Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon Declared Nature Reserve

Fjaðrárgljúfur

The popular canyon Fjaðrárglúfur was declared a nature reserve by Minister for the Environment, Energy, and Climate Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson.

The popular canyon, located in Southeast Iceland near the village of Kirkjubæjarklaustur, was already listed on the Nature Conservation Register, a list of protected areas in Iceland and other important natural monuments deemed worthy of protection or conservation.

The designation as a nature reserve will place the canyon among some 130 other sites in Iceland and impose stricter regulations for its conservation.

A popular site protected

The boundaries of the nature reserve now extend over the eastern part of the canyon and mark the area above the eastern cliffs. This area is owned by Hverabergs ehf., and will be operated in cooperation with the municipality of Skaftárhrepp.

Work on the designation began following a memorandum signed by Minister Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson and Hveraberg ehf. in January 2024. The memorandum outlined cooperation on protecting Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon and developing infrastructure in the area.

Increasing tourist interest in Fjaðrágljúfur canyon

The canyon Fjaðrárgljúfur (so named after the Fjaðrá river which runs through it) is some 100 m [328 ft] deep and 2 km [1.2 mi] long. Formed by glacial activity nearly 10,000 years ago, the canyon came to international popularity after the 2015 Justin Bieber music video “I’ll Show You.”

Since then, the canyon has seen ever-increasing numbers of tourists, causing the site to be closed to travellers several times. 

The land through which the canyon runs was bought by Hveraberg ehf. in 2022 for 280 million ISK [$2,000,000; €1,860,000].

Immensely popular destination

The increased popularity has also driven a need for a higher level of infrastructure in the area, both to conserve the site and ensure the safety of visitors.

At the ceremony, Minister of Environment, Energy, and Climate Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson stated: “Fjaðrárgljúfur is an immensely popular tourist destination, and everything indicates that the influx of tourists to the area will increase in the coming years. I’m satisfied to be able to cooperate with landowners and the Skaftárhrepp municipality to preserve the area and create the necessary environment for the protection of nature in the area and for the reception of tourists.”

Read more about privately owned tourist sites in Iceland.

German Expedition Vehicle Causes Damage to Nature Area

german jeep highland

A recent YouTube video, published by the German tourist Peter Ruppert, has drawn considerable critique and commentary in Iceland.

Ruppert, who runs the YouTube channel Pete Ruppert Universe, was travelling through the Icelandic highland in a converted “overlander” military-style truck. When the truck became bogged down on a rough track, Ruppert is shown causing considerable damage to the natural surroundings as he freed his truck.

Reports indicate that the truck, which weighs around 14 tonnes, was stuck in Þjórsárver, a protected nature area.

Daníel Freyr Jónsson, a specialist at the Environment Agency,  stated to RÚV that Rupper was not driving off-road. Nevertheless, Daníel stated that his actions were “far from exemplary.”

“There are trails and roads in the area, and he was not driving off-road,” Daníel stated. A rough track can also be seen in the YouTube video in question. “But the damage caused in digging out his truck is clearly not a positive thing, and it’s not setting a good example within a protected area,” Daníel continued.

Ruppert has denied accusations of driving off-road and damaging nature. In a public statement, Ruppert said: “First of all, we never drove off-road […] [A]ccording to the map, we naturally drove exclusively on marked trails, which were also indicated by the wooden posts that had been set up! However, there were many places where these wooden markers were missing. In such cases, we followed tracks on the ground, so we drove where vehicles had already driven before us. And then, lo and behold, more posts would appear. The landscape in the glacier area seems to constantly change due to river courses. Iceland should either close off such tracks or clearly mark them to prevent people from getting lost!”

Many Icelanders have expressed their frustration at the damage done to nature and highland roads in light of the incident. Icelandic law prohibits off-road driving, and in some cases, vehicles may be confiscated. Heavy vehicles, such as Ruppert’s 14-tonne military expedition truck, also cause outsized damage to natural areas, even when on established tracks.

Daníel Freyr continued: “I think the next step will be to go and check this out and see if we can observe any damage caused by this. And if there is a lot, then we simply need to consider what to do about it. This is, of course, a protected area, and specific rules apply to it.”

A Wealth of Water

natural resource iceland

Close your eyes and picture Iceland. What comes to mind? A powerful waterfall streaming down a cliffside? Bluish icebergs floating in a glacier lagoon? A hulking jeep fording a highland river? Or maybe a steaming hot spring or a neighbourhood swimming pool? Whichever image is most evocative of Iceland for you, there’s one thing they […]

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Further Aquaculture Permits Put on Hold

arnarlax fish farm iceland

RÚV reports that further aquaculture permits have been suspended by the government, citing the recent growth of the industry and recent concerns about local fish stocks.

Read more: Extensive Hybridization Between Farmed and Wild Fish Stocks

Fish farming has grown significantly in recent years. In 2014, some 8,300 tonnes of farmed fish were exported by Iceland. According to the latest data from 2022, that number has now risen to more than 51,000 tonnes.

Profits have likewise risen rapidly, the total export in 2014 accounting for ISK 1.4 billion [$10.3 million, €9.6 million]. By 2022, that number had risen to ISK 40.5 billion [$298 million, €279 million]. Top importers have been the US, Holland, Germany, Denmark, France, and the UK.

Read more: Damning Report on Iceland’s Fish Farming Industry

The government decision came in the wake of a recent report on the industry, which found a patchwork of regulation that left the industry largely unsupervised.

One major concern which has made recent headlines is the hybridization of farmed fish following their escape from pens. Conservationists are concerned that the farmed fish introduce parasites into native fish stocks, in addition to competing with them for food. At least 16 cases of escapes have been documented by MAST, the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority. Most recently, some 3,500 fish went missing in Patreksfjörður.

