A pledge to protect the Icelandic nature has recently been proposed by the minister for tourism in Iceland. The pledge appears on the Inspired by Iceland website. It encourages responsible tourism and those signing up for their mailing list will have the chance to win a free trip to Iceland (responsibly).
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Now this is great and the sentiments are especially poignent in the recent surge of tourism to hit Iceland. The Nature does need to be protected. But unfortunately, the tourists are only a small part of the threat to nature in Iceland.
Lets look at the points of the pledge and see whether the real threat comes from tourists or Icelanders themselves.
I PLEDGE TO BE A RESPONSIBLE TOURIST.
Fair enough, how about being a responsible person if you are tourist or not.
WHEN I EXPLORE NEW PLACES,
I WILL LEAVE THEM AS I FOUND THEM.
Icelanders are famous for exploring new places, Iceland being one of them. The country is certainly not the same as when Norwegian vikings came to the island 1200 years ago. Many story tell how forests were destroyed, although this was debatable. There are stories of High ranking officials littering Godafoss waterfall. An Angry mother destroying a famous stone arch at Barnafoss.
The Icelandic government before last (although it’s mostly the same people) sold huge area of Nature to foreign power companies. There was serious money involved. In order to build a connecting road for the power company work started on a lava field. The conractors didn’t have permission to destroy the Nature so some Icelanders tried to protect it. Icelandic singer, songwriter, photographer, pilot, reporter, Ómar Ragnarsson was arrested as he tried to protect the Nature.
Tourists do leave a lot of litter lying around. You might have noticed how there are no trash cans at big attractions. The point is that you are supposed to take your litter with you. This is a healthy alternative to overflowing trash cans.
I WILL TAKE PHOTOS TO DIE FOR,
WITHOUT DYING FOR THEM.
Icelanders are very competent photographers. But they have the benefit of being able to visit a location many times to get those photos to die for. They don’t have to go out on a limb.
Tourists do die taking photos. A few years back a puffin photographer got too close to the cliff edge at Latrabjarg in the Westfjords. He didn’t survive the fall. Most of the people who die in the nature are tourists and often they have a camera in hand.
I WILL FOLLOW THE ROAD INTO THE UNKNOWN,
BUT NEVER VENTURE OFF THE ROAD.
Icelanders drive those cars with the huge tires. These are mostly for driving on deep snow which is a kind of off road driving that is allowed. They also drive on black sand beaches, you can see the huge tracks. This kind of off-road driving is a grey area. By definition is is allowed because illegal off road driving is that which will leave permanent tracks. But if you try this in a normal car and get stuck you will pay heavily for rescue.
Tourists will venture off road mostly through ignorance. They have a jeep and they want to have some fun. Sometimes it is difficult to tell if there is a track or not.
AND I WILL ONLY PARK WHERE I AM SUPPOSED TO.
Right, this can be incredibly dangerous to park on the highways. In the city, don’t copy the Icelanders.
WHEN I SLEEP OUT UNDER THE STARS,
I’LL STAY WITHIN A CAMPSITE.
One of my favourite campsites was recently closed due to noise. It was used by Icelanders who would drink and party well into the night. If you are on a camping trip around Iceland you are now forced to sleep with noisy, drunken Icelanders. A few years ago it was very different, you could camp wherever you wanted to as long as it wasn’t on private property. Now camper vans are forced into campsites taking up valuable tent space. Such a shame.
AND WHEN NATURE CALLS,
I WON’T ANSWER THE CALL ON NATURE.
This was another freedom enjoyed by the Icelander of old. Men and women alike would relieve themselves in the Nature. Sometimes not so discretely. This became a problem when tour buses full of tourists started stopping to use a road-side car park. This was simply because there were not adequate facilities, or the drivers and guide were not familiar with the territory.
Then we have the cyclist who set light to a lava field after trying to burn his toilet paper. The embarrassed cyclist watched firemen put out the blazing dry moss.
I WILL BE PREPARED FOR ALL WEATHERS,
ALL POSSIBILITIES AND ALL ADVENTURES.
Icelanders say “there is no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothes”. But then we had an Icelander trying to walk between 2 glaciers to see the eruption at Fimmvörudhals. The same eruption claimed 2 more Icelandic casualties. A couple went driving off road to try to get a better view of the volcano, their car was stuck, they had no phone signal and consequently died of exposure.
My feeling is that everyone should make the pledge, not just tourists. “When in Rome”. Remember that tourists will always copy the behaviour of the locals. Otherwise it is just patronizing. It stinks of the age old Icelandic tradition of blaming others. By making tourists take this pledge the are basically blaming tourists for the mess… which is not necessarily the case.
Green peace also have a pledge: