Image: Golli

Vatnajökull National Park Approved as a UNESCO World Heritage Site

 In Nature & Travel, News

Vatnajökull national park has been approved to the UNESCO World Heritage List. The Ministry of Education, Science and Culture along with the Ministry for the Environment and Natural Resources revealed this today. Vatnajökull national park becomes the third site in Iceland to feature on the World Heritage List following Þingvellir national park in 2004 and volcanic island Surtsey in 2008.

The decision to add Vatnajökull national park to the list was made earlier today by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee in Baku, Azerbaijan. The decision was made on the basis that the national park features unique nature which is invaluable for mankind, and should be part of our legacy. Vatnajökull national park has now been placed in a group with national parks such as Yellowstone National Park in the United States, Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia, and the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador, to name a few.

Area of unique natural beauty
Vatnajökull national park covers 14% of Iceland’s surface area, 14,701 square kilometres in total. Largely covered by the Vatnajökull glacier, which is the largest ice cap in Iceland, it is also an active geological area featuring lava fields. The glacier itself became part of the Vatnajökull national park in 2008. Iceland’s highest peak, Hvannadalshnjúkur, is 2109.6 metres high and sits in the southern part of the glacier. The area features natural phenomena such as the Askja caldera, the ‘queen of Icelandic mountains’ Herðubreið, Dettifoss waterfall, Ásbyrgi glacial canyon, as well as Hljóðaklettar rock formation in the Jökulsárgljúfur canyon.

The application for the Vatnajökull national park to be added to the UNESCO World Heritage List has been in the works since 2016. The Icelandic government delivered a suggestion for the park to be added to the list in January 2018. Since then, the World Heritage Committee has inspected the merits of the park with the assistance of the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The IUCN values suggested sites using factors such as world heritage value, authenticity, integrity, along with the status of protection.

Minister of Environment and Natural Resources Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson commented on the matter. “The nature in the area which has now been approved is magnificent – with fantasy like lava formations, black sands, rare oases of fauna, vast areas like none others, remnants of incredible cataclysmic floods, and glaciers which store incredible history and reflect the climate crisis at the same time. It is very unusual for such a large part of a country to be put on the UNESCO World Heritage List. It is truly a happy day.”

Vatnajokull National Park
Map of the national park. The blue lines indicate the park area. Red lines indicate no-go zones for vehicles, while special protection rules apply for the purple zones. For further information, head to https://www.vatnajokulsthjodgardur.is/en

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