Iceland’s Surtsey on UNESCO’s World Heritage List Skip to content

Iceland’s Surtsey on UNESCO’s World Heritage List

The World Heritage Committee inscribed 13 new sites on UNESCO’s World Heritage List after a meeting in Canada yesterday. The new sites include Iceland’s young volcanic island Surtsey, which has been preserved as a living laboratory since 1964.

Surtsey, the southernmost isle of the Westman Islands archipelago, located approximately 32 kilometers from the south coast of Iceland, was formed in a series of volcanic eruptions that took place from 1963 to 1967.

According to UNESCO, it is all the more outstanding for having been protected since its birth, providing the world with a pristine natural laboratory.

Free from human interference, Surtsey has been producing unique long-term information on the colonization process of new land by plant and animal life.

Since they began studying the island in 1964, scientists have observed the arrival of seeds carried by ocean currents, the appearance of moulds, bacteria and fungi, followed in 1965 by the first vascular plant, of which there were ten species by the end of the first decade.

By 2004, there were 60 such plants and 75 bryophytes, 71 lichens and 24 fungi. Eighty-nine species of birds have been recorded on Surtsey, 57 of which breed elsewhere in Iceland. The 141-hectare island is also home to 335 species of invertebrates.

Click here to read more about Surtsey and here to view a video from an ongoing exhibition on the development of the island.

There is also a feature on Surtsey in the 2008 spring issue of Iceland Review. Former staff writer Sara Blask was given a rare chance to visit the living laboratory.

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