Minister Alarmed by Plastic Pollution on Eldey Island

Eldey island, off the coast of the Reykjanes peninsula

A recent scientific expedition to the island of Eldey has revealed significant plastic pollution in gannet nests. The Minister of the Environment admitted that the images were shocking and stated there was reason to investigate the source of the plastic.

One of the world’s largest gannet colonies

Last weekend, a team of experts from the Icelandic Institute of Natural History, the University of Iceland, the Southwest Iceland Nature Research Centre, alongside wardens from the Environment Agency of Iceland embarked upon a scientific expedition to the island of Eldey.

Eldey is a small, uninhabited island 13 km off the southwest coast of Iceland’s Reykjanes Peninsula, covering 3 hectares and rising 77 metres above sea level. Notably, its sheer cliffs host one of the world’s largest northern gannet colonies, with approximately 16,000 pairs.

The purpose of the expedition was to measure the island´s erosion and height, assess gannet mortality following bird flu, and examine the extent of plastic pollution on the island.  

Nests primarily made from plastic

The expedition revealed that gannets have easy access to plastic, as their nests are mostly made from plastic debris. Hundreds of dead gannets were also observed by the experts, with it being estimated that three factors played a role in their deaths: natural attrition, bird flu, and plastic pollution.

“We knew it was bad, but this is very shocking. Almost all nests are made more or less out of plastic. So, this is terrible,” Sindri Gíslason, the head of the Southwest Iceland Nature Research Centre, told RÚV earlier this week.

“Striking” images

“The images were striking. This is the real upshot when we, or someone else, disposes of waste,” Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson, Minister of the Environment, Energy, and Climate, stated in an interview with RÚV yesterday

As noted by RÚV, monitoring by the Environment Agency on Icelandic shores and the Marine Research Institute’s recordings of plastic have revealed that the largest source of plastic in the sea around Iceland comes from the fishing industry. 

Although the origin of the plastic on Eldey is not clear, the minister believes there is ample reason to investigate. “We are in a constant dialogue with the business community, and there is every reason to delve into this matter and analyse the origin of the plastic on Eldey,” Guðlaugur Þór observed.

Ptarmigan Quota Increased for Upcoming Hunting Season

The Ministry of the Environment, Energy, and Climate has announced that the annual ptarmigan hunting season will begin on November 1 and conclude on December 4. This year’s hunting quota has been set at 26,000 birds, an increase of 6,000 from last year.

Poor recruitment in Northeast and West Iceland

Rock ptarmigan are still hunted in Iceland as they are considered a delicacy, often consumed on Christmas Eve. The Icelandic Institute of Natural History claims the preservation status the ptarmigan gained in 2003 has helped to significantly restore numbers. In May, the institute reported that the ptarmigan population was nearing its zenith in West and Northwest Iceland in the Westfjords while the population was likely declining in Northeast and East Iceland. In August, the institute reported poor recruitment in Northeast and West Iceland. The total ptarmigan population was estimated at just under 300,000 birds.

Yesterday, Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson, Minister for the Environment, Energy, and Climate, announced the arrangement of this year’s ptarmigan hunting season. An announcement on the government’s website stated that hunting season shall last from November 1 to December 4, between 12 noon and sunset, from Tuesdays to Fridays. This year’s arrangement is similar to last year’s, with the exception that the quota has been increased to 26,000 birds, an increase of 6,000.

Hunters asked to show moderation

Guðlaugur Þór also asked hunters to show moderation in light of the recruitment failure in Northeast and West Iceland: poor weather conditions this spring and summer are the likely explanation. The minister further encouraged hunters to refrain from hunting in large numbers in Northeast Iceland. Lastly, the announcement iterates the ban on ptarmigan sales, which applies equally to the sale of ptarmigan to resellers and others.

“I’ve emphasised that the Environment Agency of Iceland should expedite the creation of a management and protection plan for the ptarmigan and that the arrangement of hunting season should based on that plan in the future,” the press release reads.

The statement adds that a timeline for the management and protection plan, which involves a high level of cooperation with interested parties, has been established and that the plan would likely be introduced in May of 2023.