The volunteer group Hreinni Hornstrandir (Cleaner Hornstrandir) finished its first trash clean-up round of the nature reserve Hornstrandir in the Westfjords, led by Ísafjörður local Gauti Geirsson. Russian vodka and Alaskan shampoo along with fishing equipment and plastics in all shapes and forms were part of this year’s 2.6 tonne haul. Since 2014, the group has headed annually to the area to clean up plastic, trash, and litter over a weekend. A group of twenty volunteers, mainly locals from the Westfjords, collected trash over two days this time around on June 19-20. The main bulk of the weight, close to 80%, is believed to be derived from the fishing industry such as buoys and nets.
Historically, the area has received large amounts of driftwood from all around the world. In the last couple of years, plastics have been a large part of the trash. “Fishing gear, nets, buoys, plastic packaging, containers. Every kind of plastic. You’ll find it all there,” says Gauti. “One year we found a cognac bottle with Arabic lettering, it makes no sense that it wound up in Hornstrandir. We’ve found experimental buoys, transmitters. Stuff from both sides of the Atlantic. The trash comes from all around. USA, Canada, UK, Norway, Spain, and from the whole of the North Atlantic area.”
5 years between clean-up in Hornvík
This year’s outing was a milestone trip as the first round of clean-up was now completed, by cleaning the coves Smiðjuvík, Bjarnarnes, and Hrollaugsvík. The group also headed back for a second round in Hornvík. Hornvík was originally cleaned in 2015 when volunteers picked close to two tonnes of trash in the area. Five years later, 1.1 tonnes of trash was the haul.
Gauti Geirsson started the initiative in 2014 with the goal of removing trash in the nature reserve and to raise the issue of plastic and other trash in the ocean. “What lit the spark was when I was working on passenger boats heading with travellers to the area. I was taking a French photographer to the area, and he wanted to take a photo of Hornbjarg cliff. But he was so appalled by the amount of trash in the area. He took photos of the trash instead and ended up opening an exhibition in France. I thought to myself that I had to something about it, and the idea of the clean-up came up,” Gauti says. “I needed a foreigner to open my eyes towards the issue, as I had become accustomed to it, seeing the driftwood and the trash from the fishing industry. At the time, I didn’t know any better than that these matters were in good shape, but we have to get the plastic out of there before it starts breaking down into nature.”
“It was a matter of pride. For the first trip, it was more a case of we have been caught with our pants down and we must do something about it. Then, over time, factors such as ensuring biodiversity in the area and protecting the ecosystem come into play. There were microparticles of plastic breaking down there. We have been trying to raise awareness on this issue. There’s not only trash out on the ocean but we’re also seeing a lot of trash blow from land out onto the ocean and beaches, so people really have to watch what they throw and where,” Gauti adds.
2.6 tonne haul
Although 2.6 tonnes sound a large number, the record amount for one trip is 9 tonnes in 2018, collected by a group of 50 people. “It was a great weekend, with a particularly good group of volunteers, it’s a key to our operation to have good people with us, as it’s hard work. Yes, 2.6. tonnes are fine. One should be happy that it is not more. The main goal is that the amount decreases year from year and that the area becomes as clean from trash as possible. But note that the areas we covered this time around are not large in size, as most of them were relatively small coves,” Gauti says, referring to Smiðjuvík, Bjarnarnes, and Hrollaugsvík.
Starting a movement
The group hopes that the Hornstrandir clean-up raises awareness of trash in the ocean. “Plastic in the ocean is a large problem, and especially so for a fishing nation such as Iceland. The plastic particles end up in the fish, which we export to other countries. Who wants to eat a fish full of plastic? So, all kinds of factors started to come into play once we dove deeper into the subject,” said Gauti, who studies at the Arctic University of Norway in Tromso. He hopes that others may follow suit around the world and organize clean-ups in their local area. “It’s for self-motivation as well. I was 22 when I started this, and if a 22-year-old wants to make a change in the world he should just do it – rather than waiting for someone else to do it. To inspire others to take on issues such as these. If everyone does their part, the workload is not too heavy,” Gauti says.
“I want to encourage people to do what they can. Both in daily consumption and in caring for the environment. And to clean up trash. It does not need to be a full-scale clean-up with a coast guard vessel by your side. It is just as effective to clean 10 kilograms of trash in your local beach as it is here in Hornstrandir,” Gauti states.
Joint operation with Coast Guard
As the area is a nature reserve, it takes some effort to remove the trash from the isolated beaches. “The trips vary each year, depending on the surroundings as Hornstrandir is a diverse area. Fishing nets and ropes get stuck in sand beaches while plastic containers and buoys are wedged in between large stones in more rocky beaches. The group has been comprised of between 20-50 people, depending on the size of the clean-up area,” Gauti adds.
The Icelandic Coast Guard assists with the clean-up and has done so since 2015. “It’s fantastic to have the Coast Guard with us. We could not do it without them. It can create a certain uncertainty, however, as they could be called upon for assistance elsewhere at any time. So, we’ve got a plan A, B, and C,” he says. Borea Adventures, a local tour operator, brought the volunteers over from Ísafjörður to the clean-up area, while the coast guard vessel Þór transported the volunteers back, along with the tonnes trash. Once in port, The Environmental Agency of Iceland and the municipality of Ísafjörður handle the disposal of the trash.
Hornstrandir natural reserve
Located in the Westfjords, Hornstrandir is Iceland’s northernmost peninsula and has been protected since 1975. The last locals left the area in the 1950s, leaving the area uninhabited. An area of great natural beauty and harsh weather, it is popular with hikers. Hornstrandir is home to swathes of birds in the towering cliffs, as well as being a refuge for the arctic fox.
For further news on the initiative – head to www.facebook.com/hreinnihornstrandir