Words by Norrøna Ambassador and ecologist, Charles Post. Over the past decade, Charles earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in ecology from UC Berkeley, and as a field scientist, has studied topics from migratory songbirds and salmon to wild rivers and giant salamanders who call the ancient redwood forests of northern California home. His time spent in Lofoten inspired this story.
Norway’s Lofoten islands are a perennial source of inspiration for Norrøna so much so that our first ever free ride collection, made from 100% recycled Gore-Tex, carries the name, Lofoten. So too does our cold-water surf collection, Unstad, which celebrates one of the Norway’s most beloved surf breaks, tucked away in Lofoten, far above the arctic circle.
From time immemorial, Lofoten has been the place where jagged granite peaks climb skyward from the cold, rich seas that pour away in nearly every direction. Here, ribbons of stone weave through deep fjords and wild seas. Lofoten is truly unlike anywhere else on Earth. And while the physical aspects of Norway’s favorite arctic archipelago often catch the eye from the outset, there is a vibrant and extraordinary ecosystem thriving all around. When one thinks of Lofoten, orcas, puffins, kittiwakes, humpbacked and sperm whales, herring and cod may not race to one’s mind, and yet, I would like to propose, they should. One could posit it is the natural fabric that has shaped Lofoten, and continues to do so in the most profound of ways.
Spend any time here, and you’ll quickly find it is a wild place. Rich, breathtaking biodiversity abounds. Nature is still king here. The skies swell with feathered tides of seabirds and eagles drawn to the abundant sea life that swarm these cold waters. Songbirds like the northern wheatear, a brilliant 20g songbird that winters in Sub-Saharan Africa, takes flight each spring, and travels thousands of miles, under the cover of night, to nest and rear young beneath Lofoten’s summer sun. Others, like the Eurasian blue tit, adorn the birch forests with a splash of royal blue and yellow, their shrill melodious song taken to the wind. Perhaps the most famous of Lofoten’s songbirds is the white-throated dipper. Fossekal, as it’s known in Norwegian (Norway’s National Bird) loosely translates to the “call of the waterfall” in English, and so it’s not surprising that this water star thrives along the frigid streams, lakes and cascades of Lofoten. Offshore, beyond the stone and birch, blueberries and lichen, a vast and remarkable wildlife rich world exists, one that is as much a testament to conservation successes as it is an illustration of the unique and invaluable nature of this place.
As oceanic fish stocks decline widely across the globe, Lofoten’s cod fishery remains shining example of stewardship done well. The cod fishery that calls these cold waters home is a foundational one, steadily producing healthy cod populations for fisherman and countless wildlife alike as it has for countless generations. While some cod call these waters home year-round, many others are migratory (known as skrei in Norwegian) traveling great distances to these particular waters.
Every December from time immemorial great schools of migrating cod leave the Barents Sea between northern Norway and Russia, and head south along the Norwegian coast. Many will point their noses towards Lofoten where they will spawn in February and April. A one-meter female cod may lay three million eggs! Incredibly, after these cod reproduce, their fertilized eggs will be swept into Norwegian Current (or Norwegian Coastal Current) and sent north back to the Barents Sea, the very waters their parents left some months ago. Here they will hatch and grow quickly while feeding on zooplankton in the productive summer waters of the far north. Many will become food for others, nourishing the marine ecosystem. Those who survive, will do as their parents did, and migrate south along the Norwegian coast, possibly returning to their birthplace in the waters off Lofoten.
Thankfully, this invaluable resource continues to flourish, keeping the old traditions alive, and sustaining a key element of the overall marine ecosystem of which cod are a key pillar. Likewise, herring, another staple of the marine ecosystem flourish in the protected waters off Lofoten. These fish represent an invaluable food source for countless species from orcas to sea eagles, and cod to the Atlantic puffin, who rely heavily on the Norwegian spring herring spawn, to feed their young tucked away in feather-laden nests amongst the rocky islands and outcroppings.
The amazing thing about Lofoten is that no matter where you go, what you do or where you look you may find yourself face to face with a remarkable nature moment. If you spend any time hiking across the jagged mountain peaks, you may catch sight of orcas feeding in the deep waters beneath you. Look overhead and you may catch sight of the white-tailed sea eagle with a wingspan that can reach 2.5 meters!
Lofoten is a dynamic place. Weather can shift in the blink of an eye with clouds engulfing mountain peaks in a matter of moments. Here along the mountainsides rock ptarmigan live in the alpine. Their brilliant camouflage allows them to perfectly blend into their world of stone and lichen where they feed on the buds of birch and willow, berries and small insects. As winter approaches, they undertake an incredible transformation. Their mottled feathers of browns and grays become completely white. So, as their world turns white, they once again blend in perfectly. They are perfectly suited for life in the far north.
Upon closer inspection, you’ll find we have barely scratched the surface of what Lofoten has to offer the keen observer. Whether you find yourself in the coastal seas or high atop the most jagged and remote mountain peaks, you’ll find yourself immersed in a wild and dynamic ecosystem where the summer season of plenty attracts countless migrants from across the globe like the northern wheatear from Africa, to the winter season where all may seem empty and quiet. And yet with a trained eye, you’ll find life still abounds. Only those perfectly adapted and suited to this extreme place can thrive in the winter, yet many do. The next time you find yourself exploring Lofoten, take some time to study the ecosystem you’re wading into. Often, we don’t realize the magical subtleties of a place until we take the time to slow down and have a good look around.