All About The Reykjanes Peninsula

svartsengi power plant reykjanes

What natural attractions can be found on the Reykjanes Peninsula in southwest Iceland? How far is Keflavík International Airport from the capital, Reykjavík? How have volcanoes defined the region, and is it safe to visit? These questions and more will all be answered, so read on to learn about the Reykjanes Peninsula. 

Most people arrive in Iceland through the international airport. It means the first landscape they look upon is that of the Reykjanes Peninsula. The most obvious comparison is that the scenery looks as though it might be found on another planet. 

Rocky and barren. Craggy hills that spill lopsidedly to distant mountains on one side, to the tossing blue waves of the Atlantic Ocean on the other. Reykjanes is an eerily beautiful introduction to the land of ice and fire.

Located on the southwestern tip of the country, Reykjanes means “smoking point,” hinting at the volcanic zones that lay beneath its rock-strewn exterior. In summer, the peninsula is blanketed with beds of dark green moss, and in the depths of winter, a thick layer of twinkling snow. 

Keflavík International Airport  

Keflavík airport
Photo: Páll Stefánsson. Iceland’s only international airport.

As mentioned, Keflavík International Airport is where the vast majority of visitors to Iceland arrive. It is the only international airport in the country. This leaves the only other means of arrival as the M/S Norröna. A ferry from Denmark that arrives on the far eastern coast at Seyðisfjörður. 

Keflavík International Airport began as a small landing strip at Garður. It was first built by British forces during the Second World War. This was later expanded by the Americans into two runways. Patterson Field to the south, and Meek’s Field to the north. 

The northern airfield was left abandoned after the conflict came to an end. The structures of Meek’s Field, on the other hand, were incorporated into Naval Air Station Keflavík, an Iceland-led organisation named after the adjacent town.

Keflavík Airport
Photo: Golli. Keflavík airport

During the 1950s, the American Air Force returned to Naval Air Station Keflavík as part of the NATO defensive pact between the United States and Iceland. This station was widely controversial at the time on account of Iceland having no military of its own, and objecting to a foreign military’s presence on their soil. It was not until 1987 that the civilian terminal was separated from military checkpoints, allowing for foreign travellers to come and go to Iceland freely. 

Having gone through a number of major expansions since, Keflavík International Airport is, nowadays, much like any major airport in the world. Its departure gates are surrounded with duty-free souvenir shops, electronic and clothing stores, as well as restaurants, bars, and cafes. There are also designated smoking areas; somewhat unusual in today’s age. 

Its main terminal building was named after the first Norse explorer to arrive in North America, Leif Erikson, otherwise known as Leif the Lucky. 

Blue Lagoon Geothermal Spa

A woman and her child relaxing at the Blue Lagoon
Photo: Reykjavík – Blue Lagoon round-trip transfer. Relaxing at the Blue Lagoon in Iceland.

The Blue Lagoon is one of Iceland’s most famous attractions. With its silky, silica-rich waters – aquamarine in colour, warm in temperature – nearly every traveller in Iceland makes visiting this beloved geothermal spa a priority. 

Given its proximity to Keflavík International Airport, many stop by the spa either on the first or last day of their holiday. Both work just as well for starting or ending a vacation with a healthy dose of calm and relaxation. 

Though hard to believe, the Blue Lagoon started out as something of a local secret. During the 1980s – long before Iceland was of such avid interest to foreign visitors – people living on the Reykjanes Peninsula would bathe in the geothermal seawater that formed just outside of Svartsengi power plant. 

Eventually, scientists became curious as to just why so many people were attracted to this gentle reservoir, and the Blue Lagoon Ltd was founded in 1992. 

Only three years on, the healing properties of its waters were confirmed, leading to a range of skincare products being released by the company. By the millennium’s end, the first incarnation of the spa was in place, and it has gone from strength to strength ever since. 

Towns on the Reykjanes Peninsula 

Reykjanesbær
Photo: Reykjanesbær Facebook

Dotted amidst the rugged terrain of Reykjanes are a handful of towns and villages that are worth stopping by when travelling across the peninsula. Unlike Reykjavík, which boasts the majority of visitor’s attractions, these settlements offer a more authentic perspective of how Icelandic people live. Aside from that, the surrounding nature of coastlines and mountains makes such places unique and beautiful points of interest in their own right. 

