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Tourists Ignore Warnings at Reynisfjara

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Tourists Ignore Warnings at Reynisfjara

Reynisfjara, February 2016

Reynisfjara this afternoon. Photo: Zoë Robert.

Following the drowning of a tourist at Reynisfjara beach near Vík í Mýrdal, South Iceland, earlier this month, authorities erected a second warning sign yesterday.

There had been complaints that the original sign was not clear enough and that it was possible to enter the beach without ever passing it. It is still possible to enter the beach without passing the signs but due to the edge of the carpark having been chained off to discourage people from walking from the carpark directly onto the beach, it is possible that more people now pass the sign than before. However, there has been criticism that the new sign is too small and generally not sufficient.

Police temporarily patrolled the beach following the drowning but due to lack of funding that has now ended.

The issue of safety on the beach has received a lot of media coverage in recent weeks. A tourist also died on the beach in 2007 and in 2013 another tourist was swept out to sea but escaped unharmed. There have been many other close calls.

A record 1.65 million tourists are set to visit Iceland this year and Reynisfjara is among the most popular destinations. As Iceland Review reported earlier today, signs of the tourism boom are clearly visible despite it only being February, which has traditionally been a quiet period.

Iceland Review visited Reynisfjara late this afternoon. Around 100 people were on the beach when we arrived. Between 100 and 200 people have reportedly been on the beach at any one time during daylight hours in recent weeks and months.

In a period of 10 minutes we witnessed five individuals get caught in the oncoming water. During the hour we spent on the beach, several others were also caught by the fast approaching water. Though leaving a little wet—most people only got their feet or calves wet, others fell into the water as they tried to turn and run away—was the only consequence of getting too close on this occasion, several individuals put themselves in grave danger and came close to getting caught by large waves. The beach is dangerous because of unanticipated waves which are greater in force and height than the preceding waves, or so-called sneaker waves.

Only two of the ten tourists Iceland Review spoke to had neither seen the warning signs nor heard of the dangers. Three of the individuals we spoke to had seen the signs but were clearly choosing to ignore them, as well as our warnings, and repeatedly put themselves in real danger. A group of four tourists had not seen the warning signs but had heard of the recent drowning. Despite this, one member of the group told Iceland Review that they did not believe that the beach was that dangerous. The tenth individual we spoke to was on an organized tour and had been told of the dangers by her guide. She was upset to see people getting so close to the water. Several other visitors on the beach also stood well clear of the waves. However, there were many others who walked right down towards the water including those who did so despite warnings from guides.

Iceland Review urges visitors to take extreme caution at this beautiful location—the waves are deceptively dangerous and the undertow very strong. Walking up to or attempting to climb onto the basalt columns is strongly discouraged. The man who drowned earlier this month stood on a 50 cm (20 in) high rock (see image here), a few meters from the basalt columns, taking pictures when a wave hit him. He was sucked out by the wave about 550 meters (600 yards) away from the shore. If you are without a guide to give you more specific advice on the day, you can enjoy Reynisfjara without actually venturing down onto the beach itself. The end of the path, which takes you from the car park, close to the headland and past the warning signs, before you step onto the beach, provides a great view from a safe distance.

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