First Puffins of the Year Sighted in Grímsey

puffins iceland

The first puffins of the year were sighted over Easter, on April 9, on Grímsey.

Grímsey, an island off the north coast of Iceland, is surrounded on most sides by steep sea cliffs which make for good nesting grounds for many sea birds.

Halla Ingólfsdóttir, director of Arctic Trip, a travel company that specialises in bird-watching tours on Grímsey, stated to RÚV: “They are starting to settle down and set up their nests. We were sure they would arrive on April 10. We even had a countdown on our website, so I was very happy that they came a day ahead of schedule.”

Ask Iceland Review: When do Puffins Arrive in Iceland?

Halla continued: “I went both south to the lighthouse and then to the shore and sure enough, both locations had puffins. But it’s been very windy, so you often see them taking off and quickly landing again.”

The puffin, alongside the plover, is traditionally considered a herald of spring. More are expected in the coming weeks, but the larger colonies generally arrive in Iceland later in the year, from the end of April to the beginning of May.

Read more: Golden Plover Arrives in Iceland

 

In Focus: Iceland’s Ferries

iceland ferry

This spring, the ferry Sæfari will be out of commission for maintenance, in drydock from at least March 20 until May 15. Sæfari services Grímsey, an island 40 km [25 mi] north of the mainland, bisected by the Arctic Circle. The 50-some residents of Grímsey are dependent on the ferry, not just for getting to […]

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Grímsey Ferry Out of Service for 6-8 Weeks

Grímsey

The ferry that connects the 53 residents of Grímsey island to the mainland of Iceland will be out of commission for 6-8 weeks this spring for regular maintenance, RÚV reports. No backup transportation has yet been found to move either people or goods to and from the island during that period. One local city councillor says it is the equivalent of cutting off a mainland town in Iceland from the Ring Road.

Grímsey falls under the municipality of Akureyri, North Iceland. Akureyri Municipal Council has criticised the situation and says the Road and Coastal Administration of Iceland, which owns and operates the Grímsey ferry, has not been keeping residents informed about the situation.

“The thing is that ferry routes are just like Route One [the main highway around Iceland] and we would of course not accept any community being cut off from the main transport artery,” Akureyri Councillor Halla Björk Reynisdóttir stated. The Grímsey ferry is not only used to transport people but also goods, including the fish caught by Grímsey fishermen. Sólveig Gísladóttir of the Road and Coastal Administration’s communication department stated that the organisation is working towards a solution and it should be found and presented to residents by the end of the week.

Grímsey residents have long been calling for a replacement for their island’s ferry. Sæfari, as the current ferry is named, was initially supposed to be used for 10 years but has now been operating for 15. The maintenance to be done on the ferry this coming April and May is meant to extend its lifetime by a few more years.

Earthquakes Shake Grímsey, Herðubreið Overnight

herðubreið mountain iceland

Early this morning, a magnitude 4.0 earthquake was detected 30 km east-southeast of Grímsey, an island off the north coast of Iceland. The quake and its aftershocks were detected in Akureyri.

Additionally, an earthquake swarm was detected at Herðubreið, in the Vatnajökull highland, the largest quakes measuring up to magnitude 3.0.

Since October 22, some 3,600 earthquakes have been registered near Herðubreið. The most powerful so far has been a magnitude 4.1, the most significant activity since measuring began near Herðubreið in 1991.

Though some several hundred kilometers apart, the Grímsey quakes, a part of the Tjörnes fracture zone, and the latest earthquake swarm near Herðubreið are a part of the same system, resting along the plate boundary in North Iceland. Herðubreið is also significant for its proximity to Askja, a major volcano system in Iceland whose 1875 eruption caused significant damage to agriculture.

Herðubreið mountain is situated within the Ódáðahraun lava field, Iceland’s largest contiguous lava field totaling 4,400 km² (1,699 mi²). Notably, Herðubreið, meaning “Broad Shoulders,” was chosen as the national mountain of Iceland in 2002. Formed by volcanic activity under a glacier, it is considered to be Iceland’s most beautiful mountain.

New Grímsey Church Hosts First Service After Fire

Grímsey church

The first service was celebrated in the new Grímsey church this Sunday, in a major milestone for the reconstruction.

The historic church, built out of driftwood in 1867 and relocated in 1932, burned to the ground last year in a fire. Although no one was injured, the destruction of the church was a significant loss for the small community.

Read more: Fire Destroys Grímsey Church

The new church has been designed to reference the historical structure, but also to accommodate the modern needs of the community, including use as an event space for the Grímsey islanders.

In an interview with RÚV, Reverend Oddur Bjarni Þorkelsson, parish priest of Grímsey said: “It’s a huge moment. I am not often speechless, but that’s exactly how it was. This is the first time I’ve seen the building after its construction began. It’s so similar to the old church but completely different too. And to see the power of the community and the joy of everyone who came to help, this is a great moment.”

The reconstruction of the church has cost an estimated ISK 120 million, with the original structure being insured for ISK 30 million. Another ISK 20 million has been funded by the state, but much of the remaining amount has had to be collected by the community themselves.

Earthquakes Near Grímsey: Uncertainty Phase Declared

The National Commissioner of Police and the Chief of Police in Northeast Iceland declared an Uncertainty Phase on Friday due to ongoing seismic activity around the island of Grímsey. RÚV reports that an earthquake measuring 4.9 was detected around the island at 4 AM on Thursday morning; since then, there have been roughly 2,600 earthquakes. At 1:20 PM on Friday, there was another large quake of 4.1 and several over a magnitude of 3.0 occurred after that.

