Hafnarhólmi to Begin Charging for Access Next Summer

Puffin Iceland

The municipal government of Borgarfjörður eystri, East Iceland, has stated its intention to make the entrance fee to Hafnarhólmi mandatory.

Hafnarhólmi is an islet and home to a puffin colony. The islet is popular and accessible for bird-watchers who want to see the iconic animal up close. Currently, the entrance fee is voluntary. Austurfrétt reports.

Could generate millions of ISK

The fee is expected to generate significant income for the municipality, as Hafnarhólmi is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Borgarfjörður eystri, and indeed all of East Iceland. The area is estimated to receive around 50,000 visitors annually.

Revenue is expected to be in the tens of millions of ISK, and a majority of the fee would be put towards conserving the popular area and enhancing the visitor experience with improved facilities.

The fee was originally introduced in 2023 with the condition that it would be optional for visitors.

Still optional this summer

Eyþór Stefánsson, chairperson of the local council, stated that although the current arrangement has brought in some revenue, a mandatory fee would be much more beneficial to the area.

Based on last year’s total of 50,000 visitors and a fee of 500 ISK [$3.62; €3.33], he estimates that some 25 million ISK [$180,000; €167,000] in additional revenue could be generated. This would represent a significant increase over the revenue generated by the current optional model.

“In my opinion, this is a better approach than the current arrangement,” Eyþór stated to Austurfrétt. “It will still be optional for visitors to pay this summer, but we believe it is reasonable that from the summer of 2025 onwards, there will be a mandatory fee for each visitor. The matter has not yet reached the stage of planning how this would be implemented, but I would be excited to have it similar to the system in Danish trains where there isn’t a direct ticket sale or attendant, but rather an unannounced check among guests.”

 

 

Dozens of Dead Puffins in Dalvík

Puffins lundar látrabjarg

Nearly 50 dead puffins were found on the seashore in Dalvík, North Iceland, RÚV reports. Chief Veterinarian of MAST, the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority, says their cause of death is unclear but it could be avian flu. The deaths are being investigated.

“Puffins are of course returning to their homesteads if we can say so, at least their summer grounds where they nest and lay eggs,” stated Þorvaldur H. Þórðarson, MAST’s chief veterinarian. “So whether that has something to do with it, one can’t say. But of course the first thing that comes to mind is the possibility of avian flu.”

Mass deaths reported last year

Last year similar incidents were reported in West Iceland, with locals spotting dead puffins and kittiwakes in the dozens. No bird flu was detected in samples taken from the birds. Some meteorologists suggested that extreme weather had caused the deaths.

Þorvaldur stated that MAST would look into the deaths and decide whether samples would be taken for further analysis.

Puffin populations on the decline

Iceland plays host to a significant portion of the world’s puffins, with approximately 20% of the global population nesting in the Westman Islands every year. In total, the country boasts some 3 million nesting pairs. Although Iceland’s puffins have had some good breeding seasons in recent years, recent data shows their population has declined by 70% over the last 30 years.

While puffin populations naturally fluctuate over time, the recent data unveiled an unprecedented pattern and a more rapid decline than previously believed. Last year, experts proposed a ban on puffing hunting in Iceland. Experts say a ban would slow, though not stop, the birds’ decline.

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Iceland News Review: The Puffins Return, Trip Into a Volcano, and More

In this episode of Iceland News Review, we delve into Iceland’s new government; the return of Iceland’s iconic puffins; a new attraction that could show you the inside of an active volcano, and much more.

Iceland News Review brings you all of Iceland’s top stories, every week, with the context and background you need. Be sure to like, follow and subscribe so you don’t miss a single episode!

Expert Proposes Ban on Hunting Puffins

puffins iceland

The South Iceland Nature Research Centre proposes a full ban on puffing hunting in Iceland in a new report. Iceland’s puffin population has been below sustainable limits for a long time and its outlook is poor. The Centre’s Director and a Doctor of Biology Erpur Snær Hansen told RÚV that changing hunting regulations would take political will.

Around 20% of the global population of puffins nest in Iceland’s Westman Islands, with other, smaller colonies across the country. The average puffin population in Iceland has shrunk by 70% in the last thirty years. The change is attributed to a scarcity of food for the birds caused by rising sea temperatures. Hunting, of course, causes the birds’ numbers to decline even further.