Keflavík

 

The town of Keflavík first came into being not because of Icelandic settlers, but Scottish engineers and business people looking to capitalise on local fishing opportunities. 

Since its founding in the 16th century, Keflavík has developed into the peninsula’s major urban centre, in large part thanks to its proximity to the international airport that shares its name. 

Music fans will likely want to stop by Rokksafn Íslands – the Museum of Rock and Roll – a fun and unexpected attraction that dives into local and international pioneers of this headbanging genre. 

Locally, Keflavík has a reputation for producing talented musicians, especially during the swinging sixties and seventies when Icelandic-made pop-music was finding its feet. In fact, Keflavík is sometimes nicknamed bítlabærinn, or “Beatle Town,” for this very reason. 

Njarðvík

 

With its panoramic coastal views, Njarðvík town is located adjacent to Keflavík. Alongside the village of Hafnir, the three locations make up the municipality of Reykjanesbær. 

The town is a pleasant, if not disjointed mix of commercial and residential areas. It is home to around 4500 people. Njarðvík is rarely visited by visitors, but several accommodation options are available for those looking to base themselves in Reykjanes. 

With that being said, there is one fascinating attraction that has started to pull people to Njarðvík each year. The glassy exhibition hall that makes up Viking World Museum was designed by the award-winning architect, Guðmundur Jónsson. It is perfectly constructed to display its major showpiece, a Viking longship known as the Icelander. 

This beautiful wooden replica was sailed to New York City at the beginning of the millennium. This fantastic ocean journey celebrated Leif Erikson’s arrival to North America many centuries before. 

Grindavík

Reykjanes peninsula eruptions
Photo: Golli. The Grindarvík eruption.

Over recent months, Grindavík has made international headlines on account of the nearby volcanic eruption that forced a mass-evacuation of the town. Before the heightened seismic activity in 2023, the town was mainly known for its picturesque harbour and close proximity to the popular Blue Lagoon Spa. 

The future of Grindavík remains uncertain; an issue that is of great importance to its 3800 displaced residents. Located atop one of the peninsula’s five volcanic zones, there can be no assurance that the town will not, once again, fall victim to a lava flow. 

Heated discussions are ongoing within the Icelandic government as to how best to relocate residents, or secure the town from another devastating natural disaster. As of today, it is prohibited to travel too close to Grindavík on account of the fact that the recent lava flows are still cooling, thus continuing to pose a danger.

Hafnir

 

Home to little over 100 people, Hafnir is a tiny village found on the far southwest of the peninsula. Aside from its many natural viewpoints, there is not much that Hafnir has to offer besides conversation with its friendly residents, but that’s not to say this minute settlement has not left an impact on history. 

For one, the US merchant ship Jamestown was crashed here in 1881, spilling timber across the beach. To commemorate this event, the vessel’s naval anchor can be found displayed outside the front entrance of Hafnir’s church. Aside from that, Hafnir boasts cabin ruins dating somewhere between 770 – 880, providing the earliest archeological evidence of people living in Iceland. 

Geology of the Reykjanes Peninsula 

Svartsengi
Photo: Golli. Mt. Þorbjörn

The Reykjanes Peninsula was designated as a UNESCO Global Geopark in 2015. As such, the region’s geological makeup is of great interest to any person with an interest in the earth sciences. 

Covering approximately 2,000 sq km, this is a landscape entirely defined by powerful volcanic forces. As visitors drive along its winding roads, they will likely encounter wide open fissures, sprawling lava fields, shield volcanoes, and pockmarked craters, all a result of the volcanic zones that lie beneath the ground. 

To scientists, this area is called the Reykjanes volcanic belt, and it comprises a number of systems that, at one point or another in history, have all contributed to the unique form of the peninsula. 

The exact number of volcanic zones vary depending on the source. It is commonly acknowledged that these systems include: Hengill, Eldey, Svartsengi, Fagradalsfjall, Krýsuvík, and Brennisteinsfjöll. 

Since the end of the last Pleistocene period, around 12,000 years ago, it is basaltic lava flows of Holocene volcanoes that have created the unsmooth curves and dips that characterise the landscape. 

Volcanoes and Eruptions in Reykjanes 

 

For around 4000 years, the Reykjanes Peninsula was almost completely absent of volcanic eruptions, save for a handful of minor episodes.  

Due to this long period of dormancy, the reality of the region’s molten underbelly awakening over recent years has come as a great shock to many, no more so than the residents that call Reykjanes home.

