Reykjavík Zoo to Enlarge Seal Enclosure

Reykjavík Family Park and Zoo will enlarge its seal pool and renovations are expected to begin next year. The total cost of the renovations is not yet known but the city budget allocates ISK 100 million ($777,000/€644,000) toward the project.

Dóra Björt Guðjónsdóttir, a city councillor for the Pirate Party, confirmed the project in conversation with Vísir. She stated that the zoo’s current enclosure for seals is not large enough according to the regulations of the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria. It will now be enlarged to ensure sufficient space and the best possible conditions for the marine mammals.

Cannot Release Seals Into the Wild

Some opposing voices from the public have criticised the move, saying it would be better to release the zoo’s seals into the wild. Dóra Björt stated that if the choice were hers, she would not keep the animals in captivity, but current law does not allow release of the animals into the wild. “According to current legislation, seals cannot be released from captivity, so it is important to take good care of the seals that live there,” Dóra Björt stated.

Read More: Seal Pup Born at Reykjavík Zoo Raises Ethical Concerns

The city councillor added that she supports developing the zoo further toward an animal refuge model, where its facilities would be primarily used to house animals in need of rehabilitation or medical care. Earlier this year, for example, the zoo rehabilitated a sick seal pup found in South Iceland. Once recovered, the seal swam back to its home waters along the Greenland coast.

City to Streamline Animal Services

The renovations to the seal facilities is part of an overall review of animal services at the City of Reykjavík. All animal services provided by the city, including those for household pets, will be brought under one roof at the zoo, which will build a new educational centre on its grounds as well. Seals are not the only animals at the zoo that will be getting a bit more room – enlargement of sheep and goat enclosures has already begun.

Iceland’s Highland to Become Europe’s Largest National Park

Iceland’s Central Highland region is set to become the largest national park in Europe, covering around 30% of Iceland. This would also make it the national park that represents the highest percentage of the total area of a country, with over 40,000 km² of the total 103,000 km² surface area of Iceland. A bill outlining the park’s establishment was introduced in Parliament by Iceland’s Minister for the Environment Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson on November 30.

“The Highland holds one of the greatest natural treasures that we Icelanders collectively possess, so it is a logical measure to establish a national park there,” stated Guðmundur Ingi. “It is quite clear that the establishment of the Highland National Park would be a huge advantage for Icelandic tourism and, in fact, for the national economy as a whole, especially during the recovery period after the coronavirus pandemic.” Guðmundur called the proposed park Iceland’s largest contribution to nature conservation, adding that it was important to preserve the highland for future generations.

Park Will Double Protected Areas in Highland

Iceland’s highland region is one of the largest unpopulated regions in Europe and an important breeding ground for birds such as pink-footed geese. Around half of the proposed area of the park is already protected, including under Vatnajökull National Park, Hofsjökull glacier, and popular hiking area Landmannalaugar. The proposed park would unite already protected areas and expand them to create a single, unified Highalnd National Park. The park is to be separated into six administrative regions to be jointly managed by municipal and state authorities. A special board will be established to oversee the park’s management, consisting of local and state representatives as well as other interested parties.

Read More: Proposed Highland National Park

Several power plants are currently within the proposed borders of the park – the bill proposes defining them as “peripheral areas” of the park and that the land they occupy not be protected. The Highland National Park is expected to have a positive impact on rural development, creating sustainable employment opportunities both for municipalities bordering the park as well as across the country.

Guðmundur Ingi oversaw the protection of the popular Geysir area and Goðafoss waterfall earlier this year.

Minister of Justice’s Court Appointments Were Illegal: Ruling Upheld by ECHR

Sigríður Andersen.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has confirmed its ruling that Iceland violated Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights, meant to ensure individuals’ right to a fair trial, in the appointment of judges to the Court of Appeal. The Icelandic government had appealed the ruling last year, but it has now been unanimously upheld by all 17 of the ECHR’s Grand Chamber judges. This is the ECHR’s final ruling in the case and it cannot be appealed.

The verdict, published yesterday morning, emphasises the importance of the judiciary’s independence and asserts that former Minister of Justice Sigríður Andersen’s appointment of four judges to the court breached the procedure established by Icelandic law. Sigríður did not give sufficient reasoning for appointing different judges from those that had been selected by a selection committee.

Undermined Procedure and Failed to Heed Advice

Sigríður’s appointments “had raised serious fears of undue interference in the judiciary and had thus tainted the legitimacy of the whole procedure,” according to the ruling, “especially since the Minister belonged to one of the political parties composing the majority in the coalition government, by whose votes alone her proposal had been adopted in Parliament.”

