Government and New Landowner Agree to Protect Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon

Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon

Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon, a popular tourist site in South Iceland, is being sold from one private owner to another. The Icelandic government had the right to step in and purchase the land for the state, but forewent that right. However, Environment Minister Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson and the purchaser of the property have signed an agreement to work toward protecting the site.

The picturesque canyon and the surrounding area, covering 315 hectares, was put up for sale six years ago. A buyer made an offer on the property earlier this year and was accepted. However, as Fjaðrárgljúfur is on Iceland’s Nature Conservation Register, the state had pre-emptive purchase rights to the land. This means that if it chose to do so, it could step in and take over the purchase from the prospective landowner. The government ultimately decided not to exercise that right, but the Environment Minister has now signed an agreement with the to-be landowner that is expected to ensure the canyon’s protection.

According to a government notice announcing the agreement, the Environment Ministry did not consider it necessary to intervene in the purchase in order to guarantee the area would be protected. The agreement ensures the protection of the area, and necessary infrastructure development, will be a joint project between the state and the new owner.

Parking fees may be instated

Until now, no admission or parking fees have been charged at the site. The government notice states that in accordance with the Nature Conservation Act, “collection of fees shall not impair or impede the free movement of persons through the protected area who do not use the car park,” and that “the collection and disposition of fees that may be charged for the parking of motor vehicles shall be in its entirety used to develop services, operations, and infrastructure for those travelling in the area.”

The notice also states that neighbouring landowners whose land contains part of the canyon have expressed their willingness to collaborate on the protection of Fjaðrárgljúfur.

Baldur Ferry Breaks Down Again, Service May Be Suspended

Breiðafjörður ferry Baldur

The only ferry that sails between West Iceland and the southern Westfjords, Baldur, broke down last Saturday, stranding over 100 passengers some 250 metres from harbour for almost six hours, RÚV reports. This is not the first time the over 40-year-old ship has broken down mid-journey, and the Director of Services at Iceland’s Road and Coastal Administration says she is concerned about safety issues on board the ferry.

Baldur was built in 1979 in Norway, where it transported cars and passengers until it was purchased by Icelandic company Sæferðir around ten years ago. At the time, the company had difficulties registering the ship in Iceland, as the Icelandic Transport Authority doubted its safety. The boat was eventually registered, however, and fulfils legal safety requirements today, according to Jón Gunnar Jónsson, the Transport Authority’s current director.

Repeated breakdowns in recent years

The Road and Coastal Administration is responsible for ferry service across Breiðafjörður bay, but contracts the service out to the company Sæferðir, which owns Baldur. The ship has often had operational issues in recent years. In March 2021, it lost power in the middle of the bay, leaving its crew and passengers stranded for over 24 hours. Its most recent breakdown prior to this one occurred in February: luckily, the ship was in harbour at the time, in Stykkishólmur, West Iceland.

Hope passengers are not in immediate danger

“We are worried about the condition of the ship, but we don’t know the situation perfectly,” stated Bergþóra Kristinsdóttir, director of services at the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration. She stated that it was not yet clear whether there was reason to suspend ferry service at this point in time. “We are monitoring closely and are in good communication with Sæferðir, the operator, and are evaluating the situation,” she told RÚV yesterday.

Asked whether the Road and Coastal Administration believed the safety of passengers was in immediate danger, Bergþóra stated: “We hope not, but we are of course analysing and reviewing all issues. We consider this very serious, and look at this as a serious issue.”

A journalistic investigation conducted by RÚV programme Kveikur in April of this year found multiple safety issues on board Baldur. Many have since been rectified.

Unemployment Dropped to 3.9% in Iceland Last Month

Reykjavík restaurant workers

Registered unemployment in Iceland measured 3.9% in May, a reduction of 0.6% compared to the previous month. On average, 812 fewer people were unemployed in the country in May than in April. Unemployment is higher among foreign residents, who have more difficulty finding employment that corresponds to their education or training than Icelandic citizens.

Unemployment decreased in all regions of the country last month, according to the Directorate of Labour’s monthly report. As per usual, unemployment remains highest on the Suðurnes peninsula in Southwest Iceland, where it nevertheless decreased from 7.6% in April to 6.6% in May. The next-highest regional rate is in the capital area, where unemployment decreased from 4.7% to 4.2% between the two months. Unemployment rates in May were somewhat higher among men than women.

Recognition of foreigners’ education lacking

Of the 7,713 individuals that were on the unemployment register at the end of May, 3,331 were foreign citizens, 526 fewer than in the previous month. This number nevertheless reflects higher unemployment rates among foreign residents of Iceland than Icelandic citizens, or 8.5%, compared to the overall rate of 3.9%. Foreign citizens make up 43% of those on the unemployment register, while they make up around 15% of the total population of Iceland.

The Director of Iceland’s Labour Directorate, Unnur Sverrisdóttir, says many foreigners on the unemployment register would be working if their education and training from abroad were recognised in Iceland. “[They] often have a lot of difficulty in getting their work experience and education recognised, that is often the explanation for [them being unemployed],” Unnur told RÚV. “There’s a certain amount of paperwork and of course some obstacles there. And that’s what we work most on, helping people to find a way to have the knowledge and education that they bring with them – which is often extensive – recognised.”

The Directorate of Labour expects the decrease in unemployment to continue, projecting a rate of 3.5-3.8% in June.

Kamila and Marco are Reykjavík Residents of the Year

Two young activists whose “freedge” in downtown Reykjavík has strengthened the community and reduced food waste have been named Reykjavík residents on the year. Kamila Walijewska and Marco Pizzolato, two friends who set up a public fridge in the city centre last summer, are the recipients of the annual honour this year. The fridge is regularly replenished and emptied by members of the community.

“We think it’s great to see the project take on a life of its own. People spread the word, bring food donations, and sometimes we hear about people that have met and gotten to know each other through the fridge. We see a lot of possibility of connecting people and at the same time increasing awareness of food waste and our planet at the same time.”

One “freedge” becomes three

Kamila is originally from Poland while Marco is from Switzerland. They both moved to Iceland around two years ago. Their freedge was inaugurated on June 29 last year as part of the international movement freedge.org. Located at Bergþórugata 20 outside radical social centre Andrými, the original fridge has inspired two other freedges in the capital area, one in the Breiðholt neighbourhood of Reykjavík and another in the municipality of Kópavogur. All three fridges are well used.

This is the twelfth time that the City of Reykjavík has selected a resident of the year. As per tradition, the winners were invited to inaugurate the salmon fishing season in Elliðará river in east Reykjavík, and both Marco and Kamila caught their first salmon on the occasion.