Successful Ramsar Advisory Mission to Iceland
In August 2013, a Ramsar Advisory Mission (RAM) was organised to Iceland’s first and most iconic Ramsar Site, Myvatn lake and its outflowing Laxa river. The site, located in a dynamic volcanic zone and known for its biodiversity, includes the biggest part of the endemic population of the duck Barrow’s Goldeneye Bucephala islandica and the fish Arctic Charr Salvelinus alpinus. The RAM team had to evaluate the possible effects of a new geothermal power plant which Landsvirkjun, a public power generation company plans to build in close vicinity of the lake planned by. The exploitation of hot underground water could affect the delicate system of groundwater temperature and flows into the lake. It was the Government of Iceland which called for this mission to Myvatn lake, showing once more its dedication in implementing the Ramsar Convention and in using wisely its many important wetland ecosystems and their resources.
|The Namafjall geothermal area in the Myvatn lake catchment basin with its hot water fumaroles and bubbles, where the Bjarnarflag geothermal power plant project is planned.|
Iceland has designated three new Ramsar Sites earlier this year (see more details here). In particular, the new Andakill protected area in the Borgarfjord estuary (western Iceland) shows, in an innovative way, how local agricultural interests in wet grasslands (grazing areas and fodder producers) can drive the establishment of an internationally recognised Ramsar Site. The RAM team visited this site and addressed general aspects of Ramsar implementation (such as national Ramsar Committee and wetlands policy, Ramsar Site information update) with the Ministry for the Environment and Natural Resources (Jon Geir Petursson, Gudridur Thorvardottir) and the Environment Agency (Kristin Linda Arnadottir, Olafur Jonsson, Hildur Vesteinsdottir).
The RAM report on the mission to Myvatn lake will be finalised soon (and available here). The mission team was able to meet a variety of different stakeholders on site and in the capital, Reykjavik. The report will explain how the food chain of the shallow lake depends on the silicium load of the inflowing groundwater, which provides the basis for a unique diatomite and green algal growth of invertebrate (such as midges and blackflies). This biomass supports the growth of important densities that provide a staple food resource for the fish and waterbird communities of the wetland. These in turn attract many visitors. The report will include specific recommendations for the Environment Ministry to act upon. Iceland is to be congratulated for its request for a Ramsar Advisory Mission to address these issues, and its willingness to implement the recommendations to be made by the Commission.
|National broadcasting company prepares for an interview with the Mission at the lava edge of lake Myvatn. Standing to the right are Ramsar’s national focal point Hildur Vesteinsdottir and Olafur Jonsson, director for natural resources.|
Report and photos by Tobias Salathé, Senior Advisor for Europe, Ramsar Secretariat