Amphibious Trilogies

Dark Islands


Here I am. The snow lays heavily on the ground. It’s rather chilly. I am standing outside the Norwegian Coastal Administration (NCA) Vessel Traffic Centre (VTC) in Vardø. VTC shares a home with the Directory of Fisheries and the recently added analysis unit. Each unit has specific responsibility areas. Together, the main task is to analyse available information of vessel activities and movements, and to detect unregulated transport of goods and unregulated fishing. By means of radar monitoring, ship reporting and Automatic Identification System (AIS), they cover a vast stretch of water; from the coastlines of Troms and Finnmark, to nearby Russia and further away islands of Jan Mayen and Svalbard.

Behind me stands a redundant Arctic Ocean observation buoy for realtime logging and transferring of environmental data. Eye catching, resembling a classic UFO. The buoy, called Wavescan, is particularly amphibious, rigged to gather oceanographic, meteorological (metocean) and water quality data. Wavescan runs on solar power, GPS positioning and two-way communication. It is able to function in very extreme environmental conditions, such as in very deep water, strong currents, high winds and in remote locations. About a year ago the buoy was one of several floating nodes of a national research project. As I understand, the main goal of the project was to make a tool to monitor and map the motion of the ocean from different positions around Norway’s northern coastlines. The results of the research contribute to anticipate and warn ships of potential dangers at sea. I asked the VTC staff if the buoy would be able to work today. The answer was ‘probably’, but the battery would need to be replaced.

In the background are the Globus 1 and 2 Satellite Stations administered by the Norwegian Intelligence Service(NIS). Close by, the Globe 3 Station is under construction – a joint project between NIS and the US Air Force Space Command. While the radar stations are outwardly highly visible, what goes on in the inside is highly secret, fortified by security fences surrounding the military site with staggered warning signs in English, Norwegian and Russian. ‘KEEP OUT”.

A statement given by The Norwegian intelligence service proclaimed that the tasks of the new radar will be to follow and categorize objects in space, monitor national interest areas in the north, as well as collect data for national use for research and development. To expand on this comment, the new base station would have the same function of the Globus 2, only better. However, in a storm the covering of the antenna was blown away, exposing the orientation of the radar dish. It was rather embarrassing, pointing directly towards Russia.

To be clear ‘Vardø’ is both the name of a town and the administrative centre for the wider Vardø Municipality in Finnmark, Norway. The town lies on a small island called Vardøya, near the mouth of the Varangerfjord, on the edge of the Barents Sea.

Vardø is the easternmost town of all the Nordic countries. Located at 31°E, it shares a meridian line with the Great Cheops Pyramid in Giza. To mark this a small non-invasive pyramid has been planted on the top of Reinøya, close to Vardøya, on the exact same altitude as the pyramid in Giza. Both Reinøya and its neighbouring island, Hornøya, are protected nature reserves. In the spring about 10.000 polar seabirds migrate from the south pole to make their nesting places on the steep cliffs. Thanks to the fabulous Biotope Architecture Bureau, flocks of bird enthusiasts come from all over the world to take part in this spring mating ritual. They bring with them their money; a source of income for a small island trying to survive through the thick and thin.

In conversations with island people, they say that Biotope has inspired a new approach to the bird life on Vardø. Something so habitually overlooked. Overlooked is the BBC series who were working on Hornøya when I visited the island. Something to appreciate and take joy in. They were filming puffins with a stealth camera installed in a kind of a robotic puppet Puffin. The Puffin puppet was programmed with several behavioural movements and smells, and with a stealth camera to record the violence of Puffins in the mating season. All that they left was their money for services rendered. What they did not acknowledge was that they were filming on the island – Hornøya. This I have found is symptomatic to Vardø. People come and go. Researchers like to come here, but they do not leave a footprint on Vardø once their studies are over.

In good times the rich waters of the Barents Sea provide ample food for the bird colonies. In recent times climate changes, fisheries, pollution and various other human and non-human activities have contributed to the decline of seabirds. Fishing and seafood processing still remains to be a main source of income of Vardø, despite the virtual collapse of the fishing industry in 2017. There is a saying of islanders, when the ocean thrives, the birds thrive, Vardø thrives. So called non-indigenous species ( ‘invasive species’) such as the King Crab do also thrive. They come in hordes are proficient eco-engineers eradicating the natural ecosystem of the sea bed, hey, they taste deliciously in the Vardø Hotel restaurant and in Vardø College where you can both purchase and eat such local delicacies for a smallish price. If you are lucky, then you can have an almost free meal from the fishers on the newly half-restored fishing processing plant.

I am inspired by this resilient community. I want to bring something back. At the time of writing I am thinking of a project where the buoy is put back into the sea. I would like to engage with the youths of Vardø and Kystverket to make visible/tangible the data that the buoy can produce.


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