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Seashells on Icelandic Beaches

A beach in Strandir, the West Fjords
A beach in the West Fjords. Photo: Páll Stefánsson.

Q: Why aren’t there seashells on Iceland’s beaches? I’ve walked dozens of kilometers on its beaches in every region but have yet to see a seashell.

Ivan Martin, New York, U.S.


A: There are seashells on beaches in Iceland but their number differs between regions. The iconic black sand beaches of the south coast are constantly being shaped by the sediment of glacial rivers being carried to sea and wild waves crashing against the shore.

This is perhaps where you’d be least likely to find seashells. Blue mussels, for example, can be found on beaches in every region in Iceland, except the south coast.

For the same reason, there were no harbors on the south coast from Höfn in the east to Þorlákshöfn in the west until Landeyjahöfn, the new Vestmannaeyjar ferry dock, opened in 2010. But sediment from glacial river Markarfljót poses a problem.

On most other quiet sand beaches in Iceland you should be able to find seashells, including blue mussels (Mytilus edulis), Icelandic scallop (Chlamys islandica), ocean quahog (Arctica islandica) and soft-shell clam (Mya arenaria).

The black beaches that are predominant in Iceland are a result of the country’s volcanic activity and the sand is mostly comprised of fine grains of basalt.

On the white shell sand beach Löngufjörur on the southern Snæfellsnes peninsula, West Iceland, I remember to have found small white seashells and colorful stones, as I’ve seen on beaches on the European mainland.