Great Breeding Season for Iceland’s Puffins

Puffin Iceland

High numbers of puffin chicks, known as pufflings, have been recorded across Iceland this season. The boom is especially apparent in the Westman Islands, off Iceland’s South Coast, where pufflings have been found weighing double their usual weight. A number of factors, including access to food, are behind the development, Erpur Snær Hansen of the South Iceland Nature Research Centre told Iceland Review.

Heavier pufflings five times more likely to thrive

“Breeding has gone really well around the country, it’s great to see how many pufflings there are,” Erpur says. This includes in the Westman Islands, home to nearly 40% of Iceland’s puffins. Puffin numbers in Iceland have decreased around 44% in the past 15 years. “It makes a big impact to have a strong breeding season like this when there have been a lot of difficult years before. In the Westmans this is around 700,000 pufflings that will mostly survive,” Erpur says.

He is particularly optimistic due to the chicks’ weight. Pufflings can weigh as little as 200-250 grams early in the breeding season. This year, however, the first puffin chick weighed by a monitoring team in the Westman Islands measured 359 grams and the heaviest a whopping 429 grams, which may be a record. Weight can make all the difference to pufflings’ survival, as Erpur explains. “A puffling that is 350 grams versus one that is 250 grams is five times more likely to survive its first winter. So these pufflings are very likely to survive their first year, which is their most challenging one,” Erpur stated.

Algae and fish affect population

One reason the puffins are doing well this year is better access to food. “There is sandeel and also a lot of northern krill,” Erpur says. There has been little sandeel in particular along the south coast since around 2005, he adds, though northern krill has been pushing up the puffling numbers since 2017.

Both northern krill and sandeel feed on small zooplankton, which follow the algal bloom in spring. Off Iceland’s south coast, the bloom has been very late in the season for the past 15 years. “Around 2005 the algae started blooming around two weeks later than before. We still don’t know why that happened, but the bloom timing was much earlier this year than it has been since 2005, now it is what we would consider a ‘normal’ time. That seems to have had a huge positive impact on the sand eel.”

Small temperature difference has big impact

According to Erpur, the ocean temperature off Iceland’s south coast has alternating cold and warm periods lasting around 35 years. It is currently in a warm period which began in 1996. Puffin populations do better during cold periods, though it’s not just the temperature itself that is a factor. “During the cold periods there are more marine animals in Icelandic waters, there are more nutrients in the ocean so the fish get bigger and there’s more food in general,” Erpur explains. “We see that there are a lot more pufflings during these periods when the ocean is colder.”

New research on these cold and warm cycles reaching back to 1880 shows that even small changes in ocean temperature can have a big impact on puffin breeding. “We see that with a change of a one degree celsius in either direction from an annual mean of about 7°C chick production drops by 55%. And that happens with all Icelandic seabirds really.” While the puffin is still at risk, Erpur says the population has been increasing its chick production in recent years. “It mainly depends on how it goes in the Westman Islands, where the population has fluctuated the most. We’ve had a few good years now recently but we’ll have to wait and see whether that continues.”

Iceland Must Shoulder Responsibility for Afghanistan, Prime Minister Says

Iceland’s Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir stated it was unbelievable to see how quickly the Taliban has seized power across Afghanistan in recent weeks. Katrín stated it was clear the development would have an impact on the status of women in the country. As a member of NATO, Iceland must shoulder its responsibility to the international community.

“It’s important that we Icelanders shoulder our responsibility in this both as members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and members of the international community and representatives in the UN human rights council,” Katrín stated in an interview with RÚV. “We are all very concerned that there is an impending human rights crisis in Afghanistan.”

Iceland’s Refugee Committee will review the situation in Afghanistan this week, at the request Iceland’s Minister of Social Affairs and Children Ásmundur Einar Daðason. Katrín says it’s especially important to take into account the women that have fought for human rights in Afghanistan.

The Prime Minister stated that Iceland would take part in the international discussion on the crisis in Afghanistan, as well as within NATO and the Nordic countries. The government would also consider accepting additional refugees from the country. Iceland’s quota refugees for the years 2020 and 2021 have yet to arrive in the country due to delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Authorities have stated that the delays will be made up and will not lead to Iceland accepting fewer refugees than planned.

No Hot Water in Downtown Reykjavík or Vesturbær Tomorrow

There will be no hot water in parts of downtown Reykjavík and the Vesturbær neighbourhood tomorrow, August 17, between 3:00 AM and 4:00 PM. The closure is necessary to connect a new hot water pipeline for the National University Hospital to the main pipeline that transports hot water to Vesturbær.

Residents are advised to have all taps off during this period to avoid damage once water is turned on again. In case of cold weather, it is advisable to keep windows and doors closed in order to conserve heat. The affected area is marked red in the map above.

Veitur will post progress updates on their Facebook page.

Border Regulations Updated for Those With Ties to Iceland

COVID-19 test

COVID-19 testing is now a requirement for all travellers arriving in Iceland who have ties to the country. This includes not only residents but also those coming to Iceland to look for work or who are planning an extended stay. Testing is required regardless of vaccination status and is in addition to the pre-departure test required of all travellers. The new regulations took effect today, August 16.

Read More: Can I travel to Iceland in 2021 Post COVID-19?

As of today, all travellers with ties to Iceland must undergo COVID-19 testing within 48 hours of arrival to the country. This includes citizens of Iceland, residents of Iceland, people with a work permit in Iceland, and several other groups. These travellers are not required to quarantine upon arrival but are asked to limit their interactions in the first few days after they arrive in Iceland.

PCR and rapid tests administered

Testing for this group is available at Keflavík Airport and local healthcare centres. Those tested at the airport will undergo a PCR test, while local healthcare centres will administer a rapid antigen test to fulfill the testing requirement, stated Ragnheiður Ósk Erlendsdóttir, Director of Nursing at Capital Area Healthcare Centres. Testing can be booked at heilsuvera.is (with electronic ID) and obtained at the border in Keflavík Airport or as soon as possible after arrival in Iceland, in Reykjavík at Suðurlandsbraut 34 or a primary healthcare centre outside the capital area.

An official quick guide to Iceland’s travel regulations is available on island.is.