Conservation and sustainable development in Sweden’s Kosterhavet National Park: A conversation with park director Anders Tysklind

Off the west coast of Sweden, not far from the Norwegian border, lies Kosterhavet National Park, the country’s first marine national park, established in September 2009. A place of great beauty, Kosterhavet boasts the highest levels of biological diversity in Sweden, with 6,000 species underwater and an equal number – mostly birds, plants, insects, and small animals – above ground. Kosterhavet is also a groundbreaking place in Swedish conservation policy: it’s the first unit in the national park system to fully recognize the place of human beings in the ecosystem.

Last week I posted about my trip to the Koster Islands this past summer. After that visit, I spoke with Kosterhavet National Park Director Anders Tysklind by telephone.

What are your goals for Kosterhavet National Park?

Anders Tysklind: Our great hope is first, that we can live up to the purpose of the strong protection this area has received: to protect and preserve this area for ourselves and for future generations, as it says in our statute. At the same time, we want to see a living archipelago in which people can live and have their livelihood. We have absolutely nothing against people drawing economic benefits from the national park as long as they do it in the right way. Sustainable development means that you also have to factor in people in an important way. The big challenge is to link human activities while also protecting these ecosystems.

What are the biggest challenges?

AT: First, there are the global challenges that affect us all wherever we happen to be: climate change, acidification and pollution of the world’s oceans, all of these big world events that naturally affect this area as well. What can we in our little corner do about this? I think that Kosterhavet National Park can be a voice of hope that demonstrates how we can address these problems in a global perspective. It may not be our daily reality but it’s still very important to make these connections.

The more direct challenge is to establish a form of development that protects the area. In 10 years I’d like to see us be an example for others of a kind of nature preservation in which human beings have a place and a role in nature. Clearly there are challenges involved in this.

We also have a lot to do on a practical level, such as establishing a management plan for the national park and the [adjacent] nature reserves and developing our informational work. Our new visitor center is key, since it will be an important starting point for information. We want to make our informational and scientific activities as effective as possible. We have found a spot for the visitor center near the dock in Ekenäs [on South Koster Island] that we think will work very well. We hope to be able to open on May 24, 2012, which is National Parks Day, the birthday of Europe’s national parks. On that day in 1909 five national parks were opened, all of them in Sweden.

How does the local population view the national park?

AT: In general the view is very positive. If there hadn’t been that positive attitude from people both in the archipelago and in the mainland communities such as Strömstad and Tanum, we wouldn’t have a national park. It’s a very big part of why this became a national park.

There is a lot of emphasis placed on the local aspect, even in the management of the national park. We have a new organization, Kosterhavsdelegationen, which is an administrative board made up of representatives from the municipalities of Strömstad and Tanum, as well as the county administration. We establish the budget and the management plan. It isn’t managed from the top by the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency. This is one of the first protected areas in Sweden to be managed this way, and it’s very appropriate to the times. We hope to become one of several positive examples.

What sorts of activities are available to visitors to Kosterhavet?

AT: We already have quite a few activities available, and we believe that these will increase. We expect to see some more creative acitivities, such as those allowing visitors to experience life below the surface. Tjärnö Aquarium already has some such activities, and I’m convinced that we will see more private entrepreneurs coming in.

We’re just launching a new snorkeling trail through Kosterhavet. You don’t see anything above the surface, but you can read signs placed on the sea floor. Another great thing to do is to go out and hike. Make a stop at our temporary visitors center and then go out and discover nature with all your senses. That includes discovering the small things: crawling around, looking inside a flower, looking at all the small shells on the beach. It’s important not to hurry, not just to rent a bicycle and get to the next place. Great experiences don’t always have to be formally arranged and cost a lot of money, as long as you take your time. But of course there are some good excursions. If you don’t have your own boat, it’s not so easy to get out to Ursholmen and the seal colonies, so in that case it’s good to go with one of the operators.

What is your favorite place in Kosterhavet?

AT: There are places that I consider very special because they give such a unique view of the area. Two areas stand out in particular. One is Saltö Nature Reserve. Maybe it’s because I grew up on Saltö, but it’s beautiful to walk on the cliffs there, with the whole national park visible before you. It’s a good place for personal reflection.

The other thing is to go out to the lighthouse at Ursholmen on a bleak, windy autumn day. Getting out there and being relatively alone is really special.

All the way out on North Koster is also very beautiful, and we have areas such as Resö and Rossö that are great starting points for an experience of Kosterhavet.

I always prefer to visit in other seasons besides July. If you have the chance to experience this area during other times of year, do.

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