NATURE CONSERVATION AND SUSTAINABLE TOURISM IN GEOTHERMAL AREAS

The number of tourists in Iceland has nearly doubled since 2000. Annual growth has averaged about 6% during this period, but was more than 15% in the last two years. A continuing increase is predicted and, therefore, there is a high probability of increased intrusion and pressure on Icelandic nature; over 80% of foreign tourists mention Icelandic nature as the country's main attraction. Geothermal areas play a major role in all this and, therefore, Landvernd launched its project Nature Conservation and Sustainable Tourism in Geothermal Areas in early 2012. The project is designed as the first part of the long-term protection of geothermal energy in Iceland. Iceland's magnificent and distinctive geothermal areas are almost unparalleled in the world, and their diversity is high, both in relation to geology and mineralogy or biology.

There is considerable interest in developing nature tourism in Iceland towards sustainability and the main aims of this project are to promote the protection of the sensitive nature in geothermal areas and reinforce sustainable tourism in such areas. The project is intended to achieve these goals by increasing information material for tourists about the unique topography, geology and biology of Icelandic geothermal areas, their nature conservation value and the importance of responsible behavior, as well as to enhance the security of tourists with better information regarding access and conduct. Geothermal areas are particularly vulnerable to intrusion and traffic and Landvernd feels it is extremely important to ensure the protection of these unique resources so that natives, foreign visitors and future generations can enjoy them too.

The project is divided into five parts: excursions, information material, information signs, forums and short videos. In the summer of 2012 three highly successful excursions took place: to the Reykjanes peninsula, Vonarskarð and the Hengill area. In the summer of 2013 excursions to the Reykjanes peninsula, Lake Mývatn and Askja, West and South Skaftafellssýsla provinces and the Hengill area are planned. Information material for the geothermal area in Vonarskarð has already been published and information signs for Vonarskarð, Reykjadalur valley and Kerlingarfjöll mountains are ready to be installed in the summer of 2013. Two forums have been held on sustainable tourism and nature conservation in geothermal areas, in May 2012 and May 2013, and were both well attended and successful.

The main partners in the project include the Icelandic Institute of Natural History, the Icelandic Association for Search and Rescue and the Icelandic Touring Association, as well as landowners or legal guardians of the areas in question, including Vatnajökull National Park, Ölfus municipality, Hveragerði town, the Agricultural University of Iceland and Fannborg in Kerlingarfjöll mountains. The project is funded by the Original Buff via the European Outdoor Conservation Association, the Ministry of Industries and Innovation, Landsbankinn bank, Pálmi Jónsson Nature Conservation Fund, The Tourist Site Protection Fund, and collaborators.
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