The first thing you notice when you visit Norway’s newest national park is that most of it is invisible.
That’s because most of it is below the sea. Raet National Park is 607 square kilometres, 98 per cent of which is under the water. It is the fourth marine park in the country and the only national park in Sørlandet, the southern region of Norway.
Raet lies beneath the wind-tossed waves of the Skagerrak strait between this country and Denmark beat a rhythm on the granite shores of countless small islands and skerries or reefs. This shoreline was formed 10,000 years ago when the last continental glaciers retreated.
The park has been years in the making and is the product of cooperation between the communities of Tvedestrand, Arendal and Grimstand, as well as the Norwegian government and many other organizations. There was much discussion about where the boundaries would be, especially in areas where people have had summer houses for generations.
GRID-Arendal led the development of a report on the state of the environment in the park.
“We were pleased to contribute to the development of the park,” says Peter Harris, Managing Director of GRID-Arendal. “The report is based on the best scientific information available combined with the knowledge of people in the fishing and tourism industries, as well as other stakeholders.”
As part of Norway’s marine protected area network, Raet is home to a rich variety of plant and animal life. The rocky shorelines that form the perimeter of the park have been used by people for thousands of years, an occupation evidenced by grave mounds along the shore of Tromøy, the large island where the park opening ceremonies were held.
The opening had the feel of a summer festival. Hundreds of people gathered at Hove, a holiday centre now inside the park boundary, to visit tents with information on local natural highlights, take quizzes to see how much they knew about the lifeforms beneath the surface of the park, or take a hike to explore the local geology.
Standing on a granite outcrop, Vidar Helgesen, the Norwegian Minister of Climate and Environment, pointed out that it is 10,000 years since the melting of the glaciers that formed the Raet environment.
The Minister’s point about the importance of the park was not lost on several thousand people gathered on the rocks to listen to speeches, sample local delicacies, hear choirs and a jazz group and watch young dancers sway like the seagrass that is an important part of the Raet marine ecosystem. The band and several dancers were precariously placed on an eroded promontory, with the sun and blue water as a backdrop.
But one didn’t need to sit in the sun at the park opening to realize this is an important place for the people who live along the south Norway coast. On any given weekend, even in the most atrocious weather the Skagerrak throws at the coastline, you will find people hiking along the edge of the water or seeking a quiet spot out of the wind, gazing out to sea.
With all of the publicity around the new park, they now know much more about what lies beneath the waves.