One of Iceland’s youngest islands is now home to more plant species than any of the other outlying islands of the Westman Islands chain.
Surtsey, a volcanic island that rose out of the ocean between 1963 and 1967, has been officially protected since 1965. Since then, scientists have paid regular visits to examine how life is developing in the fragile ecosystem.
Plants such as cakile, sea sandwort, sea bluebells and lyme grass were the first to take hold, but RÚV now reports there has recently been a veritable explosion of new plant life on the island.
“Scientists have been coming to examine Surtsey since before the eruption even stopped, and during that time there have been incredible changes,” Surtsey guide director Borgþór Magnússon told reporters. “People are still awed by the dilligence, speed and imagination of Mother Nature’s design department.”
There are now so many species of plantlife on the 1.4km2 island that only Heimaey, the Westman Islands’ main island, has more plant life amongst the other islands in the chain. Scientists believe a major contributing factor has been the nesting of seagulls on the island, spreading many seeds in a small, largely uninhabited area.
“I think this made all the difference,” said Bjarni Diðrik Sigurðsson, a biologist from the Agricultural University of Iceland. “It of course might have been desirable to allow unrestricted access to the island for tourists, which would have called for facilities and equipment [for them], but the island just wouldn’t have been the same.”