Population set to keep decreasing, even if hunting is banned

Erpur says The total puffin population in Iceland numbers around 3 million nesting pairs. If puffing hunting is banned, that population is expected to decrease by over 10% over the next decade. If hunting continues to be permitted, however, the population is expected to decrease by 30% or even as much as 50% within that same period.

“This is not sustainable hunting, and the Wildlife Act clearly states that it should be,” Erpur explains. He adds that the current regulations around puffing hunting mean that not all puffins hunted are reported, so the impact on the population could be greater than projected.

Political will needed to ban puffing hunting

Erpur goes on to explain that, unlike ptarmigan or reindeer hunting, for which quotas can be set and changed yearly by inserting a provision into the regulation, puffing hunting is subject to a different set of laws. In order to ban puffing hunting, the Minister of the Environment would need to change that law. “Maybe it can just be said that the political will to do something about it was not strong enough, or that the pressure from interested parties was therefore greater,” Erpur mused.

Minister of Fisheries Svandís Svavarsdóttir received criticism for imposing a temporary ban on whale hunting this year, a decision that also caused tension within the governing coalition.

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

 

Puffins Return to Traditional Take-Off Time

The puffins in the Westman Islands are taking off at a usual time of the year, after having left the country late for the last 17 years.
Erpur Snær Hansen, head of South Iceland Nature Research Centre, says that the puffins have taken off to southern pastures 2-3 weeks later than they’ve done historically. This has been the case for the last 17 years, but this year it looks like the puffins will revert back to the departure time they had stuck to for the 60 years before that. They’ve started showing signs that they’re getting ready to leave the Westman Island.  “It’s a good sign,” said Erpur who expects that the puffins will have departed by the end of August.
Both the Westman Islands and Breiðafjörður bay saw a drastic dropoff in puffin egg-laying rates this summer. Over 60% of the Icelandic puffin population lays eggs in these two places.
The usage rate of puffin nests was 57% in Breiðafjörður this year, down from 83% the year before. The rate was 57% in the Westman Islands, falling down from 78% the year before.
Despite this, Erpur says that the young fared well which can be traced to an abundance of available food compare to the last couple of years.

Fewer Puffins Nesting at Two Major Breeding Grounds

Icelandic puffins have laid noticeably fewer eggs in the Westman Islands and Breiðafjörður this year. This was among the findings in the annual Icelandic Atlantic Puffin Monitoring Program report produced by the Westman Islands’ South Iceland Nature Research Centre (NS). NS surveyed twelve puffin nesting sites around Iceland.

The bay of Breiðafjörður in West Iceland and the Westman Island archipelago off the south coast are extremely important breeding grounds for puffins in Iceland. Indeed, 60% of the country’s puffin population lay their eggs one of these two grounds.

There are about half a million puffin burrows in Breiðafjörður. Each puffin burrow can accommodate two puffins (one breeding pair), but the usage of these burrows varies from year to year. According to NS director Erpur Snær Hansen, last year—a particularly good year where puffin breeding is concerned—puffins laid eggs in 88% of the Breiðafjörður burrows. This year, by contrast, only half the burrows are in use. This is a nearly 34% decrease in burrow usage. The Westman Islands boasts more than double the number of puffin burrows, that is, over a million. Last year, 78% of the burrows in the Westmans had eggs in them; this year, only half do.

Erpur attributes the decline in breeding in both of these areas to localized changes in puffins’ food sources.

https://www.facebook.com/nattsud/posts/1932277620241336

All but one of the other puffin breeding grounds surveyed had little to no variation in burrow usage since last year. And there is some good news: Lundey island in Skjálfandi Bay in North Iceland has seen a 13% increase in burrow usage this year.

Erpur says that puffins started laying eggs earlier than usual in the Westmans. In fact, he came across two pufflings during his survey of the islands’ nesting grounds. If they mature at the normal rate, these pufflings will leave the nest in early August. “That’s three weeks earlier than it has been for the last ten years or so,” said Erpur.

Iceland’s puffin stock has been declining in recent years and is having difficulty rebounding, despite good breeding seasons like last year. The puffin, along with the Eurasian curlew and the great skua, is currently listed as a “critically endangered” species on the Icelandic Institute of Natural History’s Red List for Birds.

NS will be surveying puffin breeding grounds again in July to find out how many pufflings have hatched and how they are faring.

