Silfra’s Fragile Ecosystem, Responsible travel and Alternatives

silfra fissure diving, iceland
Credits: www.adventurevikings.is

Exploring alternatives to Silfra Fissure diving? Look further and be a responsible traveler: Diving in Nesgjá, Daviosgja, Strytan.

An Anticlimatic Start

When we drove there that morning my expectations were starting to shrink considerably. We had paid over 100€ for a 1 1/2 hour experience.

Our Aussie driver looked exhausted from a drinking night (and nights in Iceland are long! the sun had barely risen at 11.30 AM)

The sky was murky and grey. Oh, and it was cold as white hell!

Who would even want to snorkel in Iceland in December? With zero swimming skills? Me, of course.Because, ever since I stumbled upon that YouTube video of outwardly Silfra, I was simply enthralled. I couldn’t not do this.

After all, Silfra & the northern lights were my reasons to spend New Year’s in Iceland the first place.

Turns out I wasn’t the only one thinking like that: so where 20,000 other people.

Of course, since our trip happened way back in 2013, the practicalities don’t speak for current realities anymore. The number of visitors at Silfra in 2015 was four times higher than 2010 numbers, exceeding 20,000 people.

OverTourisming Silfra

Snorkeling in Silfra fissure, Iceland
Snorkeling in Silfra. Credits: Dive.is

Skift declared this summer the Summer of Overtourism.

And while it’s true that tourism saved Iceland, now it’s a spun on its heels and has become a big fat headache instead.

Snorkeling/diving in Silfra fissure is one of the most bucket list worthy things I’ve experienced in my 10 years of travel.

Silfra is a siren – lulling you into going in its perfectly clear waters this because it’s the only place in the world where you can snorkel/dive between two continental plates.

Underwater visibility in the Silfra fissure is otherworldly, reaching depths of over 100 m.

But overtourism has hit many of the iconic attractions in Iceland just as much as it has wrecked havoc everywhere else.

With over 2 billion travelers globally and a 6% annual growth, spread unevenly across destinations, it’s no wonder Silfra visit numbers spiked four-fold.

Concerns from local park authorities had long been raised, and the situation abruptly escalated when a traveler in his sixties died while snorkeling there earlier this year (5th fatal accident since 2010). So authorities and diving companies have now agreed on stricter rules, one of which is to reduce the number of visitors, both for diving and snorkeling.

Tip: Get prepared: you’re now supposed to bring a medical certificate stating that you’re physically fit to dive/snorkel in close to freezing temperatures.

Misconceptions

While it’s easy to assume that the attractions automatically benefit from your tourist money, that’s, unfortunately, a common misconception.

Overwhelmed by the dramatic spike in tourism, unmanageable unless long-term decisions are made, Iceland’s government is looking into ways of raising taxes in the tourism sector. The alternative would be to limit sightseers’ access to the country’s most popular spots.

Iceland also needs to look into its infrastructure, if it wants things to get better. To generate money for infrastructure improvements, the government has considered airport entry fees, road tolls, and other types of taxes.

Carless About Nature

Turns out we tourists mostly don’t care that much about nature either. We care about taking selfies with it, sure. But we all know what I mean

National park ranger Ólafur Örn Haraldsson says: “The nature in the ravine is delicate and caution must be exercised to ensure it is not damaged & the moss and other vegetation on the banks are not destroyed.”

I think all the coral reefs out there can sympathise with the Icelandic moss.

Exploring Alternatives

 You’re probably reading this and thinking: yeah, but I’m going to do it anyway, because why should others get to experience Silfra and not me?

What you’re doing is the Tragedy of the Commons, travel edition. But I’m not saying you shouldn’t.

I’m proposing this instead: take some time, do some research, and look into alternatives. You know, just in case you do decide that you’re not just doing Silfra as a trophy trip.

Diving in Nesgjá

scuba diving in nesgja volcanic crater iceland blue clear waters
Scuba diving in Nesgja, Iceland. Credits: Franco Banfi

There are always alternatives. You just need to look hard enough. Such as Nesgjá, a shallower, shorter and smaller version of Silfra, but just as lovely regardless.

Nesgja is also a witness of the tectonic drift, and another freshwater paradise of that crystal clear, safe to drink Icelandic water.

You will need to travel all the way north to Husavik, but I can virtually hear restless legs tapping just by looking at this picture above, and the chiseled basalt walls.

Diving in Daviosgja 

Dry Suit Diver in Davidsgja-Iceland
Davíðsgjá , Iceland. Credits: Dive.is

Neiboughring Silfra, at lake Thingvellir, Daviosgja is supposedly a darker, spookier version of Silfra, named by Dive.is a real hidden gem.

Diving in Strytan

Strytan div
Strytan dive. Credits: www.extremeiceland.is

400km north of Reykjavik, all the way up north near Akureyri, you have Strytan, another special diving spot, this time not because of its clear waters but because of the hydrothermal cones it houses, the work of art of 11000 years of natural mineral deposits.

So there, just some of your alternatives fo Silfra. Save this somewhere, and look back at it when you consider going to Iceland.

I’ve personally only experienced Silfra, but if I’m ever meeting Iceland again, these diving alternatives will be high on my list of things to do!

Note that Dive Season in Iceland goes from late April to early October, to take advantage of the long daylight hours in summer. You can still go in the winter time though, as did we.

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