Don't step on the Moss

Damage caused by footprints and tire marks can take a very long time to heal.


Pop idol Justin Bieber’s visit to Iceland in September garnered significant media attention in the country. While fans worldwide were thrilled to later learn that he’d filmed the clip for one of his songs, ‘I’ll Show You,’ during his Iceland visit, Bieber came under fire by park rangers in Skaftárhreppur, in the south of the country, for having trampled on sensitive moss—not least for having filmed it and broadcasting it to his tens of millions of fans (Bieber has over 70 million followers on Twitter and his Iceland clip has been viewed on YouTube around the same number of times), thus setting a bad example when it comes to protecting Iceland’s fragile nature.

Moss can be easily damaged—potentially irreparably. Moss areas are particularly sensitive and damage caused by footprints and tire marks can take a very long time to heal.

But it wasn’t just Bieber’s rolling around on moss which caused a fuss. The sensitivity nature of moss in Iceland also made local headlines last summer when several campers ripped up large amounts of moss in Þingvellir National Park in order to insulate their tents, causing many open scars in the land.

When I visited Laki volcanic fissure area, located in South Iceland, last summer with a group of tourists, I repeatedly heard the bus driver and rangers on site remind us not to step on the moss. They stressed the importance of sticking to the trail. A ranger I spoke to echoed widespread disapproval of the camping incident but pointed out that large moss areas, like those which exist in Iceland, are rare in other countries and that some people may not realize their true value. More awareness raising is needed, she said.

Please respect the moss and remember that ignoring cordoned off areas or walking off trails, and (illegal) off-road driving is not OK. These warnings and rules exist for a reason.

Locals and visitors alike—can all be reminded of the old tourists’ ‘no trace’ mantra of taking only photos and leaving only footprints (… in this case, just not on the moss).

Article by Zoë Robert. 
Photo: Páll Stefánsson

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