North of Norway, there lies a group of islands called the Svalbard Archipelago. Our expedition planned to explore the largest of the islands, Spitsbergen, which is home to about 2500 people and 100 polar bears. We hoped to reach some of the northern most fjords where we had encountered excellent diving conditions as well as quite a few polar bears in the past.
We left from Longyearbyen which at the 78 Degree parallel is already above the Arctic Circle, and thus experiences 24 hours of daylight from the end of April to the end of August. Originally founded to support the coal mining industry, the community of about 2000 now boasts a university primarily devoted to polar research as well as a thriving tourist industry. 200,000 people per year visit this small community as it is one of the only outposts of civilization throughout Svalbard, and has become a gateway to the Arctic.
Even before boarding the Plancius from Oceanwide Expeditions, there was so much to do: kayaking, hiking, dog sledding, visiting the local museum, taking pictures of the local scenery, birds and reindeer, and of course, getting your biorhythms completely messed up by 24 hours of daylight! Yes, that takes some getting used to!
After boarding the ship, we immediately headed north and began the series of mandatory safety briefings required the various entities regulating tourism in that part of the world. Not the least of which is the polar bear briefing on what to do in the unlikely event...you get the picture. After all the mandatory briefings, we got to do our first check out dive near the ice in Raudfjorden. Many of the divers were surprised to see kelp covering the bottom. With decent visibility, it was easy to see all of the kelp as well as the numerous invertebrates and lumpfish hiding underneath. Four of the group decided to try snorkeling around some ice and were excited to realize they could stay warm in the 36 degree water and have some fun playing on the small bergs.