Environment Agency Reports Vandalism to Police

vandalism on Helgafell

The Environment Agency of Iceland has reported recent vandalism of Helgafell to the police. “Individuals’ names and identifying characteristics have been scrawled into the soft rock and it is evident that some of the damage has been made very recently, even in the last few days,” reads a press release from the Agency.

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Helgafell is a flat-topped mesa above the town of Hafnarfjörður and a popular hiking destination in the Reykjavík capital area. The mesa consists of palagonite, a soft rock that is easy to carve into. Recently, graffiti has proliferated at the site, some of which includes individuals’ first names as well as explicit images.

“These types of inscriptions are a clear violation of nature conservation laws and hugely disrespectful toward the country’s natural environment, as the violations leave behind damage that can take the wind and weather tens or even hundreds of years to wipe out.” The press release adds that the Agency is doing what it can to repair the damage.

“Damaging nature is a criminal offense, and we encourage travellers to stay vigilant and report violations,” the press release reads. “Help keep our nature unspoiled. If there is no guest book on the mountain peak that you topped, please refrain from writing your name.”

The penalties for such vandalism can include large fines and even prison time, but it may prove difficult to find those responsible.

Vaðlaheiði Tunnel Signage to Show Toll-Free Alternative

Vaðlaheiðargöng tunnel in North Iceland

The signage by the new Vaðlaheiði tunnel in North Iceland, or the lack thereof, has been criticised for not indicating that an alternate, toll-free route is available, RÚV reports. Representatives of the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration say additional signage will be installed, but assert the current signs were placed to indicate the shortest and safest route.

Vaðlaheiði tunnel opened this past December, two years later than originally scheduled. When driving east from Akureyri, signs indicating Húsavík and Egilsstaðir point drivers toward the tunnel road, while the alternative Víkurskarð road simply indicates the towns of Grenivík and Svalbarðsströnd. There is no sign indicating that the Víkurskarð road also continues on to Húsavík and Egilsstaðir, and unlike the tunnel, is toll free. Similar signage is lacking when approaching the tunnel from the east, toward Akureyri.

The Road and Coastal Administration has decided to add such signs this summer on both sides of the tunnel which will indicate the toll-free route via Víkurskarð. Einar Pálsson from the Administration says the signs will be easily adaptable, making it possible to remove the indications when Víkurskarð is closed during the winter. The organisation has not decided whether Víkurskarð road will be regularly ploughed this winter, now that the tunnel route is available.

Drivers stop for information

The tunnel’s online payment system has also received its share of criticism. The tunnel toll cannot be paid physically on location. Drivers are instead required to pay online for a single trip or register to be automatically charged for their journeys. The toll must be paid within three hours of travelling through the tunnel, otherwise it will be charged to the individual under whose name the vehicle is registered, with an additional ISK 1,000 charge.

Valgeir Bergmann, the tunnel’s director, says that while initially it was mostly Icelanders who were calling for assistance with registering themselves in the system, most calls now come from foreign travellers. An oft-repeated comment is that the tunnel lacks a parking lot or area where cars can pull over to read the information on the signs more closely. Such areas are now being constructed on both sides of the tunnel, though Valgeir asserts that they should not be necessary – as travellers are encouraged to register and pay the tunnel toll before setting off on their journey. He adds that there is a joint responsibility among car rental companies and tourism companies to inform foreign tourists about the toll and its payment methods.

Belugas Little White and Little Grey Arrive in Iceland

Cargolux beluga plane

Beluga whale sisters Little White and Little Grey have arrived in Iceland, RÚV reports. The whales took a long journey from their previous home in Shanghai, China, to their new one: a specially-built open-sea sanctuary located in the Westman Islands. The sanctuary is the first of its kind, and as close to living in the wild as is possible for the animals, which were raised in captivity and until now kept in concrete pools.

Little White and Little Grey left Shanghai at 3.00am on June 19, taking a direct flight to Keflavík on a specially-outfitted plane arranged by company Cargolux. Chief Pilot Brynjar Örn Sveinjónsson said the flight went well. “They were maybe a little bit stressed at first, but then they calmed down and were very calm for the whole trip.” According to a veterinarian, one of the whales managed to sleep deeply throughout the flight. The trip was originally scheduled to take place in April, but was delayed due to bad weather.

The whales were received in Iceland by officials from the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST), and were then driven to Landeyjarhöfn harbour, South Iceland, from which they were transported by ferry to the Westman Islands, their new home. The whales will now undergo a 40-day quarantine in specially-built pools. Once the quarantine is over, they will be transported to an open-sea pen, where they will spend most of their time from now on.

Chinese Ambassador to Iceland Jin Zhijian has stated that Little White and Little Grey are famous in his home country, and has no doubt their residence in the Westman Islands will attract more Chinese tourists to Iceland. “I can imagine there will be more kids who have seen the [whales in China] and miss them a lot and want to visit them here,” he stated.