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Book ‘Polar Bears of Spitsbergen’ tells of denizes of the North

Islands new tourist frontier

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

VLISSINGEN, the Netherlands - A new photo book by adventurer and Polar region explorer Rinie van Meurs tells the story of the one thousand polar bears he has seen on his frequent travels to the floe-laden seas between Greenland and Nova Zembla. Van Meurs also uses the book as a vehicle to warn against global warming and pollution and the havoc they create in the region and beyond.

Van Meurs who frequently guides ecology tours, has travelled the far-northern waters since 1989. His goal has always been to document the life of the polar bears, now a protected species. An estimated 30,000 live in Canada, Greenland and Siberia, thriving since the 1973 ban on hunting the huge bears. Often, Van Meurs’ expeditions land for a while on Spitsbergen, the same archipelago used by 16th century Dutch explorer Willem Barentsz and his crew as a staging point for their travels east, and the ill-fated sojourn at Nova Zembla. For centuries, Spitsbergen was a Dutch enclave in the forbidding white wilderness, where Dutch whalers brought their catch and shipped out whale oil.

Because man is the invader in the natural habitat of the polar bears, encounters between with the animals can be dangerous, forcing explorers to carry rifles. Polar bears scent prey - man could be considered that - from miles away, run fast, swim icy waters and easily board the next floe. Their food exists of seals, small whales, fish, birds and land mamals such as hare and fox. During the summer, polar bears live on plants, berries or grass, just like the brown bears.

Although some of the Northern tribes are permitted to fill a low quota of polar bear hunting, the animals face more dangers from climatological and environmental changes. The seas swirling around Spitsbergen increasingly carry polution created by man, such as PCB’s which cause cancer in man and beast. Not only are the adult polar bears affected by these poisons, PCB attack their immune and reproductive systems. The mortality rate of young polar bears in the region is very high.

Added to the woes of the bears is global warming. It changes and decreases their natural habitat: ice fields. With it, the hunting grounds of the polar bears are becoming smaller and less populated as well, forcing the bears to forage into other areas where the environment is changing as well.

‘Polar Bears of Spitsbergen”, published by Vlissingen-based Oceanwide Expeditions is a homage to the magnificent polar bears. At the same time the book is a warning that man endangers the environment in ways that need changes rapidly, in a concerted effort by all.