The Fagradalsfjall, Meradalir, and Litli-Hrútur eruptions 

volcano eruption Geldingadalir Reykjanes
Photo: Golli. The Fagradalsfjall eruption site.

In 2021, the Fagradalsfjall eruption ushered in this new era of volcanic activity. Only 40 km from Reykjavík, a fiery crater called Geldingadalir became Iceland’s latest must-see visitor’s attraction, lasting from April 5 until September 18. 

Visitors from across the world hiked the barren trail that led to this incredible force of nature, where people sat on adjacent hillsides observing the earth spew great fountains of lava into the air. As the first eruption of its kind in many years, Icelandic Search & Rescue services, ICE-SAR, were quick to form safe pathways, as well as keep the public informed as to the extent of sulphur dioxide and carbon monoxide in the air. 

 

In August 2022, the next eruption to occur happened in almost the same location, this time called Meradalir. Lava from the new fissure poured across the fresh lava fields created by Fagradalsfjall, but ultimately, the eruption did not last long, ending the very same month. 

Litli-Hrútur erupted on July 10 2023, following 12,000 recorded earthquakes. At first, the site proved to be far more powerful than the prior two eruptions, with a lava flow greater than 10 times that which had become before. However, after a steady decline in flow rate, volcanic activity came to an end in the area August 23 2023. 

All in all, these eruptions brough an estimated 700,000 people to the area, all of whom were eager to observe these primitive natural spectacles for themselves. However, the next major eruption – that which occurred just outside of Grindavik – was to prove far more dramatic, far more dangerous, and far less accessible to visitors. 

The Grindavík Eruption 

litli-hrútur reykjanes
Photo: Golli. Workers at the eruption site.

In the months preceding the Grindavík eruption, residents of the town had lived with the constant knowledge that soon, lava flows would force them to leave their homes behind. Most surmised from the series of earth tremors, plus the onslaught of daily news reports, that the possibility of a significant disaster – be it an earthquake, or neighbouring eruption – was a very real threat.  

And so, when lava finally broke the surface on December 18, the townsfolk had already evacuated as a precaution. This was just as well; a recently constructed defensive wall meant to protect the urban settlement from lava flows was soon breached, leaving some houses destroyed. 

 

So it was that Sundhnúkagígaröðin volcano woken from its dormancy. Thankfully, no one was injured or killed in the incident. 

As stated, the situation regarding Grindavik’s future is still very much up in the air. But, as Iceland’s outgoing President, Guðni Th Jóhannesson, reassured in a televised speech; 

“A daunting period of upheaval has begun. We continue to hope for as good an outcome as possible. We will carry on with our responsibilities and we will continue to stand together.”

Attractions on the Reykjanes Peninsula 

Travellers at an eruption site
Photo: Golli. Travellers on the Reykjanes Peninsula

But all this talk of volcanic eruptions and earthquakes. One would think that the Reykjanes Peninsula was an unsafe place to visit… 

Well, allow us to put your mind at rest!

Great swathes of this region are perfectly suited for travellers. Anyone seeking out beautiful natural attractions and interesting cultural sites are free to find them in Reykjanes. 

The Bridge Between the Continents 

 

 

The Reykjanes Peninsula is situated atop a boundary line between the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates. This is why the landscape here is blemished with countless cracks, clefts, and canyons. 

Built atop one of the larger fissures is a small footbridge, known as the bridge between the continents. It demonstrates the reality of this peculiar geography. As such, it allows visitors to literally step between one tectonic plate and another. 

The bridge is named Midlina in Icelandic. It is named after the famed explorer, Leif Erikson. He was the first Norseman to arrive in the Americas, which he did around 1000 years ago. 

This 15 m [50 ft] walkway was constructed to celebrate this grand odyssey. And, consequently, the enduring relationship that Europe and America shares. Visitors can find it approximately one hour’s drive from Reykjavík, near to the beautiful Sandvik beach. 

Kleifarvatn lake

Kleifarvatn - Krísuvík - Reykjanes
Photo: Golli. Kleifarvatn lake, Reykjanes Pensinsula

Covering around 10 sq km, Kleifarvatn lake is a scenic waterbody that offers respite from the seemingly endless black lava fields the Reykjanes Peninsula is famous for. As you may have guessed, it is the largest lake in the region, and one of the deepest in Iceland, with a total depth of 97 m. 

