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.

No Restrictions Imposed on This Season’s Ptarmigan Hunt

Rock ptarmigan

The ptarmigan hunting season starts today and continues until November 21. Hunting is permitted every day except Wednesdays and Thursdays, with no set limits on the number of ptarmigans hunters can shoot. A ptarmigan hunter from Egilsstaðir told RÚV that weather conditions have been challenging on the first day of hunting.

Ptarmigan hunting season begins

The ptarmigan hunting season starts today and will continue until November 21. Although the ptarmigan population has trended upward since last year, the Environment Agency of Iceland advises hunters to hunt responsibly. The agency’s hunting guidelines remain consistent with past years: hunting is allowed from Friday to Tuesday, from October 20 to November 21.

RÚV reports that this year’s ptarmigan hunting is based on comprehensive scientific data, utilizing a model that incorporates nearly two decades of data. This research suggests that the ptarmigan population can endure 25 hunting days without falling below the average count of these years. Unlike previous seasons where hunters were advised to limit their catch to three to six ptarmigans, no such restrictions have been set this year.

Bjarni Jónasson, the team leader of Wildlife Management at the Environment Agency of Iceland, told RÚV that the population has grown by 33% compared to last year. While there are regional variations, the overall outlook is positive. Nonetheless, he reiterates the importance of hunting with moderation.

Weather conditions not ideal

RÚV also spoke to Þórhallur Borgarsson, a ptarmigan hunter from Egilsstaðir, who begins preparing his Christmas meal in May by collecting birch twigs to season the ptarmigans. He was not in a rush to start hunting this morning, speaking to RÚV from his job at the Egilsstaðir Airport.

“Given the current weather conditions, it’s not ideal for ptarmigan hunting. It’s windy out, so the bird is likely tucked away tightly, probably among the rocks,” Þórhallur stated. He also noted that there was no snowline yet. “So, the birds are dispersed and somewhat challenging to find; they don’t fly until you’re nearly stepping on them. They’re very stubborn in this kind of weather and hard to locate,” he added.

Despite this, Þórhallur maintained that there was an abundance of birds in the area, having observed them during his reindeer guiding and sheep herding activities. Þórhallur expressed moderate satisfaction with the structure of this hunting season. “Yes, people will get their Christmas meal; I’m not particularly concerned about that.” He does believe, however, that it would have been more sensible if the hunting season was continuous, affording hunters more flexibility in choosing the weather conditions for their hunts.

The sale ban on ptarmigans remains in effect, and it is prohibited to export, offer for sale, or sell ptarmigans and ptarmigan products.

Costco Fined ISK 20 Million for Gross Negligence Over Oil Spill

Costco

Costco has been fined ISK 20 million ($152,000 / €141,000) after 111,000 litres of diesel leaked into Hafnarfjörður’s sewage system. The Environment Agency of Iceland stated that it was fortunate that the consequences were not more severe, RÚV reports.

A threat to environmental and public health

The Environment Agency of Iceland has imposed a hefty fine of ISK 20 million ($152,000 / €141,000) on Costco for a diesel spill originating from the retail giant’s gas station in Garðabær. The spill saw 111,000 litres of diesel contaminating Hafnarfjörður’s wastewater system and eventually making its way into the ocean last December, RÚV reports.

Residents in the western region of Hafnarfjörður raised complaints about a pervasive smell resembling oil or tar cleaner. After an exhaustive investigation, evidence began to converge on the Costco gas station as the source of the leak.

In a public statement, the Environment Agency expressed its concern over Costco’s apparent lack of proactivity, oversight, and timely response to the incident. The agency further accused the company of “gross negligence,” marked by a notable level of indifference toward the spill, which led to a substantial volume of diesel leaking into the natural environment, much of which is irrecoverable.

Costco’s response and ongoing scrutiny

In response, Costco emphasised its full compliance during the investigative process. The company also challenged the notion that it was merely fortuitous that the spill did not result in more severe environmental degradation.

The Environment Agency countered by reiterating that the spill constituted a significant threat to both environmental integrity and public health, citing a lack of proper organisational protocols and attentiveness on the part of Costco.

While the Environment Agency acknowledged Costco’s subsequent cooperative stance, it pointed to past interactions as indicative of a less-than-transparent relationship. Reports from the health inspectorate suggest that in earlier stages of the investigation, the company was slow to respond and failed to provide necessary information in a timely manner.

New National Park Centre Opened at Hellissandur

national park snæfellsjökull

The Environment Agency of Iceland and Snæfellsjökull National Park have opened a new visitor centre by Hellissandur.

