Landowners and local authorities have differing viewpoints on what has hindered increased safety measures at Reynisfjara beach, following repeated fatal accidents over the past few years. The spokesperson for a group of landowners by Reynisfjara states that the authorities have hindered improvements, not them, Vísir reports, while the Icelandic Tourist Board’s Director General states that landowners’ opposition has stopped further Reynisfjara safety measures. The popular tourist destination is not owned by the state but by various landowners, but a committee is now considering closing the beach to travellers.
The debate over Reynisfjara safety measures has resurged after a tourist in their seventies died there last Friday, swept away by the powerful sneaker waves characteristic of the tourist attraction beach.
According to Morgunblaðið’s report, a committee established by the Minister of Tourism found that the government had the authority to close places considered dangerous, even against the will of the local landowners. Morgunblaðið also reported the Director-General of the Icelandic Tourist Board statement that while security measures such as warning flags and blinking lights had been suggested, some of the landowners had objected, and their instalment had stalled. The Tourism Minister’s committee is still working on their suggestions for closure, and the result can be expected before the summer break.
Íris Guðnadóttir is a spokesperson for one of the group of landowners that own part of Reynisfjara. She told Vísir: “hearing this in the media, that landowners, that we are against security measures, hurts. These are difficult times. We are very willing to cooperate and talk.” She added that the locals, such as her family, are the ones who face the aftermath of the fatal accidents, so they are well aware of the severity of the matter.
According to Íris, the South Iceland police and landowners had agreed to put up new signs with lights on the beach in 2017. The sign was ready, but the matter stalled because the Ministry of Tourism established a committee. “A risk assessment was to be made, and actions were to be coordinated nationwide. Now, it’s been over three years.”
Since then, there has been no direct action to discourage travellers from getting too close to the water except for a sign put up by the landowners. The government has funded a wave forecast system that is accessible on The Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration (IRCA)’ website but Íris criticises its lack of use elsewhere, calling for action instead of new committees.
When asked about ideas to close Reynisfjara to travellers, at least when the conditions are at their most dangerous, Íris remains unconvinced. Conditions on the beach vary greatly and can change very quickly. “When the conditions are like that, we need to keep people away from the basalt columns. When the sea goes up to the rocks, people shouldn’t be climbing or running across the rocks to get to the cave. We need to keep people safe. But Reynisfjara isn’t dangerous if you sit up on the beach at a safe distance from the water,” stated Íris.