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.

60 Years Since Start of Surtsey Eruption

Surtsey island

Today marks exactly 60 years since the start of the eruption that formed Surtsey island, off Iceland’s south coast. The island, which has been closed to the public since its formation, was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008. The opening of a photographic exhibition to mark the anniversary has been delayed as Iceland awaits a potential eruption on the Reykjanes peninsula, where one town has been evacuated.

The Environment Agency had planned to open a photographic exhibition on Surtsey in the Westman Islands today, November 14, but a notice from the agency says the opening will be delayed. “In light of the serious situation that has emerged, we don’t consider it appropriate to celebrate this milestone at this moment,” the notice reads.

While the exhibit’s opening party has been delayed, the photo exhibition itself remains open to visitors. It features the work of Iceland Review’s principal photographer Golli, who received rare permission to accompany a scientific expedition to Surtsey this past summer. His article and photos from the expedition, Island in the Making, are available to subscribers on the Iceland Review website.

Nature Reserve on Flatey Island Doubled in Size

Flatey Island can be visited from the Snæfellsnes Peninsula

Environment Minister Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson signed a document yesterday doubling the size of the nature reserve on West Iceland’s Flatey island. The main objective of the expansion is to protect the unique and diverse ecosystem of the area and its bird habitats, in particular the nesting areas of rare bird species such as the arctic tern, red phalarope, and puffin. The island has a few inhabitants and is a popular tourist destination.

The protection is also intended to ensure research and monitoring of the island’s ecosystem with an emphasis on its birdlife. Flatey has long had important research value and besides birdlife, contains diverse plant species, including eelgrass (Zostera marina) that is rarely found elsewhere in Icelandic waters.

The island’s nature reserve has now been doubled in size to 1.62 square kilometres [0.63 square miles], and extends to islets and skerries south of the island and across the seabed between them. The nature reserve is located within Breiðafjörður fjord, which is itself a protected area.

“Flatey is the undisputed pearl of Breiðafjörður,” Environment Minister Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson stated. “Here is a remarkable story of habitation where the interaction of man and nature was and is in balance. […] It is therefore important for future generations, ourselves and our guests to ensure the protection of a pearl such as Flatey.”

Fire Destroys Freezing Plant on Hrísey Island

Hrísey fire

A fire on Hrísey island, off Iceland’s north coast, has destroyed a freezing plant in the island’s harbour, RÚV reports. The fire started in Hrísey Seafood’s facilities last night and it took fire crews from three localities to put it out. No injuries have been sustained.

“There was a lot of fire and a lot of smoke when we arrived. We got notice of it ten minutes past five and it was very clear that we wouldn’t be able to do much here, we locals,” stated Þröstur Jóhannson, one of the island’s 167 residents and a member of the local fire brigade. He says the first is a huge blow to the islanders, who are nevertheless doing their best to keep their chins up.

Hrísey is a small island located in Eyjafjörður fjord, North Iceland, around 35 kilometres from Akureyri. It is one of four islands off Iceland’s coast that are inhabited year-round.

Hrísey Optimistic About Development Initiative

Inhabitants of the island of Hrísey are more optimistic about the ongoing ‘Fragile Communities’ initiative in which their community is participating, RÚV reports. The regional development project began on Hrísey 2015 and will end in December 2019; it’s anticipated that it will invest more in marketing initiatives for the island this year.

A project of the Icelandic Regional Development Institute, the Fragile Communities project (link in English) was founded in 2012 with the intention of collaborating with rural communities to address and counteract issues that have contributed to their decline, such as a lack of diversity in the local economy, changes to fisheries access, a decline in farming, seasonal tourism, a “negative spiral” in services, and lagging infrastructural development. Raufarhöfn in Northeast Iceland was the first community to participate in the initiative, which it did from 2012 – 2017. Since then, eight other communities have joined the project.

Hrísey is a small island (7.67 km2 / 2.96 m2) located in Eyjafjörður fjord, located 30 kilometres north of Akureyri and a fifteen-minute ferry ride from the village of Ásskógssandur. As of January 2018, 151 people lived on the island.

When Hrísey joined the project, its stated goal was the establishment of an “inviting and accessible island community, [with] a diverse economy and strong infrastructure.” However, many residents have felt that the Fragile Communities project was yielding few results in its initial years and, in 2017, criticized its implementation. Since then, however, many of the community’s smaller goals have been accomplished says Helga Íris Ingólfsdóttir, the Fragile Communities project manager for both Hrísey and Grímsey island. A new salt production facility was established on Hrísey, for example, as was a guest house and restaurant. An egg production plant, with facilities for 1,500 hens, will also soon open, thanks to funding from a Fragile Community grant. All combined, this has led to a perceptible change of attitude in the community. “I felt like there was more optimism than there’s been before,” Helga said. “People have more of an interest in taking a different approach to the debate.”

Helga said that expectations run high for government-funded initiatives, but that resources are nevertheless limited. “There’s just a few million krónur [ISK 1 million is equal to $8,315/€7,267] that we receive to distribute in grants,” she explained. “So this is more about showing solidarity and the desires of the inhabitants and their vision for the future, rather than there ever being some sort of direct, external assistance.”

This year, the project will be investing in marketing Hrísey. The goal is to attract more tourists to the island and appeal to investors who might be interested exploiting the island’s unique qualities and establishing new business opportunities there.

“Now there’s more experience behind the project, and there’s optimism that this will return real results,” said Halla Björk Reynisdóttir, president of the municipal council.

Island For Sale

island for sale

The whole of the island of Vigur in Ísafjarðardjúp has been placed on sale, mbl.is reports. The island is described as a unique natural pearl and is known as Perlan í Djúpinu (The Pearl in the Deep). Guided tours head daily to Vigur in the summertime, as the island has over 10,000 visitors per year.

If Vigur is sold, all of its housing and belongings will accompany the purchase. The island has cumulative housing space of over 700 square metres (7500 square feet), including a barn, cowshed, smokehouse, garage, and finally, a two-story, 10 bedroom house.

The island has a rich and varied birdlife, as around 30 thousand pairs of puffins lay their eggs on the island as well as being home to black guillemots and the arctic tern. Vigur is around 45 hectares in size (0.45 square kilometres, 0.17 square miles), with 10.9 hectares (0.109 square kilometres, 0.04 square miles) of those devoted to farmland.

The owners are currently open for offers, but it is expected that interest levels are high, as such a unique land rarely goes on sale. Davíð Ólafsson, the estate agent who handles the sale of Vigur, has been on the phone non-stop today “I have never experienced anything like this in terms of interest levels for a property.

Vigur is available for purchase on the property portion of mbl.is, further information can be found in Icelandic here.