Oddly enough, Kleifarvatn was once much larger. It is thought that earthquakes in the year 2000 may have opened up fissures at the bottom of the lake. This would have drained much of it. Another strange aspect of the lake is that no rivers feed into it. All of its water originates from the highly-porous lava fields around it. 

Despite this isolation of sorts, many Arctic Char live in the lake, having been deliberately introduced in the 1960s. Local legends also claim that Iceland’s own version of the Loch Ness monster hides within its depths. A demonic whale-like creature. But, as of today, sightings are few and far between. 

Reykjanestá cliffs

 

 

Anyone seeking epic seascapes will want to stop by the Reykjanestá cliffs. It is located on the southwestern tip of the Reykjanes Peninsula. Here, dramatic pillars of basalt rise from the lapping ocean waves. These cliffs attracts various bird species to nest amidst the surrounding rocks. Guests can expect to see Black-Legged Kittiwakes, Guillemots, Razorbills, Fulmars, and Shags. 

From the cliff sides, you will be able to spot the idyllic Eldey Island in the near distance. You can also spot the oldest lighthouse in Iceland, Reykjanesviti. It was originally built to help fishing boats navigate as far back as 1878. But because earthquakes tend to streak across the Reykjanes Peninsula, the original was destroyed following a mighty tremor. The modern version of the lighthouse was built in 1929.     

Gunnuhver hot spring

Photo: Golli. Even when there’s no active eruption, the geothermal heat underneath Reykjanes is unmistakeable.

Walking among the miniature geysers and steamy fumaroles of the Gunnuhver geothermal area is akin to trekking across the Red Planet, Mars. The ground is a brazen orange. The air is thick with white gassy clouds. All of this culminates in a unique site that demonstrates the powerful molten forces that have shaped Reykjanes over the centuries.

Gunnuhver geothermal area is named after a vengeful spirit. One that is said to have terrorised locals throughout history. According to the legends, a woman named Gunna lived close by to the area. It just so happens that she was notoriously poor with money. Indebted to the owner of the land upon which she stayed, he confiscated her cooking pot, claiming it would only be returned to her once the debt was paid. 

Without the means to prepare food for herself, Gunna quickly starved to death. A few days following her funeral, the landowner was found deceased. Many locals claimed that Gunna had returned from the dead to enact her vengeance. As to the veracity of this story, we’ll leave that up to you. But such myths are wonderful to contemplate alongside admiring the area’s unique geology. 

Mount Keilir

Keilir
Photo: Golli. Keilir mountain, Reykjanes peninsula

This striking cone-shaped mountain is a little-known landmark of the Reykjanes Peninsula. It is easily visible from Reykjavík and the ocean thanks to its deep slopes and sharpened peaks. Thanks to its prominence, the mountain was utilised for navigation by fishermen throughout the centuries. 

More recently, many people have discovered Keilir as a viewpoint from which to watch the Fagradalsfjall eruptions. But even without the possibility of seeing flowing lava, the top of the mountain boasts fantastic views over Faxaflói Bay and much of the peninsula. A hiking trail leads to a guestbook atop the peak where ramblers are encouraged to leave a message. 

In Summary 

Reykjanes
Photo: Bar Harel. Wikimedia. CC BY-SA 4.0

The Reykjanes Peninsula tends to be where visitors begin and end their trips to Iceland. It is well worth spending time during the actual holiday to explore this amazing region rather than rush through it. 

With its rugged landscape, cultural sites, and beautiful natural attractions, Reykjanes provides for fantastic memories of your time in Iceland. 

In Focus: A brief chronology of the Reykjanes eruptions

litli-hrútur reykjanes

800 years of quiet Prior to 2021, it had been almost 800 years since a volcanic eruption had occurred on the Reykjanes peninsula in Southwest Iceland. Between 1211 and 1240, a series of eruptions, referred to as the Reykjanes Fires, took place during a heightened period of volcanic activity that began around 950. 2021 Fagradalsfjall […]

This content is only visible under subscription. Subscribe here or log in.

Continue reading

In Full View

Hörður Kristleifsson @h0rdur

Hörður Kristleifsson is a 25-year-old photographer who’s been practising his craft since 2010, when he got his first camera. But things really took off in 2018, when he got his got his first drone. “Since then,” Hörður tells me, “it’s been a passion that’s kept on growing. You just get such a unique perspective with […]

This content is only visible under subscription. Subscribe here or log in.

