Greenland is grappling with an increasingly important influx of tourists, drawn by the grandiose landscapes of this ice-covered island surrounded by icebergs that is already living under the threat of climate change.
“It’s a dream destination,” says Yves Glayze, a French tourist in his 60s looking to get away from the beaten track.
Leaving the airport of Ilulissat, the third largest city in this autonomous Danish territory, he discovers a landscape of rare beauty, with gray rocks and icebergs in the distance. Exceptional blocks of ice are constantly coming out of the neighboring fjord into the open sea, where whales sometimes appear. These postcard scenes attracted 50,000 people in 2021, a figure ten times higher than the number of inhabitants of the port city. More than half of the tourists are cruising through the Arctic and only have a short stopover on the island.
The number of tourists should increase further with the opening of an international airport in the next two years, which will be a boost to the income of the island, but also a challenge.
The island is currently dealing with the daily effects of global warming and is already dealing with a delicate ecosystem.
– ‘The glacier recedes’ –
In the last 40 years, the Arctic has warmed almost four times faster than the rest of the world, according to the most recent study on the subject.
“We can see the consequences of climate change every day: the icebergs are smaller, the glacier is retreating”, explains the mayor, Palle Jeremiassen. The high official also fears the thawing of the permafrost, which threatens the stability of some infrastructure and houses. The challenge now is to protect the local ecosystem, but without closing the door to visitors.
“We want to control the arrival of tourist boats”, which are highly polluting, explains Jeremiassen.
To respect the community and the environment, you need “a maximum of one boat a day and a thousand tourists per boat,” he says. Recently, three boats arrived on the same day with 6,000 visitors, a figure too high for the mayor since the city cannot accommodate them or guarantee that they respect the protected areas, especially in the fjord.
“We don’t want to be like Iceland. We don’t want mass tourism. We want to control tourism, that’s the key,” he says.
– New habits –
Greenland has enjoyed autonomy since 2009, but hopes to one day achieve full independence from Denmark.
To do this, it would have to do without the Copenhagen grants, which currently account for a third of its budget. It has not yet found a way to remain financially independent, and for now, its main natural resource is in the sea. In Ilulissat, one in three inhabitants lives from fishing, which represents the majority of the island’s income. But climate change has a huge impact on local practices.
“When I was young, there was hard ice that we could walk on,” explains Lars Noasen, sailing among the icebergs in Disko Bay.
“The ice now, it’s not as solid. You can’t use it for anything, you can’t go out there and go fishing like you used to,” he adds.
In the last two decades, the immense Greenland ice sheet lost 4.7 billion tons, which has contributed to a 1.2 centimeter rise in the oceans, according to Danish Arctic researchers. And the disappearance of the ice affects fishermen, for better or worse.
“Ice conditions change,” says Sascha Schiøtt, a researcher at the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources. “The main fjord used to be closed off by huge icebergs and pack ice, and fishermen couldn’t navigate it,” which they do now. Boats can now go out all year round, which has led to an increase in fishing activity, but the size of the fish is declining mainly due to overfishing. But for Ejner, climate change is to blame. “The weather is too hot,” laments this fisherman as he prepares his fishing nets in the city’s port.
Melissa Galbraith is the World News reporter for Globe Live Media. She covers all the major events happening around the World. From Europe to Americas, from Asia to Antarctica, Melissa covers it all. Never miss another Major World Event by bookmarking her author page right here.