Residents, Landvernd Protest Proposed Land Reclamation and Development Project

Both residents of the Skerjafjörður neighbourhood in Reykjavík and Landvernd, the Icelandic Environment Association, have levelled strong protests against the City of Reykjavík’s proposal for a new, 4.3-hectare [10.6-acre] land extension to a stretch of local shoreline known by some locals as Shell Beach, Fréttablaðið reports. The city argues the extension is necessary to support a proposed adjoining residential neighbourhood, ‘New Skerjafjörður,’ which will be home to as many as 1,300 new residents. But opponents say that such development plans would increase pollution and traffic, as well as destroy a unique ecosystem and popular recreational area.

The Proposed Site. Screenshot from Preliminary Assessment Report on Land Fill in New Skerjafjörður, City of Reykjavík

Per the city’s 95-page report on the proposed project, land fill would be used to build up a 700-meter [.43-mi] stretch of the existing beach and also extend the shore 100 meters further into the sea. However, the site is currently home to mudflats which are protected under nature conservation law. The city contends that the mudflats would not be destroyed but rather would be able to regenerate after the initial construction. “The coastline will be shaped such that it looks like a natural beach and endeavours will be made to ensure that mudflats can reform in place of those that will be disturbed,” reads the report. The project is said to be “…part of the densification of populated areas and the construction of new neighbourhoods in the southwestern part of the city, in accordance with the Reykjavík Municipal Plan, 2010 – 2030.” The area is very popular amongst walkers and cyclists but although there would be some disruption to these activities while the landfill is created, the city says, the disruption would be not be significant and will allow for new paths and recreational areas to be built on the site.

See Also: City Council Approves New 102 Reykjavík Postcode

The project was posted and open for public comment until January 25th. During this period, it received considerable negative feedback from constituents.

“It should be clear to everyone that the land reclamation and planned structures will have a significant and negative impact on the landscape and its appearance,” wrote Landvernd in a public comment on the project. The association said that the project will result in a “man-made stone structure…it’s difficult to make a convincing argument for the societal need to spoil mudflats like these, which there are few left of in the capital area.”

Another commenter on the project was engineer Sigurður Áss Grétarsson, who worked for the Icelandic Road Administration for a long time and also oversaw the construction of the Landeyjahöfn harbour in South Iceland. Citing a report by a city conservationist, Sigurður noted that the beach has remained largely unchanged since the 19th century, and hasn’t already been disturbed, as the city has suggested. He also said that the proposed undersea wall that is supposed to help with the regeneration of the mudflats is too narrow to actually break waves and do any good.

“If the intention is to destroy the mudflats, then the city should just say it straight out,” he wrote, “instead of being deceptive and throwing dust in people’s eyes.”

See Also: New Neighbourhood By Reykjavík Airport to Prioritise Pedestrians

At time of writing, an online petition to “Save Skerjafjörður” had 528 signatures. “The proposed site is one of the few remaining natural areas in Reykjavik [sic],” reads the petition text. “It is one of the few such areas easily accessible to lower-income residents of the city (i.e. those without cars) such as the students in the nearby dormitories and newly built housing complexes. Tourists and summer visitors enjoy this small bay, whose clay bottom makes it a unique ecosystem, unlike the rocky shore that borders it, one of the few remaining bits of natural shore in the city. It is among the first areas to provide a sheltered home to migratory birds (the oyster-catchers and golden plover have already arrived). School groups, cyclists, and marathon runners appreciate the beauty of the path through this area. At no time have more people enjoyed it than in this time of Covid. Once destroyed, this charming natural shore can never be re-created. Human attempts to ‘rebuild’ natural scenerios [sic] are doomed to failure.”

A visualization of the proposed new residential neighborhood, New Skerjafjörður. Screenshot from Preliminary Assessment Report on Land Fill in New Skerjafjörður, City of Reykjavík

The petition also calls into question the new residential neighborhood, which, the petitioners say, “will put even more stress on existing streets that can barely handle the traffic they have to deal with, and the cars will add to the pollution in a city that already has too much.” They question whether so many people would even want to live in New Skerjafjörður, as the plans for the neighborhood were developed prior to the COVID pandemic, which “has made a lot of people re-think their ideas about where and how it is best to live, and companies re-think the possibilities of having employees work at home. It is no longer necessary that everyone live as close as possible to their place of employment, or that these places of employment be centrally located.”

There are also future risks to consider, write the petitioners. “In times of climate change, any building along the coast is unadvisable [sic]. With rising sea-levels, coastal buildings will be at risk of flooding within a generation or two.”

