A Death at Reynisfjara

A young Chinese woman was swept out to sea by waves at Reynisfjara beach yesterday and was found dead later that afternoon. Three other women were also swept off their feet by the waves but managed to reach land.

At 2.30 pm yesterday, National Emergency Operators were notified that a person in Reynisfjara had been carried out to sea by a sneaker wave. Emergency responders were dispatched immediately. Local search-and-rescue squads began searching for the young woman as soon as they arrived at the site, as well as on boats from Vestmannaeyjar and Árnessýsla, and the Icelandic Coast Guard’s helicopter. Later that afternoon, the helicopter discovered the woman’s body in the sea off the Reynisfjara coast. The South Iceland Police Commissioner’s investigative department is now investigating the events leading up to the accident.

A guide in Reynisfjara who witnessed the accident told RÚV that around 150-200 people were at the black sand beach, which is a popular tourist attraction, and that several people were standing close to the water.

This is not the first fatal accident at Reynisfjara, and authorities have taken steps to try to prevent such incidents.


Fatal Collision Between Electric Scooter and Moped

A fatal accident occurred at the intersection of Kringlumýrarbraut and Sæbraut streets in Reykjavík yesterday morning when an electric scooter and a moped collided. The electric scooter operator died in the accident while the moped driver is in hospital with serious injuries. This is the first fatal accident involving an electric scooter in Iceland.

Both of the victims of the accident were wearing helmets when the collision occurred. One was in their 50s while the other was in their 40s. Detective superintendent Guðbrandur Sigurðsson told RÚV it has not been confirmed whether the vehicles were on a cycling path or sidewalk when they collided. It has also not been confirmed at which what speed the vehicles were operating when they collided.

Mopeds can reach speeds of up to 45km per hour. At that speed, however, they are required to use the road, and not sidewalks or cycling paths. “Electric scooters should have a limiter at 25km per hour and are not permitted to go faster, but we have stories and examples and police reports that electric scooters, according to the manufacturers, can reach speeds of up to 80km per hour when the limiter is removed,” Guðbrandur explained, adding that operating a scooter at speeds above 25km per hour is “incredibly dangerous.”

Electric scooters have grown in popularity over the past year or two in Iceland, with several scooter rideshare apps springing up in Reykjavík recently. While Guðbrandur says accidents and injuries involving electric scooters have previously been reported, this is the first fatal accident involving an electric scooter in Iceland.

Environment Agency: Fox Hunting No Longer Serves Its Purpose

The Environment Agency of Iceland says that fox hunting in Iceland no longer serves its intended purpose—to protect sheep and birdlife—and is costing the state and local municipalities more and more every year. Fréttablaðið reports that 56,000 foxes have been hunted in Iceland in the past decade, with a cost of almost a billion krónur [$7.65 million; €6.65 million] to the state.

A ‘mythological battle’

The arctic fox lives in polar regions around the world and is currently listed as a species of least concern by the World Wildlife Fund. In 1979, there were only 1,200 of the animals in Iceland, but the population grew to just under 9,000 by 2007. Between the years of 2008 and 2010, there was a 30% drop in population, but it has been relatively stable in recent years, even as hunting has increased. As of this summer, it was estimated that there were roughly 9,000 – 10,000 Arctic foxes in Iceland. The species is protected within the confines of the Hornstrandir Nature Reserve in the Westfjords, but outside of these bounds, hunting the animal is allowed, and even encouraged monetarily.

“Icelanders have given the arctic fox many names which could be related to the ‘mythological battle’ between the humans and the foxes since the early decades of the settlement 1100 years ago,” explains the Arctic Fox Centre. “At first, foxes were trapped for the valuable fur but soon the competition for the few resources became too complicated and the foxes were killed to protect lambs and other stock animals. Nowadays the foxes are still hunted throughout the country, where it is believed that protection of livestock or eider farms is needed. Winter hunting is also conducted in all regions of the country and “den-hunting” (killing all the animals at a fox den), one of the oldest paid jobs in Iceland, is still performed. The fur, however, is not used anymore since it became [worthless] with the emergence of fur farms some decades ago.”

Hunters paid for every fox killed

The argument that foxes must be hunted in order to protect livestock and birdlife has also been strengthened by public perception of the fox as a vicious predator. “The fox is said to be cunning and cruel,” noted the 1961 short documentary Refurinn gerir greni í urð (‘The fox makes its den in the scree,’ watch here, in Icelandic). “So it is getting its just desserts. It is killed on sight wherever it is encountered.”

Screenshot from short documentary Refurinn gerir greni í urð (Ósvaldur Knudsen; 1961)

This way of thinking is quickly losing traction among experts and politicians alike, however. “Livestock doesn’t appear to be suffering,” says Steinar Rafn Beck Baldursson, a specialist in hunting management at the Environment Agency. He notes that the agency has put out calls for reports of foxes killing sheep and birds but has only received the occasional notification of foxes getting into eider nests. When asked why foxes don’t pose the same threat they once did to sheep, Steinar Rafn has a very simple supposition: sheep no longer give birth to their young in pastures. “In the past, foxes hunted newborn lambs or went after sheep when they were in labour.”

Last year, 7,227 foxes were hunted, marking a 40-year high. This creates a significant financial burden on the state, as local municipalities are obliged to pay hunters for every fox they kill between the fall and the spring. The annual cost of this has increased dramatically over the years. In 2011, ISK 67 million [$512,742; € 445,349] was paid out to fox hunters. This total ballooned to ISK 134 million [$1.03 million; €890,699] in 2020. The state has been paying a fifth of the cost since 2014, as a way of offsetting the financial burden on large, but sparsely populated municipalities.

See Also: This Season, Ptarmigan Shooting Confined to Afternoons

Minister for the Environment and Natural Resources Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson recently submitted a bill to parliament that would have amended current hunting legislation and established a management and protection plan for the arctic fox in Iceland. The bill did not pass.

Steinar Rafn says that the Environment Agency had hoped the bill would pass but is currently considering similar proposals for changing the legislation on ptarmigan hunting—the fox will come later, he says. “What would make the most sense would be to review this whole system,” he says. “Maybe only winter hunting and no den hunting.”

Icelanders Flock to US as Borders Reopen

The United States opened its borders to fully vaccinated travellers from other countries on Monday, RÚV reports, precipitating a rush of Icelanders looking forward to finally being able to visit family members and/or enjoy some time in the southern sun after over a year and a half of being barred entry to the country.

Prior to Monday, only Icelanders qualifying for particular exemptions, such as travel for work or study, were allowed to enter the US. Now, any traveller who has proof of vaccination and a negative COVID-19 test is allowed to visit.

Five Icelandair flights to the US were scheduled on Monday, to US destinations New York (JFK), Seattle, Boston, and Orlando. Florida is a particularly popular North American destination for Icelanders, particularly in the fall and winter months, and many Icelanders own second homes there.

Ragnheiður Gyða Ragnarsdóttir was travelling to the Sunshine State to clear out the basement of a flat that her parents sold last year—and to enjoy “slightly” better weather than Iceland is currently experiencing.

Sigurbjörg Björgvinsdóttir and her husband were embarking on a four-week trip to Florida as well. She noted that lots of Icelanders stay in the area the couple was travelling to, “a whole neighbourhood,” even.

Icelandair CEO Bogi Nils Bogason said that local bookings skyrocketed as soon as the November 8 border opening was announced. “We now have 11 destinations in North America—ten in the US and one in Canada.” He said that flights would be added depending on demand. “We’re not quite back to normal, but having gotten through COVID, you could say that we’re in a better place now than we were a few months ago. All in all, we’re on a positive track.”