Minister for the Environment Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson has asked the Environment Agency to close eight caves to protect them from damage, including an untouched 2,500-year-old cave that was recently discovered in Northeast Iceland. RÚV reports that the Minister hopes to eventually designate the caves as protected areas, though the process may take some time.
A unique cave
Þeystareykir is a geothermal area located in Þingeyjarsveit, Northeast Iceland. Þeystareykjahraun lava field is known to have caves, many of which remain unexplored. Around two years ago, members of the Icelandic Speleological Society discovered a 2,500-year-old cave in the area with an impressive display of stalactites and stalagmites. Guðni Gunnarsson, the society’s director, told RÚV the sheer amount and size of the formations make the cave unique on a global scale. He says protecting the cave is necessary in order to avoid damage, as has happened in Leiðarendi cave near Hafnarfjörður, where almost all the stalagmites have been broken.
Call on National Power Company to protect area
In late 2017, the National Power Company of Iceland (Landsvirkjun) activated a geothermal power station in the lava field. A road was built to the power station which lies very close to the cave, increasing traffic in the area. The Speleological Society has criticised the company for putting up signs that draw attention to the stalagmite caves in the area, encouraging visitors to seek them out and thus putting the caves at risk of damage. The National Power Company has stated it did not know about the caves when the road was built.
Minister for the Environment Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson has requested the Environment Agency close four caves in Þeystareykjahraun and four in other parts of the country in order to protect them from damage. Three caves in the country have previously been protected by installing locked gates at their entrances to restrict entry.
Stalagmites are “protected natural monuments” according to Icelandic conservation laws.