Eggs in a Basket

Krýsuvíkurbjarg egg collection

On a mild spring night in Iceland, when the wind barely ruffles the hair on your head, it’s neither too hot nor too cold, and a soft light shines through the high clouds, driving around the Reykjanes peninsula is a magical experience. The spell is broken as soon as I turn on to the road to Krísuvíkurbjarg, however; the rocky trail to Southwest Iceland’s largest bird cliff is less travelled for a reason. But there’s no turning back now. At the end of the road, I have a meeting with members of the Hafnarfjörður Search and Rescue squad, who have been visiting the cliff every spring for decades. Their goal has always been the same, though their purpose has shifted.

When I finally get to the cliff, two large jeeps have already arrived, with a blur of activity around them. Long lines extend from one of the jeeps standing about 60m (200ft) from the cliff’s edge. At the other end of the line is a rescue squad volunteer in red overalls and a white helmet, with an orange pack around his waist. His name is Símon Halldórsson, and it’s hardly the first time he’s preparing to lower himself over the edge of this cliff. “I was 15 when I went over for the first time, and that was about 30 years ago,” he says as he signals the driver of the jeep that he’s ready to descend.

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Látrabjarg Bird Cliff to Be Protected

The Environment Agency of Iceland has presented a proposal for the protection of the Látrabjarg bird cliffs in the Westfjords. The agency has been working on the proposal since 2011 in collaboration with landowners, local authorities, and other stakeholders and is now seeking comments on it from the public.

One of Europe’s biggest bird cliffs, Látrabjarg is the westernmost point in Iceland. A staggering number of seabirds nest there every year, including the largest population of razorbills in the world, with 160,968 nesting pairs. Guillemots (225,912 pairs), thick-billed murres (118,034), fulmars (99,894 pairs), puffins (50,00 pairs), kittiwakes (32,028 pairs) also nest along Látrabjarg.

The proposed boundaries for the Látrabjarg preserve would enclose an area of 2,340 hectares (around 9 sq mi; 23.4 sq km). In addition to protecting the cliffs themselves, the preserve would extend one kilometre out to sea, with the intention of safeguarding the surrounding marine environment as well.

The proposed boundaries of the Látrabjarg Nature Reserve.

Per the written proposal, the primary goal of designating Látrabjarg a protected area is to “protect the unique and diverse ecosystem of the area and habitat for birds, especially the seabird nesting site. The protected status is simultaneously intended to protect and maintain the natural condition [of the site] as well as the magnificent landscape from sea level all the way up to the highest point of one of the North Atlantic’s largest bird cliffs.”

Granting the cliffs protected status is also intended to protect its cultural heritage, ensure that it continues to be monitored and studied by scientists, and redouble educational outreach related to its rich bird life.

The deadline for submitting comments on the proposal is June 18, 2019. They can be submitted by email at [email protected] or by post to the Environment Agency of Iceland, Suðurlandsbraut 24, 108 Reykjavík.