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Iceland Mag

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Cruise ships systematically break law, threaten bird-life, conservationists warn

By Staff

  • Hornvík cliffs The seaside cliffs in Hornstrandir Nature Preserve are truly a birdwatchers paradise. Photo/Environment Agendy

Companies offering "Circumnavigation Cruises" around Iceland are accused of engaging in systematically breaking the law and endangering bird life by landing passengers in protected nature preserves and nesting areas. Conservationists warn that the cruises pose a serious threat to protected areas and criticize the government for not acting to curb what some have described as a Wild West attitude in the cruise ship industry.

Read more: Growing tourism threatens the value of the nature preserve of Hornstrandir in the Westfjords

The Icelandic Environment Agency has announced it is working on new, stricter regulation to govern cruise ship traffic in Hornstrandir Nature Preserve. The director of the agency told the National Broadcasting Service RÚV that the goal of the regulation was to cut down on pollution and preserve the tranquility of the preserve.

Cruise ship passengers threaten a nature preserve

Hornstrandir, Strandir, Vestfirðir, Westfjords

A magical land The beauty of Hornstrandir is best enjoyed from the sea. Photo/Vilhelm Gunnarsson

The National Broadcasting Service RÚV covered the rapidly growing circumnavigation cruises last week, shining a light on some of the companies, including the company Hurtigruten which offers cruises in the Arctic and North Atlantic. Hurtigruten advertises a circumnavigation of Iceland "The Land of Elves, Sagas and Volcanoes". Among the stops on the 12 day trip are the Hornstrandir Nature Preserve where customers are offered a stop at Látrabjarg cliffs in West Iceland as well as in the "Bird Watchers Paradise" at Hornbjarg cliff and in Reykjafjörður fjord.

RÚV notes that it is illegal to let passengers on land at Látrabjarg or Hornbjarg during nesting season. It is, moreover, illegal to enter the Hornstrandir Nature Preserve between April 15 and June 15 without first notifying the authorities. During this period large groups of travelers can easily damage the fragile vegetation and birdlife. Hurtigruten and other cruise ship companies offer tours of the area during this period, landing passengers in protected areas. According to RÚV Hurtigruten did not have permission to land passengers in Hornstrandir. In fact the company had not yet applied for such a permission.

Read more: French cruise ship breaks customs laws, lets passengers into protected wilderness preserve

Cruise ship companies have on previous occasions neglected to acquire the required permits and conservationists fear that passenger crowds pose a serious danger to Hornstrandir

Cruise ship operators call for regulation

hornstrandir_crossing.jpg

No roads There are no roads in Hornstrandir and motorized transport is banned. Photo/Vilhelm Gunnarsson

Not all circumnavigation cruises engage in illegal activities. The CEO of Iceland Pro Cruises, which operates a ship called Ocean Diamond told RÚV that the company has a strict policy of not entering any protected areas or privately owned land. "We have a very strict policy. We do not enter areas with fragile ecosystems, protected areas or privately owned land."

He criticized the authorities for not enforcing the law banning tourism in protected areas. He told RÚV that he knew of companies and cruise ships which had landed passengers in Hornstrandir and other protected areas without permission. "And one fears that the known cases are just the tip of the iceberg."

Some have complained that the regulation governing visits to Hornstrandir and other protected areas is not clear. Cruise ship operators have therefore called for better regulation and clearer official instruction. Raising awareness of the problem can also work. Since RÚV covered the problem Hurtigruten has changed the text on its website to assure customers that the company respected all laws and regulations on wildlife protection:

Please note: In an earlier version, the text in this online version of the itinerary could wrongfully be interpreted as we would do landings on Hornbjarg Cliff. As Hurtigruten operates on strict environmental and operational guidelines, taking guests on shore in areas where access has been restricted due to vulnerability of nature and wildlife is of course not part of our program.  

We would like to encourage all visitors to Hornstrandir Nature Preserve, and any other destination in Iceland, to protect the wildlife: Stay on marked paths and never disturb nesting birds.

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