Continue reading

Wall of Fire

Reykjanes peninsula eruptions

Sunday, bloody Sunday On Sunday morning, January 14, around 4:30 AM, Ari Guðmundsson’s phone rang. The Reykjanes peninsula was trembling. Three and a half hours later, it rang again. This time it was Víðir Reynisson, the head of Iceland’s Civil Protection Department. A fissure had opened and an eruption had begun.The long, earthen lava barriers […]

This content is only visible under subscription. Subscribe here or log in.

Continue reading

Have all the sheep been rescued from Grindavík?

Sheep in Iceland
After it became clear that about 250 sheep were confined in Grindavík after the eruption on the Reykjanes peninsula began on Sunday, January 14, many people were concerned for the animals. On Tuesday, January 16, following two days without water and feed, all of the sheep were moved out of the town and are in safety now.

No immediate permit to rescue the animals

About 250 sheep were left behind when the eruption started. After the first evacuation of Grindavík in November following a series of earthquakes, all remaining animals were moved out of town. 

The fact that some livestock owners decided to return their animals to Grindavík in December caused public criticism, also from the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority MAST. For some farmers, finding new shelter for their animals has been difficult. Sigrún Eggertsdóttir told the news outlet Vísir that she only found a temporary solution for her 30 sheep and did not have a choice but to bring the animals back to the town.

Initially, the animals left behind in a rushed evacuation just hours before the eruption were not designated a priority by officials. The Icelandic Animal Welfare Organisation started a campaign on social media, raising alarm after seeing that expensive machinery was moved out of Grindavík, but no permit for rescuing the sheep was issued. On January 16, officials finally allowed the livestock owners to enter the town and evacuate their sheep from the site of danger.

Lava Flow Slows Down as Gas Pollution Spreads

Volcanic eruption at Sundhnúksgígar

The intensity and size of the volcanic eruption at Sundhnúksgígar on the Reykjanes peninsula has diminished. The lava flow is now estimated to be about one-quarter of what it was when the eruption began just before midnight yesterday and only a third of the original fissure is active.

The Icelandic Meteorological Office has posted an update on the volcanic eruption, based on visual estimates from a reconnaissance flight earlier today. The development of the eruption is similar to the eruption at Fagradalsfjall which began in 2021, where the fissures are starting to contract and form individual eruption vents. Currently there are about five eruption vents spread along the original fissure and the lava fountains are lower than when the eruption began, reaching about 30 meters at their highest.

Pollution noticeable 115 km away

“According to information from scientists who went on a second helicopter flight with the Icelandic Coast Guard at around 04:00 UTC today, the total length of the fissure eruption has not changed much from the beginning,” the notice reads. “There was little activity at the southern end of the fissure near Hagafell, and the majority of the lava flow is heading east towards Fagradalsfjall. Two streams reach west, both north of Stóra-Skógfell.”

At the time of the notice’s publication at 2:30 PM today, the volcanic plume was drifting from west and northwest. “Gas pollution might be noticeable in Vestmannaeyjar today, but not elsewhere in populated areas,” the notice continues, referring to the populated archipelago off the south coast of Iceland, some 115 km from the fissure. “According to the weather forecast, gas pollution might be detected in the capital area late tonight or tomorrow morning.”

More pollution than in previous eruptions

According to a RÚV report, air pollution could be ten times greater than in recent eruptions in the Reykjanes peninsula. The release of sulphur dioxide could be somewhere between 30 and 60 thousand metric tonnes per day. A spike in pollution has already been detected in Selfoss, 68 km east from the fissure and along the coast south of the town of Þorlákshöfn. The amounts in these areas, however, have not reached levels that would endanger public health.

The volcanic eruption in Reykjanes is ongoing. We will continue to update this story as it develops.

Eruption Forces Blue Lagoon to Close Two Days After Reopening

The Blue Lagoon Iceland

Popular tourist destination Blue Lagoon reopened Sunday after being temporarily closed for a month due to seismic activity and fears of a volcanic eruption on the Reykjanes peninsula. Today, in the wake of last night’s volcanic eruption, Blue Lagoon has announced that it’s closing temporarily again.

