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Dirty Secret Uncovered: Doing Business on Surtsey

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Dirty Secret Uncovered: Doing Business on Surtsey

Surtsey

Surtsey. Photo: Páll Stefánsson.

Ágúst Bjarnason, who used to monitor the progress of plants on volcanic island Surtsey, has uncovered an incident he has kept secret for 45 years. In the summer of ’69, he found a tomato plant on the island, which had grown out of human faeces.

“Once when I was in Reykjavík I received the message from Surtsey that a mysterious plant had been discovered in the lava. Those who discovered the plant, three or four foreign nature scientists and one Icelandic botanist, weren’t able to identify it,” Ágúst wrote in Vestmannaeyjar newspaper Eyjafréttir yesterday.

He traveled to Surtsey as soon as he could and found the plant quickly. “At first I was stunned because of the strange plant which looked like a potato plant. I bent down and rolled two lava rocks aside which lay against the plant on either side. Underneath was a peculiar pile which was very soft when I poked it.”

“Suddenly it dawned on me what it was. Someone had done their business [there] … and this beautiful tomato plant (Solanum lycopersicum), 15-cm [5-in] tall, had grown out of the faeces. … I put everything in a plastic bag and closed it securely. I made sure not to leave anything behind so that the natural settlement [of plants] wouldn’t be compromised,” Ágúst revealed.

The discovery would have shocked the scientific community, because ever since the island was created in an underwater eruption from 1963 to 1967, Surtsey has been preserved as a living laboratory. Only scientists and a handful of other people have been allowed to visit the island to keep the human impact minimal. Surtsey is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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