Hellissandur is a historical fishing village on the Snæfellsnes peninsula. Home to Snæfellsjökull glacier, the region is also one of Iceland’s three national parks. Hellissandur has grown in recent years due to tourism, as the village sits just outside the northern entrance to Snæfellsjökull National Park.

Snæfellsjökull National Park Expanded on 20th Anniversary

The new centre was opened this Friday, March 24, in a ceremony presided over by Minister of Environment, Energy, and Climate Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson.

national park snæfellsjökull
Umhverfisstofnun – Environment Agency of Iceland

The new visitor centre was designed by the architecture firm Arkís. It is divided into three sections with different views of the surrounding landscape.

Snæfellsjökull National Park was founded in 2001.

 

Newly Discovered Cave in North Iceland Closed

mývatn cave iceland

A newly discovered cave near Mývatn, a lake in North Iceland, has been closed by the Environment Agency of Iceland. The closure comes into effect today, March 14, and will be in effect for two weeks.

The Environment Agency recently received a tip on the discovery when a construction crew was laying the foundations for a new building near Mývatn. When the roof of the cave opened up, it revealed unique and fragile mineral formations associated with the geothermal area.

mývatn cave iceland
Umhverfisstofnun

Experts at the Environment Agency undertook several trips into the cave and determined that, prior to its accidental opening, it was likely filled with hot, geothermal air. These special conditions gave rise to the unique formations that can be seen in the picture above. Some of these formations stretch for several square metres on the floor of the cave.

In light of the unique nature of the cave, the decision was made to close it while further decisions can be reviewed. During this time, further investigative trips into the cave will be permitted to relevant researchers and staff, but it will be closed to the public.

Initial reports indicate that navigating the cave without disturbing the many mineral formations there is difficult.

Currently, efforts are underway to map and digitally scan the cave, while also marking out a footpath that is minimally destructive.

 

 

 

2023 Reindeer Hunting Quota Released

Reindeer hunting Iceland

Iceland’s reindeer hunting quota for 2023 will be up to 901 reindeer: 475 cows and 426 bulls. This number is subject to the condition that there will be no significant changes in stock size until the hunting season begins. The Environment Agency of Iceland released the quota yesterday.

The bull hunting season will be from July 15 to September 15 inclusive. In the period from July 15 to August 1, hunting of bulls is only permitted provided that they are not accompanied by cows and that the hunting does not disturb cows and calves during summer grazing.

Cow hunting season is from August 1 to September 20. During the first two weeks of the hunting season, hunters and guides are strongly advised to avoid killing cows that are suckling calves as much as possible. These recommendations are intended to reduce the impact of hunting on calves and to ensure that calves do not become motherless before 12 weeks of age. The quota is split between nine regions to ensure a more even impact on the reindeer population.

Annual Limit on Capital-Area Pollution Already Exceeded

Pollution in the capital area has exceeded the health-protection limit 19 times so far this year, which is more than the permissible number for an entire year, RÚV reports. The law authorises restricting car traffic on days when the limit is exceeded, but such measures have yet to be implemented.

Legal authorisation yet to be translated into regulation

The Environment Agency of Iceland’s air quality metres continually measure the air quality in the city and publishes results every hour. At 6 PM yesterday, the pollution exceeded health protection limits for the nineteenth time in 2023, RÚV reports. According to the regulations of the Ministry of the Environment, the limit can only be exceeded eighteen times a year.

There are no precedents for such high levels of pollution in recent years, according to Svava S. Steinarsdóttir, a health representative at the Reykjavík City Public Health Authority.

“We haven’t seen such high numbers until the last few years,” Svava told RÚV.

The increase goes hand in hand with the increase in car traffic, powered by petrol and diesel. The weather also has its say: calm or little wind combined with the recent day’s frost means that nitrogen dioxide (NO2) hovers over the city for longer periods.

Svava stated that exceeding health-protection limits was serious, given that these limits were set to protect citizens. “We may need to consider encouraging people to use more ecological means of transport.”

Municipalities are authorised by law to restrict traffic on days when pollution is high. However, that authorisation has not yet been translated into regulation.

Svava added that the Environment Agency of Iceland has mentioned radical measures, such as traffic restrictions, in its contingency plans. So far, the agency´s only option is to encourage people to reduce emissions from private cars and studded tires.

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.

Oil Spill in Westfjords Cleaned Up

Suðureyri harbour

The diesel oil that leaked from a reserve tank into Suðureyri harbour, in the Westfjords, has now been cleaned up, RÚV reports. The location will be monitored to determine whether there is still contamination once the snow melts.

Over 9,000 litres of diesel oil spilt into Suðureyri harbour on Thursday, March 3, more than two weeks ago. The leak, which originated from a reserve tank owned by the power company Orkubú Vestfjarða – and which was buried in snow – was discovered by residents the following morning.

