from shipping lanes? What are the effects of cruise ships discharging greywater at sea? How does grazing affect the biological interaction? Many important questions like these need thorough research if we are to find the answer. For us to be able to look after the unique World Heritage and safeguard good habitats, we need to learn how the web of nature works.

In Glacier Bay, they manage to fund important research by imposing taxes and selling educational services to cruise ship operators. This is a win-win solution: park rangers get to come aboard the cruise ships and visitors gain unforgettable experiences. This provides a good income for the national park, and helps fund education and research. In this way, the park can acquire new knowledge, take better care of the World Heritage and build even better educational programmes. In brief: a value chain worthy of the World Heritage!