According to a new report presented to Parliament by Minister for Tourism, Industry and Innovation Þórdís Kolbrún Gylfadóttir, some of the most popular tourist destinations in Iceland have long reached their tolerance limit for tourists and are now in grave danger.
An environmental disaster
Although tourists can still manage to enjoy the beauty of unspoilt natural gems scattered around Iceland, the growing number of tourists has caused major disasters to the local nature in the past few years.
In particular, among the protected areas evaluated by the Environment Agency of Iceland, Geysir and the Skógafoss waterfall seem to be in the worst condition, having long reached their tolerance limit. Places like the promontory of Dyrhólaey, the Dverghamrar basalt columns and Gullfoss in the Golden Circle are also in grave danger. A week ago, the popular hiking trail to Reykjadalur was deemed too damaged by over-tourism to be open to further traffic, and was therefore closed by the Environment Agency.
The report identifies various reasons for the decline of natural resources, but the most prominent seem to be a lack of infrastructure as well as proper monitoring and custody of the areas in question. In places like Geysir and Gullfoss, which are surrounded by wildlife, fungi and vegetation that is particularly vulnerable, paths and staircases are in rather bad shape, putting the environment at further risk of damage. Since these areas are close to the Highlands, the vegetation undergoes much longer growth processes than in other areas of the country.
In the Highlands itself, places that have officially reached the limit include the popular summer hiking trail Landmannalaugar, Lónsöræfi in the south, the Natural Reserve of Friðland að Fjallabaki and the craters of Lakagígar. In the north, the area around Mývatn has long reached its limit, while the situation in Dettifoss and Skútustaðagígar seems to be getting worse.
Besides assessing the conditions of local nature, the report also attempts to find ways to minimise and prevent further damage, as well as to insure good travelling experiences for tourists. According to Þórdís Kolbrún Gylfadóttir, however, the implementation of protecting measures is hindered by one factor: a lack of knowledge in regards to where responsibility lies.
“The situation is very complicated because we need to make clear who bears responsibility for what,” Þórdís told RÚV. “Some of these areas are owned by the state, some are private properties or they belong to municipalities. Then we have protected areas, which can be owned by individuals but are under the responsibility of the Environment Agency. So this is something we need to go over—who bears responsibility.”
As the report shows, however, the number of tourists coming to Iceland in the next few years is expected to increase even more, making an immediate response by Parliament a necessary step to protect the welfare of Icelandic nature.