Small cruise ships are allowing their passengers to disembark in protected or vulnerable natural areas around Iceland and there are currently no laws or regulations to prevent them from doing so, RÚV reports.
So-called expedition ships, often marketed as nature or birding tours, carry 150 – 400 passengers and are becoming increasingly popular in Iceland. In 2012, there were only seven such tours offered around the country; last year there were 50, and this year, 60 will be offered. Expedition ships stop in more ports and at smaller towns than larger cruise ships do and passengers are generally invited to go ashore, even in places where doing so might risk the animal life or landscape.
For instance, one company— Hurtigruten—offers tourists the opportunity to go ashore at the Látrabjarg bird cliffs, which is in the process of becoming a protected area, as well as the Hornbjarg bird cliffs in the Hornstrandir nature reserve during the nesting season in May and June.
Legally, an official request must be made to the Environment Agency of Iceland to visit the Hornstrandir reserve before the middle of June, but landowners have received no such requests from Hurtigruten for their guided visits and thus far, no punitive measures have been taken by the government in response. The Environment Agency is, however, working on a protection plan for Hornstrandir that would address such tours. These new regulations are expected to be introduced this summer.