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Tourist Traffic Tramples Sensitive Areas

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Tourist Traffic Tramples Sensitive Areas

Gullfoss.

Gullfoss waterfall. Photo: Páll Stefánsson.

Sensitive areas in Iceland are damaged after heavy tourist traffic in the winter, according to the Environment Agency of Iceland (EAI). Protecting these areas is more difficult in winter than in summer, due to weather, stated Hákon Ásgeirsson, a specialist for the EAI in South Iceland. Tourist safety must be better addressed, he stated. The areas are more sensitive to traffic when they’re not frozen or snow-covered. The mild winter this year could mean more damage to busy areas than in an average year. Hákon finds it likely that damage to the land could appear this spring, calling for additional protection and build-up due to the stream of tourists.

Examples of areas that have sustained damage this winter, due to wet soil and a lack of frost, is by Skógafoss waterfall in South Iceland. The field in front of the waterfall is severely damaged. The largest increase in traffic is over the winter months. This winter, the increase is such that the tourist numbers come close to what they are in summer. Still, Hákon said, park rangers are nowhere to be seen, since they’re mainly hired for the summer.

“Our point of reference is still the time when tourists came here only in summer, but times have changed. The tourist season is now year-round. Protecting the land must be done accordingly. As an example, there is no park ranger employed by Skógafoss and Dyrhólaey, where thousands arrive every day,” Hákon stated.

He pointed out that better management is needed, since sensitive areas or dangerous ones due to ice must be closed, and tourist safety must be better ensured.

Hákon believes it’s long overdue to hire park rangers year-round, especially at the most popular places. Those would include Gullfoss, Geysir, Skógafoss and Dyrhólaey in the south, as well as the national park by Snæfellsjökull glacier and several areas in Borgarfjörður in the west and Mývatn lake and vicinity in the north.

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