Puffins in Iceland and Wales Spotted Using Tools

puffin scratching tool

A puffin in Iceland and one in Wales were spotted using sticks to scratch an itch – a form of tool use that has never before been seen in wild birds. According to researchers, recording the behaviour at two breeding colonies 1,700km (1,050mi) apart suggests this type of tool use may be widespread among certain types of seabirds, whose “physical cognition may have been underestimated.”

An Atlantic puffin was filmed at its breeding colony on Grímsey Island in North Iceland picking up a stick in its beak and using it to scratch an itch. This incident was caught on camera some four years after an Atlantic puffin on Skomer Island in Wales was observed using a stick to scratch its back. To date, using a tool for scratching is a behaviour that has only been observed in primates and elephants.

“Our findings suggest that while this behaviour is rare it is not restricted to a single population,” the report, authored by Annette L. Fayet, Erpur Snær Hansen, and Dora Biro, reads.

As for what led to the behaviour, the report’s authors suggest the puffins could have been attempting to get rid of seabird ticks, which plague seabird colonies, as “the stick may have helped with scratching or dislodging them, perhaps more effectively than the beak.”

The researchers state their findings warrant further studies on seabird cognition and tool use among wild animals, which could ultimately help in “understanding the evolutionary history of our own species.”

The full report and videos of the Grímsey puffin are available on PNAS’s website.

Puffin Patrol Rescues Birds in Westman Islands

Puffin rescue Westman Islands

Puffling season is in full swing on the Westman Islands, where young and old alike are hard at work returning disoriented Puffin chicks to the sea, RÚV reports. As summer draws to a close, the chicks head out to sea, but some are disoriented by the lights of the town, which they mistakenly see as stars reflected in the ocean. Volunteers have been busy: South Iceland Institute of Natural History Director Erpur Snær Hansen says there are 50% more pufflings this year than last. As of yesterday, the number of rescues had reached 2,131.

Puffin population on the mend?

Westman Islands residents and visitors have partaken in puffling rescue operations, known as the Puffling Patrol, for many years. Volunteers head out in the middle of the night to scour the town for confused chicks, which are collected in carboard boxes and released at sea. Low puffling numbers in recent years mean boxes have been somewhat empty, but the outlook is changing for the better. “There are 50% more pufflings in the burrows than last year after they died, so I roughly estimate there are about 50% more, which is then about 10,000, and that’s [similar to numbers] before the turn of the century,” Erpur stated.

https://www.facebook.com/BelugaWhaleSanctuary/posts/2414223298654451

Pufflings on a diet

The pufflings this year are, however, lighter and skinnier than in previous seasons, a change which Erpur attributes to their diet. Sandeel, usually the puffin’s main food source, has been late to the party this summer. This summer’s pufflings have instead been feeding mainly on northern krill.

“It’s quite nutritious. There’s very little fat in it and that means it has slowed the pufflings’ growth,” Erpur says. “It could be said they have been put on a diet.”

Oil pollution worrying

It’s not always possible to save disoriented pufflings that head into town instead of out to sea. According to Erpur, oil pollution in Heimaey harbour is worsening. “It’s sort of persistent and the harbour is kind of long and narrow, so if anything comes into it it stays there for a long time. The situation is not good enough and I think something needs to be done about it.”

https://www.facebook.com/nattsud/posts/1626888160780285

Nevertheless, Erpur says, it’s been a successful breeding season for puffins around Iceland. “It looks like a good year across the country for the first time in ten years,” he told Iceland Review.

 

Trophy Hunters Slammed for Shooting Puffins in Iceland

Atlantic puffin

British trophy hunters are paying as much as £3,000 ($3,700/€3,300) for puffin hunting trips in Iceland, according to a recently published article from The Independent. On such trips, hunters reportedly kill up to 100 birds at a time. The Atlantic puffin is protected in the UK but it remains legal to hunt the bird in Iceland.

Over half of the world’s population of Atlantic puffins breeds in Iceland, numbering some 8-10 million birds. In 2018, BirdLife International declared the Atlantic puffin in danger of extinction. The puffin’s conservation status was also recently rated as vulnerable by the IUCN. Puffin hunting is legal in Iceland, and the bird is served as a local delicacy at restaurants around the country.

Erpur Snær Hansen, director of Nátturustofa Suðurlands (The South Iceland Nature Institute), says puffin numbers have dropped since 2003, though they remain the largest stocks of any bird in Iceland. Experts reported that puffin numbers in Iceland dipped significantly last year due to various environmental factors. They appear to be on the upswing in some areas of the country this year.