The period for public comment on the project has now closed.

Hundreds of Dead Guillemots Found on East Iceland Beaches

Nearly three hundred guillemots were found dead along the coasts of Iceland’s East Fjords last week, RÚV reports. Based on their appearance, it’s assumed that the birds died of starvation.

The East Iceland Nature Research Centre searched from Berjufjörður to Reyðarfjörður and found 273 guillemot carcasses. However, this is most likely only a fraction of the total number of birds that have actually died of late, said ornithologist Hálfdán Helgi Helgason, as in cases like this, only a small number of carcasses tend to wash ashore.

Hálfdán Helgi noted that seabirds like guillemots often have trouble finding food in bad weather and Iceland’s been subjected to a spate of storms of late. It is also possible that some birds were injured by hunters, as a great deal of seabird hunting has taken place in the East Fjords since the fall. It’s unlikely that bird flu is behind the deaths, but this possibility has not been entirely ruled out.

The Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority has been sent samples for further investigation and Hálfdán said he will continue to monitor the situation locally. He encourages anyone who lives in the area and finds a dead or dying bird on a seashore to report it to the centre.

Take a Hike

A tale of Arctic foxes, empty beaches, and a journey into the Hornstrandir wilderness The northern coast of the Westfjords is known as Hornstrandir. To get there, you drive as far as you can go and sail for as far as the local boat will take you. After that, there’s nothing to do but walk, […]

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19 Tons of Garbage Collected From Beaches

Just over nineteen tons of garbage were collected from Icelandic beaches in the last two weeks, as part of the Nordic Coastal Clean-Up Day. It is believed that around 80% of the garbage comes from the fishing industry.

The initiative, overseen by the Environment Agency of Iceland, focused on beaches and shorelines on the Snæfellsnes peninsula, the Hópsnes peninsula near the Southwestern town of Grindavík, and Hornafjörður in Southeast Iceland. The Nordic Coastal Clean-Up Day is a collaborative project of environmental organizations from the Nordic countries. The day itself took place on May 6 in Iceland and is a part of the Hreinsum Ísland (Let’s Clean Iceland) initiative, spearheaded by the Icelandic Environment Association and Blái Herinn (The Blue army). The public can access info about the cleanups and also registers their own clean up in a special map where all the cleanup data is collected.

This is the second year in a row that Snæfellsnes has participated in the Nordic Beach Cleaning Day. Four different locations were cleaned on the peninsula, with as many as 40 volunteers taking part in efforts in the town of Stykkishölmur and anywhere from a dozen to 30 participants in other locations. Grundafjördúr mayor Björg Ágústsdóttir said the weather was beautiful for the volunteer effort.

“The amount never surprises me. I know there’s one ton of garbage per kilometre in Icelandic beaches, it doesn’t matter where you look,” said Tómas J. Knútsson, head of the Blái Herinn organization. “If we’re far away from settlements, the trash is about 80% fishing gear and 20% other forms of trash, which could have drifted from land or thrown overboard.” Closer to settlements, there’s more of household refuse. “Luckily, public interest is increasing, and we’re seeing more folks taking matters into their own hands in their hometown. For me, that’s the biggest positive,” said Tómas.

Iceland Takes Part in Nordic Beach Cleaning Day

Residents of several municipalities in Iceland took part in the Nordic Beach Cleaning Day on Saturday. RÚV reports that the initiative, overseen by the Environment Agency of Iceland, focused on beaches and shorelines on the Snæfellsnes peninsula, the Hópsnes peninsula near the Southwestern town of Grindavík, and Suðurfjörur on the Hornafjörður fjord in Southeast Iceland.

This is the second year in a row that Snæfellsnes has participated in the Nordic Beach Cleaning Day. Four different locations were cleaned on the peninsula, with as many as 40 volunteers taking part in efforts in the town of Stykkishölmur and anywhere from a dozen to 30 participants in other locations. Grundafjördúr mayor Björg Ágústsdóttir said the weather was beautiful for the volunteer effort.

Björg also noted that as people who live close to the sea, residents of Snæfellsnes generally place particular importance on having clean shores and oceans. Interest in environmental issues has, nevertheless, been increasing in recent years, she said.

Teams in Snæfellsnes combed the areas along shorelines and the Ring Road, picking up metal, plastic, and sticks and wood debris. Björg said that what really surprised her was that there wasn’t more garbage to collect.

Overall, organizers were pleased with the level of commitment from residents, although not surprised. “We live in a nature paradise,” Björg remarked, “and it’s important that it be clean.”