“Lastly, the Minister’s failure to comply with the relevant rules was all the more serious as she had been reminded of her legal obligations on a number of occasions by the legal advisers in her own Ministry, by the Chairman of the Evaluation Committee and by the ad hoc Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Justice,” the ruling continues.

Ruling Not Legally Binding, Says Current Minister of Justice

Iceland’s current Minister of Justice Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir stated that the ECHR’s ruling is not legally binding and it is not necessary for Icelandic authorities to respond to it in any way. According to Áslaug, the appointments to the Appeal Court were legal according to Icelandic law. The ruling will be taken seriously but it is unlikely that the case will be reopened, she stated.

A Brief Overview

Iceland’s Court of Appeals (Landsréttur) was established on January 1, 2018, as a new mid-tier court between district courts and the Supreme Court of Iceland. Minister of Justice Sigríður Á. Andersen received heavy criticism from opposition MPs for failing to follow the recommendations of a selection committee in her nominations of judges to the new court. In March 2018, opposition MPs put forth a motion of no-confidence against the minister, which was voted down by a margin of four votes.

The four aspiring Court of Appeals judges whose nominations were passed over by the minister have all sued the state for compensation and damages. The Supreme Court has ruled two of them be compensated ISK 700,000 ($6,800/€5,600) but denied their claim to liability for damages.

On March 12, 2019 the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the appointments overseen by Sigríður constituted a violation of Article 6 Section 1 (right to a tribunal established by law) of the European Convention on Human Rights. Sigríður resigned as Minister of Justice the following day. On September 9, 2019 the Grand Chamber Panel accepted the Icelandic government’s request that the case be referred to the ECHR’s Grand Chamber that has now issued its ruling, discussed above.

Case Could Set a Precedent

It is quite rare for the European Court of Human to accept requests for appeals to its Grand Chamber: RÚV reports that just over 5% of such requests have been approved. The fact this case concerning Iceland’s Appeal Court was accepted suggests it is considered an important case that could set a precedent for others in the future.

Reykjavík Residents Asked to Limit Hot Water Usage During Upcoming Cold Spell

A woman walking two young children through the snow

Iceland’s Meteorological Office has issued yellow or orange weather warnings for every region of the country starting at varying times today. Due to strong northern winds, Icelanders can expect an unusually cold spell to last well into the weekend, and Veitur Utilities ask people to limit their hot water usage for the next few days to help them keep up the supply.

According to the Met Office’s forecaster’s remarks, it “looks like northerly gales or strong gales today with snow in the northern half of Iceland and possibly blizzard in North- and East-Iceland. Becoming colder. Still northerly strong gales tomorrow (Thursday) and winds not calming down considerably until Friday afternoon.” A yellow weather warning will be in effect in every region of the country today except for southeast Iceland, where the Met Office has issued an orange warning. “North and northwest 20-28 m/s(45-63 mph) by eastern Vatnajökull and in Öræfi. Gusts expected to exceed 45 m/s (101mph) with a possible sandstorm and flying pebbles.” People all over Iceland, but especially in the southeast are advised to secure loose objects in their immediate surroundings and reconsider travel plans.

Temperatures are expected to drop as far as -18°C(-0.4°F) in the country’s central highland, while temperatures in and around Reykjavík will likely be closer to 6-7°C below zero (19-21°F). While Iceland has been experiencing low temperatures lately, the recent frost hasn’t been accompanied by strong winds. This time, the low temperatures are accompanied by northerly gales, and the added wind chill will make the next few days the coldest Reykjavík has seen since 2013, Meteorologist Einar Sveinbjörnsson explains. According to Einar, during still and frosty days, surface temperatures are low, but you don’t have to go high up to find warmer air. During cold and windy days, that’s not the case and the frosty winds can bite. He recommends keeping a warm hat and a pair of woollen mittens handy and taking extra care when bundling up kindergarten-aged children.

Veitur Utilities PLC has activated their contingency plan for hot water usage in the capital area. Among other things, that includes encouraging people to limit hot water usage as much as possible to ensure enough hot water supply to heat every house in the area.

Forecasting models that use weather forecasts to assess hot water usage foresee that hot water supply in the capital area will reach its tolerance threshold on Friday and into the weekend. About 90% of hot water is used to heat houses, which makes it very important that people know how best to use it. People are encouraged to:

  • keep their windows shut
  • don’t keep doors open for longer than necessary
  • don’t fill up hot tubs
  • set radiators so that they’re hot on top but cold towards the floor
  • make sure radiators aren’t covered by long curtains or furniture
  • lower pressure on snow-melting systems.

In addition to asking the public to limit their hot water usage, Veitur is also raising the water temperature to users from low-temperature geothermal areas in Reykjavík and Mosfellsbær. They’ve finetuned their system so that it is fit to keep up the supply and are working on repairing new pumps bought this autumn with the intent to increase supply.