Unrestricted access to Leiðarendi cave has led to heavy vandalism and damage to the site, RÚV reports. Graffiti covers large sections of the lava cave’s walls; most of its dozens of stalagmites have been broken; and at least one visitor left behind human excrement. Árni B. Stefánsson of the Icelandic Speleological Society says the natural formation should be monitored to protect its fragile and unique contents.
Located near Reykjavík, Leiðarendi stretching 1,000m (3,280ft) long. It sits on public land within the town of Hafnarfjörður. The cave was discovered in 1990, but it’s not until the last few years that traffic to the cave has boomed. Its walls are host to patterns created by unique micro-organisms, but many are now covered by graffiti. “It’s like the underpasses in the suburbs of a big city,” says Árni, describing the scrawls in the cave. “It was completely untouched at the turn of the century. The first graffiti appeared here around 2006 or 2007 and then there was an explosion in tourism and simultaneously in the graffiti. It’s just awful to see it.”
Stalagmites broken, skull stolen
Leiðarendi, which roughly translates to “final destination,” got its name from a lamb skeleton which lies deep inside the cave. The lamb is believed to have gotten lost there some 100-200 years ago. Its remains have not been left undisturbed by visitors. “[The skeleton] has been moved a lot and the skull was taken at one point, but it was returned again, fortunately,” says Árni.
Around ten years ago, Árni set up a chain to protect the cave’s stalagmites – rock formations rising from its floor – but the measure has not been successful. Once featuring dozens of the formations, the cave has only a handful left.
Tourism companies profit
Árni says that hundreds of thousands of visitors have been to the cave in recent years, either on their own initiative, or as part of organised tours via tour companies. “These are many billions that the cave has brought in for the community and for these tour companies. These are very sizeable sums,” Árni says, noting that none of the profits have been used to protect the cave from damage. He says it is essential to start monitoring admission to the cave – such natural formations are simply too sensitive for traffic to be left unchecked.
Protection in process
Helga Ingólfsdóttir, chairperson of Hafnarfjörður’s environmental and development council, says the town is now taking such measures. According to Helga, the process was delayed because it was not clear whether the cave was under the jurisdiction of Hafnarfjörður or the neighbouring town of Kópavogur. The uncertainty has since been cleared up, and the town is ready to take action.
“We will start inside the cave to try to fix what has been damaged,” Helga stated. She says the town will also look at ways to improve visitors’ experience, by for example placing lighting in the cave. Other planned measures include restoring the entrance to the cave, constructing a staircase, and counting the number of visitors. “The counter will give us an indication of what steps need to be taken next.”