The majority of fish farming is practised in the Westfjords, where it accounts for some 5.5% of local jobs. But the industry has also grown significantly in the Eastfjords as well, where it has become a much-debated issue.

Recently, residents of Seyðisfjörður expressed their opposition to proposed increases of the industry in the area, stating that it would narrow the available shipping lanes. In addition to a ferry, Seyðisfjörður is also visited by a number of cruise ships each year, which have become an important part of the local economy.

 

Deep North Episode 39: In the Ranger’s Realm

park ranger látrabjarg

What does a ranger do, exactly? According to the tan and charmingly scruffy specimen sitting opposite me at a cafe in the city centre, just back from the mountains, the title is self-explanatory. “It’s a job in environment protection. That’s what the Icelandic word for ranger, landvörður, means. We’re protecting the land; we’re its guardians.” Rangers safeguard Iceland’s fragile nature and the people who visit its remote fishing villages, tourist attractions, and mountainous wilderness. While their quotidian duties involve picking up trash, maintaining trails, and having a sharp word or two with travellers who stray off them, a ranger’s work is so much more. They have to be prepared for every eventuality and able to respond to all situations that arise far from the city limits. These are the people who take it upon themselves to ensure Iceland’s virtually untouched nature stays that way.

Read the story.

What’s in a Name: Forestry and Soil Conservation Agencies Debate New Title

forestry

The Environment and Transport Committee of Iceland’s parliament has received a proposal for a new law on forestry and land conservation, which aims to merge the two existing agencies, the Land Conservation Agency and the Forestry Service.

The proposal identifies key issues of the merger between the two agencies. The plan, called “Land and Life,” was created by the Land Conservation Agency and the Forestry Service and outlines their vision for land and forest management through 2031.

Read more: Use of Lodgepole Pine Sparks Feud

The new organization, named “Land and Forest,” has been proposed as the name for the merged agency. However, the Land Conservation Agency has suggested that a better name might be found, given that the proposed name does not reflect the activities of the two agencies.

In a statement, the Soil Conservation Agency noted the need for a “more suitable name” for the new institution. Alternatives proposed include “Land and Life,” “Institute of Land Resources,” and “Earth.”

Read more: First-Ever Joint Policy on Land Reclamation and Reforestation

The existing law on land conservation will still apply, and the merger will not change any ongoing work or projects. The proposed new law identifies the significant benefits of the merger, including streamlined operations and increased efficiency. However, the new organization will have a broader mandate and be better equipped to manage the country’s natural resources effectively.

Activists Preparing to Intercept Icelandic Whaling Ships

Iceland whaling Hvalur hf

A group of activists led by Paul Watson, co-founder of Greenpeace, are preparing a ship in Hull, England, for the mission of intercepting Icelandic whaling ships this summer, the BBC reports. Watson stated that the ship, which is owned by his non-profit organisation, would “block, harass, and get in the way” of Icelandic whaling vessels to prevent “illegal” whaling operations.

Whaling restarted in Iceland last summer following a four-year hiatus. Watson specified that his group would only “oppose criminal operations, not legitimate companies.” Only one company currently holds a whaling licence in Iceland: Hvalur hf., which Watson has previously accused of illegal whaling.

While the whale hunting conducted by Hvalur hf. is legal according to Icelandic law, the company has been embroiled in several controversies in recent years. Public outcries followed when Hvalur hf. killed a pregnant fin whale and a rare hybrid whale in 2018. Hvalur hf. was at risk of losing their whaling licence after failing to submit captains’ logs for the 2014, 2015, and 2018 seasons. The company has also been sued by three of its shareholders as well as by activists.

Icelandic authorities may put an end to whaling anyway

The efforts of Watson and his crew may not be necessary to stop Icelandic whaling for good. Hvalur hf.’s whaling licence expires at the end of this year, and Iceland’s Minister of Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries has indicated she may not issue further licences for the controversial practice. In an op-ed published in Morgunblaðið newspaper last year, Minister Svandís Svavarsdóttir wrote she sees little reason to permit whaling in Iceland after 2023. According to Svandís, there is little evidence that whaling is economically beneficial to Iceland and it likely has a negative impact on the country, though that impact may be hard to measure.

A recent survey conducted by Maskína for the Iceland Nature Conservation Association found a greater number of Icelanders opposed whaling than supported it. Two-thirds of respondents believed it negatively impacted Iceland’s reputation.

New Fees at Jökulsárlón Could Generate Up To ISK 40 Million

jökulsárlón parking fee

Park rangers for Vatnajökull have stated that the necessary infrastructure will soon be in place to introduce fees at Jökulsárlón, one of Iceland’s most popular tourist destinations.

The new fees would be introduced this June, and could potentially generate some ISK 40 million [$285,000; €266,000].

Read More: 72% of Icelanders Support Tourism Fee

According to rangers for South Iceland, new cameras will be set up in April of this year and will be tested for two months, before becoming fully operational this June.

Future visitors to Jökulsárlón in private passenger vehicles can expect to pay ISK 1,000 [$7.10; €6,70] for parking, though visitors who also visit Skaftafell will receive a 50% discount. Camping fees will not be included in this amount.

The introduction of a parking fee at Jökulsárlón has been discussed as a possibility for some time. Initial proposals first came in 2017, when the Icelandic state acquired all of the land surrounding the popular glacial lagoon. According to RÚV, nearly 1 million tourists visit the area annually. This volume of visitors means that the area is expensive to maintain.

In Focus: Privately Owned Tourist Sites

Although by Icelandic law, all land is open to the public, increasing numbers of visitors to Iceland have raised concerns in recent years about the sustainability of the tourism industry. Notably, these laws, known traditionally in English as “the right to wander,” do not cover services, such as parking and bathrooms.