Tourists Caught by Waves in Reynisfjara

Tourist guide Pascale Elísabet Skúladóttir caught a video early Saturday of fierce waves in Reynisfjara that threatened to wash unsuspecting tourists to sea, RÚV reports. Pascale says that all too often, tourists ignore warning signs on the beach, putting themselves in danger.

Reynisfjara beach is one of Iceland’s most popular tourist attractions, routinely appearing on lists of must-see non-tropical beaches. Its black sands and opportune view of the Reynisdrangar basalt sea stacks situated under the mountain Reynisfjall are a consistent draw for tourists. 

Reynisfjara beach, however, can be a dangerous spot in bad weather. Pascale’s video, shown below, depicts tourists who venture too close to the water and are suddenly swept off their feet by a powerful wave. Luckily no-one was seriously hurt, but the sudden chaos shown in the video is a powerful reminder of how quickly the tides can turn in Reynisfjara.

Pascale says that on bad weather days like last Saturday, she doesn’t take her clients far beyond the beach’s designated walking path. The tourists in the video, however, were about ten meters closer to the sea than is recommended.

“There are prominent warning signs in a few languages along the beach, but they are ignored by at least half of the tourists visiting. When I warn people, they often tell me to mind my own business” Pascale says. She further recommends that people avoid areas of the beach where the sand is smooth, which tends to indicate areas where the waves have reached.

Visitors Ignoring Reynisfjara Closure, Despite Ongoing Risk

The rockslide that took place at Reynisfjara beach in South Iceland has now been measured at 100 m [328 ft] wide and 50 m [164 ft] in length, running from the base of Reynisfjall mountain and out into the sea. RÚV reports that the largest boulders on the scene were measured at 3 m [9.8 ft] in diameter. The overall volume of the scree has been estimated at 25,000 cubic m [882,867 cubic ft].

The rockslide having been so enormous, it’s considered quite a bit of luck that no one was injured in the event. Close to the village of Vík í Mýrdal, Reynisfjara’s black sand beach is one of the most popular traveller destinations in Iceland and home to the Reynisdrangar sea stacks as well as basalt columns inside a cave on the beach. Strong undercurrents and so-called ‘sneaker waves’ make the beautiful destination a dangerous one, too, however, and despite prominent signage and travel advisories, a number of visitors have come to harm on the beautiful shore. In the most serious instances, an American woman died in May 2007 when caught by a wave, and a Chinese man lost his life when he was swept out to sea in February 2016.

It is, then, unfortunate but not unexpected that police in South Iceland has been forced to monitor the beach and kick out visitors who have chosen to ignore police tape indicating that the area is closed for the time being. Inspector Sigurður Sigurbjörnsson said that he found around thirty tourists in a very dangerous spot on the beach near the rockslide on Wednesday, just a day after the event took place.

Conditions are being monitored at Reynisfjara and it is expected that there will be another rockslide on Reynisfjall mountain in the coming days. Visible fissures on the mountain’s surface are being monitored, but it’s hard to predict precisely when the next rockslide will occur. Iceland’s Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management plans to keep the beach east of Hálsanefshelli cave closed at least until today, Friday, August 23, when a decision will be made about what – possibly permanent – precautions are needed going forward.

Large Rockslide in Reynisfjara Beach

A large rockslide fell from Reynisfjall mountain onto Reynisfjara beach this morning. The easternmost part of the beach, which is a popular tourist destination, has been closed off by the police. The rest of the beach remains open. Travellers are asked to respect the closure, as a number of travellers were spotted crossing the yellow police border which zoned off the area. The area which the rockslide fell on is often filled with travellers. Luckily, it is not known that there were any travellers in the area at the time.

A policeman from the South Iceland police arrived at the scene this morning and witnessed the remains of the rockslide, which appears to have been significant in size. The Icelandic Met Office has dispatched an avalanche watch employee to inspect the area. Sveinn Brynjólfsson, from the avalanche watch, stated that the rock is clearly unstable. “We will try to assess it today and figure out whether there are more fractures which rock could fall from,” Sveinn stated that rock slides fall from the mountain quite regularly and that the weather is not directly connected to the event. “Large rock slides have fallen from the area which faces the populated areas,” he stated.

Yesterday, a number of rocks fell down from the mountain onto the beach and at least three visitors were injured. Among them was a child which injured its foot and a young male who sustained a head injury. The injuries are not considered severe at this point in time. Today’s rock slide is believed to have been at the very least several tons. The sea closest to the area where the rock slide fell has turned a brown colour.
The video shows the area yesterday after a number of rocks fell down the steep slope onto the beach. Today’s rock slide was significantly larger

A popular yet dangerous destination
The black sand Reynisfjara beach is one of the most popular traveller destinations in Iceland. Situated in South Iceland, close to Vík í Mýrdal, it is home to the Reynisdrangar sea stacks not far from the shore as well as basalt columns inside a cave on the beach. The ripper waves in the area are especially dangerous, so travellers are advised to stay out of the water. In 2016, a fatal accident took place as a Chinese traveller lost his life after having been ripped out to sea.