From Iceland — Mývatn Being Slowly Destroyed By Tourism

Mývatn Being Slowly Destroyed By Tourism

Published February 22, 2017

Andie Sophia Fontaine
Photo by
Art Bicnick

Hotel owners around Mývatn and the Laxá river area profit from the location, at the expense of the preservation of one of Iceland’s most precious natural wonders, a detailed investigative report from RÚV reveals.

Grapevine has repeatedly reported on the environmental problems Mývatn is having. The lake has been put on the red list of the Environment Agency of Iceland four years in a row, has been suffering from hypoxia, and calls for action have been made within parliament.

Despite this being a known problem, regulations protecting Mývatn from environmental damage have actually been on the books since 1974. Nonetheless, increased tourism traffic and run-off from nearby hotels is threatening the existence of the lake.

RÚV spoke with Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson, the managing director of the Icelandic Environment Association, who said that a lax policy on issuing building permits for hotels and a lack of supervision has led to the situation as it stands today.

“It’s of course hotel owners that are profiting from being located near the natural pearl of Mývatn,” he said.

Over the past five years, about 200 new hotel rooms have popped up around Mývatn, and tourist traffic has increased tremendously. Despite regulations and repeated warnings, little has actually been done to protect the lake. For example, an 80-room hotel built within the protected area, Hótel Laxá, initially billed itself as environmentally-friendly when it was first announced in 2013. However, documents RÚV obtained showed that their sewage disposal system was not being maintained, and that nothing was being done about the matter despite the hotel receiving warnings about their equipment from the company that sold it to them.

Not that Hótel Laxá is alone in this; Hótel Sel, for example, has also been found to be damaging the environment of the area in some way. Despite repeated requests from health supervisory officials to area authorities to make changes, little to no changes have been made.

“The run-off matter is in disarray, and hotel owners naturally bear a great deal of responsibility for this,” Guðmundur told RÚV. “But we also need to see who bears responsibility for supervising the protection of this area. What about the responsibility of the Ministry for the Environment? Mývatn is not being given the benefit of the doubt. Rather, hotel owners that are profiting from being located near Mývatn are.”

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