Per the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management, an Uncertainty Phase is “is characterized by an event which has already started and could lead to a threat to people, properties, communities or the environment. At this stage the collaboration and coordination between the Civil Protection Authorities and stakeholders begins. Monitoring, assessment, research and evaluation of the situation is increased. The event is defined and a hazard assessment is conducted regularly.”

People who live in known earthquake areas in Northeast Iceland are advised to take appropriate measures to prepare for ongoing seismic activity. These include securing household items, such as flatscreen TVs and breakable décor, taking down paintings or photos that can fall on people while sleeping, moving beds away from windows, and familiarizing oneself with the Duck – Cover – Hold procedure. More information on natural disaster preparedness can be found on the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management’s website, in English, here.

Seismic activity is common in Northeast Iceland, and according to a natural disaster expert at the Met Office, there is currently no indication of a pending volcanic eruption.

Historical Relics Unearthed on Grímsey

While undertaking excavations in preparation of building a new church on Grímsey, archeologists unearthed relics that indicate humans inhabited the island since shortly after the settlement of Iceland in 870.

The island’s church burned to the ground in September 2021, and plans were underway to erect the new church on the same footprint. However, the unexpected historical findings on the site mean the new church will be built on another plot of land, just four metres to the east.

Among the initial findings on the site of the old church building are the remnants of a church dating to the year 1300, including the cemetery wall of the oldest known church on Grímsey, and graves.

“When this was discovered, it was decided to move the (new) church to protect these graves,” archeologist Hildur Gestsdóttir told RÚV.

The old church

The church that burned down was named Miðgarðakirkja, and was built out of driftwood in 1867. In 1932, it was moved further away from the neighbouring farm due to risk of fire and a tower and choir loft were built on to the structure. The church underwent extensive renovations in 1956 and was reconsecrated that year. The renovation included wood carvings made by Deacon Einar Einarsson both on the outside and inside of the building. Miðgarðakirkja was protected in 1990.

Grímsey island is the northernmost point of Iceland and has 67 inhabitants.

Grímsey Opening New Coworking Facility for Remote Workers

A former kindergarten on Grímsey island in North Iceland is being converted into a coworking facility for temporary remote workers, RÚV reports. The facility is the brainchild of the Grímsey Women’s Association, whose chairperson believes the island is an ideal place for people to take a break from the stresses of everyday life.

The new facilities, which are supported by an ISK 500,000 [€3,473; $3,795] grant from a local development fund, are located in the Múli Community Center. The center was previously home to the local kindergarten; but there hasn’t been any schooling on the island since 2019.

Read More: One Child Left in Grímsey

The members of the Women’s Association are in the process of painting, installing parquet flooring, and buying furniture and desks for the new space. The facilities are intended to suit a wide range of remote workers, says Women’s Association chair Karen Nótt Halldórsdóttir, “whether you’re involved in some sort of remote work…or possibly an artist who’s writing a book or something like that—I think people will be able to use it in all kinds of ways.”

Grímsey, which is part of the mainland town Akureyri in North Iceland, is located roughly 40 km [25 mi] offshore. The petite island, a mere 5.3 km2 [2.0 mi2], is home to 57 people (not all of whom live there year-round) and “one million seabirds.” The locals are largely employed within the fishing and fish processing industries, although tourism is increasingly important to the island’s economy. Tourists trek to Grímsey to admire the local puffin population, drink in the 24-hour sunlight in the summer, or golf or drink a shot of brennivín within the Arctic circle (the island is the only part of Iceland that straddles this line). The island boasts its own grocery store, restaurant, post office, and indoor swimming pool, as well as two guesthouses.

Read More: New Church to be Built in Grímsey This Summer

The remote work facility is the islanders’ latest effort to rejuvenate the local economy, reverse steady emigration from the island, and encourage people to stay — even if just for a short time. Life necessarily moves slower on a small, remote island, but while this may not present much attraction for people thinking about resettling there, this slower pace of life, is precisely the draw for burned-out workers. Says Karen: “I really think this is going to be fantastic for people who are stressed every day, people who are able to go out to an island and disconnect a bit.”

New Church To Be Built In Grímsey This Summer

The Miðgarðar parish committee in Grímsey recently signed a contract with carpentry workshop Loftkastalinn to build a new church to replace the one that burnt down earlier this year. Architect Hjörleifur Stefánsson has been hired as a construction manager and Arna Björg Bjarnadóttir, project manager of Glæðum Grímsey – a campaign to revitalise habitation in the island – has agreed to supervise the project. Everyone involved in the church building has experience with building restoration projects.

The new church will reference the old church but will be larger than the old one due to modern requirements. The design will also take into consideration that the church will be used for other events than church ceremonies. Parts of the church will be prepared on the mainland but the structure is set to be constructed in Grímsey next summer. A notice from the parish committee states that building the new church is a communal project and that the islanders are making every effort to raise funds for the projects. Some funds have already been donated and the people of Grímsey have gratitude for everyone who has already contributed to the project.

On January 1, Grímsey had a population of 57 but not all residents live on the island all year round. In recent years, efforts have been made to reverse steady emigration from the island but as of yet, they’ve proven unsuccessful. The island lies off the north coast of Iceland and is the northernmost inhabited part of the country, situated on the Arctic Circle.