The Future of Oil-Soaked Eider Ducks in Suðureyri Uncertain

Female eiderducks

A week has passed since an oil spill was reported in the town of Suðureyri in Northwest Iceland. Over the past days, residents have set up makeshift facilities to clean affected eider ducks – and have managed to save almost two dozen birds since last weekend. An expert with with the Natural Science Institute of the Westfjords believes that these efforts may only serve to protract the birds’ suffering, Fréttablaðið reports.

A quick recap

Over 9,000 litres of diesel oil spilt into Suðureyri harbour on Thursday, March 3. The leak, which originated from a reserve tank owned by the power company Orkubú Vestfjarða – and which was buried in snow – was discovered by residents the following morning.

They could smell it.

“I still smell like diesel oil, despite having showered twice since yesterday,” Auður Steinberg, a resident in Suðureyri, stated in an interview with Vísir last Sunday.

The oil found its way into a pond near the local swimming pool – which was subsequently closed alongside the elementary school – and from there into the harbour. It wasn’t until Monday, three days after the leak was reported, that hoses were submerged in water to try to prevent the leak from spreading.

Hundreds of eider ducks in bad shape

Although there was less soil pollution than initially suspected, hundreds of eider ducks were badly affected by the leak. Many of them fled the harbour, where they commonly spend their nights, onto nearby roads and neighbourhoods.

In an interview with RÚV on Wednesday, eider duck expert and Suðureyri resident Einar Mikael Sverrisson described the conditions as “nightmarish.” According to Einar, “there were hundreds of birds that needed help.”

He got to work right away.

Having converted baiting facilities into a bird-rescue centre, Einar and his neighbours had, as of yesterday, managed to save nineteen out of the twenty-eight birds that they had collected last weekend. “But over a hundred birds remain, completely helpless, most of them already dead,” Einar told Fréttablaðið in another interview yesterday.

He predicts that hundreds of birds will perish over the coming weeks and months if nothing is done.

Requested funds of six-ten million ISK

As noted in that same article published in Fréttablaðið yesterday, Suðureyri residents requested that Orkubú Vestfjarða contribute as much as ISK 10 million ($75,000 / €70,000) towards rescue operations and that the company convert a reserve power station into facilities for helping the birds.

Acting on the advice of the Westfjords Health Inspector, Elías Jónatansson – Director of Orkubú Vestfjarða – turned down the request. It wouldn’t be “realistic,” Einar told Fréttablaðið, adding that the company felt “terribly sorry” about what had happened.

“I’m not going to lie: something like this just doesn’t happen out of the blue. Something went wrong, somewhere, and we’re going to make things right. That’s for certain.”

Better to euthanise the birds

Today, a week after the leak was first reported, a veterinarian is expected to arrive in Suðureyri. Upon arrival, the veterinarian will assess whether or not the birds can be rescued – or whether the authorities will have to resort to euthanisation.

Sigurlaug Sigurðardóttir, expert with the Natural Science Institute of the Westfjords, told Fréttablaðið yesterday that there was “little to be done” in such conditions. “According to the Nature Conservation Act, it is our duty to save animals if it is possible. If it is not possible, then we are to put them to death immediately.

While expressing admiration for the work done by Suðureyri residents, Sigurlaug maintained that such efforts may only serve to protract their suffering. “They’re doing this with the best of intentions, of course, but that doesn’t mean that it’s helping.”

It is usually considered most humane to euthanise eider ducks that become soaked in oil, an article in RÚV notes. “It takes many weeks for the natural protective oils in their feathers to build up again in order to stay warm and stay afloat.”

The cleanup could take days or even weeks

The clean-up of Suðureyri harbour began on Wednesday, but the weather has made things difficult. Employees of Orkubú Vestfjarða are employing a so-called “skimmer:” a machine that sucks the oil from the water.

“We’re trying to restrict the flow of oil, to corner it, and use a skimmer to suck it up,” Sigríður Kristinsdóttir, project manager with the Environment Agency of Iceland, told RÚV yesterday.

Those working to the clean the spill have managed to stop the source of the leak, but cleaning the diesel oil from the pond and the harbour is expected to take days or even weeks.

Damon Albarn Live in Reykjavík Tonight – Nice Way to Repay “the Generous Gift” of Citizenship

Musician Damon Albarn will be performing at the Harpa Music and Conference Hall in Reykjavík tonight. In an interview published on RÚV this morning, Albarn observed that the concert – his first in Iceland in 25 years – was a nice way to pay back “the beautiful compliment” of having been granted Icelandic citizenship.

“Better come see me now.”

Blur-frontman and Gorillaz founder Damon Albarn will be performing at the Harpa Music and Conference Hall tonight. The concert marks the last stop on the musician’s The Nearer the Fountain, More Pure the Stream Flows tour.

It’s been over two decades since Albarn last performed in Iceland, or since stepping on stage with Blur in 1996. Speaking to radio host Ólafur Páll Gunnarsson on Rás 2 this morning, Albarn stated: “It’s my first gig in 25 years in Iceland. And on this trajectory, it could take another 25 years. I’ll be in my late seventies then – so you better come and see me now.”

The musician subsequently admitted that the concert seemed long overdue, especially considering his new legal status in Iceland. “Considering that I’m an Icelandic national, as well … it’s a chance for me to, sort of, you know, pay back that beautiful compliment and generous gift that I’ve been given.”

Albarn was granted citizenship last year.

Inspired by Albarn’s long-time love for Iceland

At tonight’s concert, Albarn will be performing the album The Nearer the Fountain, More Pure the Stream Flows in its entirety. As noted on Harpa’s website, Albarn has found musical inspiration in Iceland’s nature and landscapes since first coming to the country nearly three decades ago.

“This new piece – inspired by Albarn’s long-time love for Iceland – will see the musician perform this very personal piece with an ensemble in what will be his first concert in Iceland in 25 years. The Nearer the Fountain, More Pure the Stream Flows was written and composed entirely in Iceland. The title is taken from a John Clare poem entitled Love and Memory.”

Nicotine Products to Be Banned in Schools

A new parliamentary bill by Minister of Health Willum Þór Þórsson recommends the addition of nicotine products (including nicotine pouches) to a law on e-cigarettes and e-liquids, Vísir reports. The aim of the bill is to decrease the use of nicotine pouches by children and young adults.

Flavours appealing to children to be banned

In a new parliamentary bill, Minister of Health Willum Þór Þórsson proposes an amendment to Act No. 87/2018 on Electronic Cigarettes and Refill Containers for Electronic Cigarettes. Among changes to the legislation is a ban on the import, manufacture, and sale of nicotine products and e-cigarettes containing flavours that may appeal to children (such as candy and fruit).

According to a report appended to the bill, the purpose of the ban is to decrease the use of nicotine products among children and young adults: research has shown that flavouring, especially fruit and candy, play a significant role in the popularity of e-cigarettes among children and young adults.

“It is logical to assume that the same holds for the popularity of nicotine pouches,” the report notes.

Banning nicotine products in educational institutions

The new bill also proposes a ban on the sale of nicotine products in preschools, elementary schools, junior colleges, and other educational facilities associated with sports, daycare, recreation, and social events for children and young adults. Universities are not included on the list.

The bill places particular emphasis on educating children and young adults within elementary and junior colleges on the risks associated with the use of e-cigarettes and nicotine products; and on educating responsible parties in pedagogy, education, and healthcare.