Kvarken archipelago: a moraine mosaic
The unique sea area was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site
By Kirsi Tikkanen
The red houses with white window frames on the islands of Raippaluoto and Björkby look like a scene in a painting of the National Romantic period.
The idyllic atmosphere of the fishing village was not a factor in selecting the Kvarken archipelago as Finland’s first natural World Heritage Site in July.
"The site was selected for its geological features. The moraine crests that are aligned in different directions, along with the fast rate of geological uplift make the Kvarken region unique", says Susanna Ollqvist of the forest management organisation Metsähallitus as she steers her boat out to sea.
Small clusters of rock and small islands dot the sea. In the next 2000 years, these rocks and islands will form a land bridge between Finland and Sweden as the land continues to rise.
We sail past the mysterious Östra Norrskär. Nobody knows whether the round stones that cover the island were formed from moraine or ridges.
The so-called washboard moraine can be seen clearly in Björkby. The channel goes between them in a slalom-like zigzag. The locals were first suspicious of the UNESCO project, but nine years and dozens of meetings have meetings have changed their minds.
"UNESCO requires the locals’ acceptance. The status of a World Heritage Site enables tourists to come to the islands once the locals’ traditional way of life is no longer viable. It is important that the locals know the region well, so that tourists do not know more than they do after taking the tour", biologist Michael Haldin points out.
Ollqvist and Haldin suspect that the status of a World Heritage Site will increase the political will to develop the area, and make it easier to get funding for the purpose.
"The job of Metsähallitus is not to take care of the visitors, but to manage the surroundings, including signs, piers, and nature trails. Cooperation is needed so that we know where they want the tourists, and where the tourists want to go."
Already the same week that UNESCO’s decision was announced, 550 German tourists came to visit the site. Ann-Carolin Lindeman, who runs a restaurant near the Klobbskat fishing harbour, believes that the number of tourists will increase.
"Many visitors have already been impressed by the rocky landscape. We locals are a bit confused, but also proud of the new title."
Lindeman has plenty of ideas for attracting tourists. There is still room for improvement in archipelago cruises, visitor harbours, and tourism during the late winter.
"For example Åland has little ice in the spring, but here tourists can walk on the ice even then. I offer my ideas to others, since I cannot extend my own business any further."
The tour ends with a visit to the Punakari islands. They are islands that resemble the head and tail of a fish, and are unique to the Kvarken Archipelago.
"One half of the island is rock, while the other half is covered with sand and stones. As we head north we will see round islands. They are mounds of moraine", Ollqvist explains.
Ollqvist admits that the moraine is hard to spot without a guide. Being included in the list of World Heritage Sites raises hopes of being able to hire guides, so that more people would be able to appreciate the unique landscape.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 1.8.2006
More on this subject:
FACTFILE: Seven heritage sites
KIRSI TIKKANEN / Helsingin Sanomat