The oil found its way into a pond near the local swimming pool, and from there into the harbour. It wasn’t until three days after the leak was reported that hoses were placed in the water to try to prevent the leak from spreading. The oil was particularly harmful to local birdlife: hundreds of eider ducks died or had to be put down as a result of the oil, though some were saved thanks to locals’ efforts.

Sigríður Kistinsdóttir, team leader of pollution prevention at the Environment Agency of Iceland, says cleaning of the pond and harbour has gone well and will be completed this weekend. Stormy weather has also helped disperse the oil, she added.

A town meeting will be held in Suðureyri this week, where representatives of Orkubú Vestfjarða and the Westfjords Public Health Authority will be present. Residents and others involved in the clean-up efforts can attend.

Environment Agency: Fox Hunting No Longer Serves Its Purpose

The Environment Agency of Iceland says that fox hunting in Iceland no longer serves its intended purpose—to protect sheep and birdlife—and is costing the state and local municipalities more and more every year. Fréttablaðið reports that 56,000 foxes have been hunted in Iceland in the past decade, with a cost of almost a billion krónur [$7.65 million; €6.65 million] to the state.

A ‘mythological battle’

The arctic fox lives in polar regions around the world and is currently listed as a species of least concern by the World Wildlife Fund. In 1979, there were only 1,200 of the animals in Iceland, but the population grew to just under 9,000 by 2007. Between the years of 2008 and 2010, there was a 30% drop in population, but it has been relatively stable in recent years, even as hunting has increased. As of this summer, it was estimated that there were roughly 9,000 – 10,000 Arctic foxes in Iceland. The species is protected within the confines of the Hornstrandir Nature Reserve in the Westfjords, but outside of these bounds, hunting the animal is allowed, and even encouraged monetarily.

“Icelanders have given the arctic fox many names which could be related to the ‘mythological battle’ between the humans and the foxes since the early decades of the settlement 1100 years ago,” explains the Arctic Fox Centre. “At first, foxes were trapped for the valuable fur but soon the competition for the few resources became too complicated and the foxes were killed to protect lambs and other stock animals. Nowadays the foxes are still hunted throughout the country, where it is believed that protection of livestock or eider farms is needed. Winter hunting is also conducted in all regions of the country and “den-hunting” (killing all the animals at a fox den), one of the oldest paid jobs in Iceland, is still performed. The fur, however, is not used anymore since it became [worthless] with the emergence of fur farms some decades ago.”

Hunters paid for every fox killed

The argument that foxes must be hunted in order to protect livestock and birdlife has also been strengthened by public perception of the fox as a vicious predator. “The fox is said to be cunning and cruel,” noted the 1961 short documentary Refurinn gerir greni í urð (‘The fox makes its den in the scree,’ watch here, in Icelandic). “So it is getting its just desserts. It is killed on sight wherever it is encountered.”

Screenshot from short documentary Refurinn gerir greni í urð (Ósvaldur Knudsen; 1961)

This way of thinking is quickly losing traction among experts and politicians alike, however. “Livestock doesn’t appear to be suffering,” says Steinar Rafn Beck Baldursson, a specialist in hunting management at the Environment Agency. He notes that the agency has put out calls for reports of foxes killing sheep and birds but has only received the occasional notification of foxes getting into eider nests. When asked why foxes don’t pose the same threat they once did to sheep, Steinar Rafn has a very simple supposition: sheep no longer give birth to their young in pastures. “In the past, foxes hunted newborn lambs or went after sheep when they were in labour.”

Last year, 7,227 foxes were hunted, marking a 40-year high. This creates a significant financial burden on the state, as local municipalities are obliged to pay hunters for every fox they kill between the fall and the spring. The annual cost of this has increased dramatically over the years. In 2011, ISK 67 million [$512,742; € 445,349] was paid out to fox hunters. This total ballooned to ISK 134 million [$1.03 million; €890,699] in 2020. The state has been paying a fifth of the cost since 2014, as a way of offsetting the financial burden on large, but sparsely populated municipalities.

See Also: This Season, Ptarmigan Shooting Confined to Afternoons

Minister for the Environment and Natural Resources Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson recently submitted a bill to parliament that would have amended current hunting legislation and established a management and protection plan for the arctic fox in Iceland. The bill did not pass.

Steinar Rafn says that the Environment Agency had hoped the bill would pass but is currently considering similar proposals for changing the legislation on ptarmigan hunting—the fox will come later, he says. “What would make the most sense would be to review this whole system,” he says. “Maybe only winter hunting and no den hunting.”