“A volcanic eruption commenced in Sundhnúkagígar on the evening of December 18,” reads the announcement on Blue Lagoon’s website. “As a result, we have temporarily closed our facilities in Svartsengi. All guests with confirmed bookings in the upcoming days will be contacted.”

“No indications of magma” over the weekend

Blue Lagoon owes its existence to the natural forces that continue to shape the Reykjanes peninsula. It is situated in a lava field and its water comes from the nearby Svartsengi geothermal power plant. The spa was closed on November 9, along with its adjoining hotels and restaurant, due to a magma intrusion under the nearby town of Grindavík and a “seismic swarm” of more than 1,000 earthquakes in 24 hours that had dozens of guests fleeing the resort. All 3,800 residents of Grindavík were evacuated and remain away from their homes.

The Guardian reported yesterday on Blue Lagoon’s reopening, a decision management said was made in close collaboration with the authorities. “Experts are meticulously monitoring the situation with real-time analysis. Currently, there are no indications of magma approaching the surface,” the Guardian quoted Blue Lagoon management yesterday . “We are excited to welcome guests back to one of the wonders of the world.” Before the reopening, employees participated in a large-scale safety drill to practise evacuating the area.

No guests on the premises when the eruption started

In an interview with Vísir following last night’s eruption, Blue Lagoon Manager Helga Árnadóttir said that the geothermal bath was already closed for the day by the time the eruption began, shortly after 10 PM. No guests or staff remained on the premises.

Due to its location, the eruption could spare all man-made structures in the area, experts have said, including the town of Grindavík, Blue Lagoon and Svartsengi power plant.

The volcanic eruption in Reykjanes is ongoing. We will continue to update this story as it develops.

Largest Volcanic Eruption in Recent Years

Volcanic eruption on Reykjanes peninsula

The volcanic eruption in the Reykjanes peninsula, which began shortly before midnight Monday night, is the largest one since volcanic activity started up in the area in 2019. Its intensity is already decreasing, however, as evident from seismic and GPS measurements, the Icelandic Meteorological Office has announced. “The fact that the activity is decreasing already is not an indication of how long the eruption will last, but rather that the eruption is reaching a state of equilibrium,” read the 3 AM update. “This development has been observed at the beginning of all eruptions on the Reykjanes Peninsula in recent years.”

The southern end of the fissure is almost 3 km from the edge of the town of Grindavík, whose population of nearly 4,000 people has already been evacuated. The eruptive fissure is about 4 km long, with the northern end just east of Stóra-Skógfell and the southern end just east of Sundhnúk. However, the lava flow is more powerful than in the previous eruption, with more lava already flowing in the first seven hours of this eruption than the entirety of the Litli-Hrútur eruption in the summer of this year.

Lava could spare all man-made structures

The lava is not flowing in the direction of Grindavík, according to scientists who have observed the situation. Volcanologist Ármann Höskuldsson told RÚV that the location of the eruption is favourable, as it could spare all man-made structures. “Tonight everyone can be calm,” he told RÚV around 3 AM. “If everything is normal, the intensity will decrease tomorrow afternoon and the fissure will develop into craters. The eruption could last a week to 10 days.”

In an update with RÚV this morning, Ármann said that if the flow remains powerful, the lava could reach the road to Grindavík. He added that the pollution from the eruption is substantial and could affect vulnerable people in nearby towns, depending on wind direction. In that case, people should close all windows in their homes.

Roads to Grindavík closed

Police have closed all roads to and from Grindavík and asks that people do not attempt to get close to it, as gas fumes could prove dangerous. “Scientists will need a few days to assess the situation and its status is in fact updated every hour,” the Reykjanes Peninsula Police warned. “Passersby are asked to respect the closure and show understanding of the situation.”

Cabinet ministers will meet this morning to assess the situation.  The Icelandic Meteorological Office, civil protection and response units in the area continue to monitor the eruption and a meeting of scientists will be held in the morning to evaluate the overnight development of the eruption.

We will continue to update this story as it develops.

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.

Deep North Episode 53: Reykjanes Update

Lava barrier Reykjanes

For this special episode, we break down the latest developments and give an overview of the situation on the Reykjanes Peninsula. 

What happens to the residents of Grindavík now? What lava barrier is currently built around the power plant Svartsengi, and what about the remaining animals in Grindavík? Tune in and find out.

Since the time of recording, the commercial banks have agreed to waive interest and indexation of mortgages for the next three months. Stay updated.