Iceland Mag

11 Reykjavik

Iceland Mag

Travel

From the editor: Don't traðka on the moss!

By Magnús Sveinn Helgason

  • The gray moss, Grámosi These moss fields have been growing, undisturbed, for decades, centuries. Photo/diego cue, creative commons

  • Magnús Sveinn Helgason

Eyjafjallajökull volcano erupted in 2010, shutting down air traffic over the North Atlantic. At the time Icelanders despaired: This was just too much! First the banks, now the volcanoes? The greatest fear was that the eruption would destroy the small tourism industry. The government stepped in to fund a clever advertising campaign to counter this threat and capitalize on the attention created by the eruption.

The fears proved unfounded. The Eyjafjallajökull eruption turned out to be all the free advertising we needed, and tourism really took off: The number of visitors has grown by 300% since 2010.

Read more: Contribution of tourism to Icelandic economy increased in 2017, is now 8.6%

This growth helped Iceland pull out of recession, but it has also brought some problems. Walking paths at hidden waterfalls, which served perhaps a dozen or so people on a sunny summer day, now see hundreds of people. Unable to handle the traffic, paths turn into mud and the delicate flora along the way is trampled down. Off-road driving is another serious problem. The Icelandic Tourist Board has, therefore, shifted its advertising campaigns from luring in more travelers to encouraging good behavior. The “Icelandic Pledge” is the latest example. In most cases the cause of even the worst examples of destructive off-road driving is simply that visitors fail to grasp how fragile Icelandic nature is. The delicate vegetation grows very slowly due to the short, cold, and wet sub-Arctic summers. Damage caused by off-road driving takes decades to heal.

Read more: "Adventurers" seeking untouched beauty of highlands leave destruction, incur hatred of locals

The moss is especially fragile. Under ideal conditions, it can grow by as little as 1 cm (0.4 in) annually. In the highlands it grows just a couple of millimeters each year. To Icelanders, the moss is therefore all but sacred, and damaging it unnecessarily is seen as a sign of severe character defects.

One of Iceland’s most popular comedians, Steindi Jr. captured this sentiment in a recent ad/music video produced by the Icelandic Tourism Board. Steindi teaches visitors to sing “The Hardest Karaoke Song in the World,” a catchy tune with advice to visitors, peppered with Icelandic phrases and words visitors should learn. One of the most important is Steindi’s plea, “Don’t traðka [trample] on the moss - it grows back so slow.”

Read more: Brush up on your Icelandic by singing world's hardest karaoke song

Icelanders are happy to share the beauty of this wonderful country with foreign visitors: There’s plenty of it to go around! But only if we treat it with respect and take care not to damage it.

 

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