Iceland's pristine habitats threatened by hydropower plans

mountain range in iceland
© Hank Leukart

Iceland is home to some incredibly beautiful wild places. The country has many environmental success stories, on issues from fishing to energy.

However, some of the country's natural wonders are under threat due to changes in Iceland's conservation laws. The recently elected government rolled back environmental protections in January of 2014, to make way for hydropower plants. Building the plants will involve damming rivers, building roads and creating man-made reservoirs in the country's Thjorsarver Wetlands in the country's interior. Many of these areas were nature preserves. The energy will be used to power aluminum smelters.

“If they get into this area, there will be no way to stop them from destroying the wetlands completely,” Arni Finnsson, the chairman of the Iceland Nature Conservation Association, told the New York Times. The newspaper named Iceland as one of the places to go in 2014, for the depressing reason that the country's "natural wonders are in danger."

World Watch Europe reports the current administration further aggravated the situation by dissolving the Ministry of Environment and merging it with the Ministry of Fishing and Agriculture, creating a conflict of interest within the agency.

Brothers Hank and Brian Leukart hiked through the threatened region in July of 2012, and created this beautiful film about their journey. Hank is a travel writer and TV producer, who documents his journey at Without Baggage. These wild places are not only beautiful, but are also an important habitat for foxes, puffins, and other birds. "By far, the coolest animals we saw on our hike was Iceland’s famous wild horses, which are a special kind of horse bred only in Iceland," said Hank. "They are small (they look like ponies), and they move in a way completely different from horses we have seen anywhere else in the world."

"Even small setbacks in environmental protections for a place so small could result in glaring blemishes to an otherwise almost perfect place," said Hank. "During our hike, we encountered road construction and the geothermal industry in places that seemed out of place in the wilderness. I would be heartbroken if some of the less-traveled places in Iceland (the Highlands, Mývatn, etc.) were damaged by industry simply because the powers in charge felt that few people would notice the results."

Tags: Hydropower | Iceland