by Greg Dickinson, The Telegraph, March 19, 2019
An Icelandic canyon made famous by Justin Bieber has closed to the public after becoming overrun with tourists.
At 100 metres deep and lined with steep grassy banks, the Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon is one of South Iceland’s scenic highlights. However, since the gorge featured in Bieber’s music video I’ll Show You in late 2015, it has become popular with a new audience.
The number of tourists visiting the canyon boomed from 150,000 to 282,000 between 2017 and 2018; the video has received more than 440 million views on Youtube to date.
The gorge was originally planned to close for two weeks to allow for the trails and vegetation to recover from damage caused by high foot traffic. However, the Environmental Agency of Iceland (Umhverfis Stofnun) has decided to extend the closure until June 1.
This is the second time the canyon has been closed due to environmental concerns; officials also closed the site in spring 2018.
In a Facebook post last week, the agency wrote (translated): “The Environment Agency advertised closure in the area at Fjaðrárgljúfur on 27 February, lasting two weeks. However, it is clear that the state of the path and vegetation at Fjaðrárgljúfur has not improved since the closure came into effect.”
“The Agency asks tour operators to communicate this information to customers and to emphasize the importance of respecting the closure of nature conservation areas."
The music video shows the Canadian singer running around on protected moss in the gorge, kicking his heels and rolling down hills. Four years after the video’s release, park rangers have reported they are still having to fend off tourists attempting to re-enact the scenes.
Daníel Freyr Jónsson from the Environment Agency of Iceland directly attributes the rise in tourists with Bieber’s video.
“This gorge used to be fairly little known,” he told RUV. “But I think Icelanders have known about it for much longer. The great increase in foot traffic there began after Bieber came. There has been an increase of 50 per cent to 80 per cent between the years 2016, 2017 and 2018.”
In addition to the rising popularity of the gorge, Iceland has seen an unusually humid winter, which has exacerbated the damage on the canyon's fragile ecosystem.
"During periods of thaw, the path is completely muddy and is practically unusable for hikers," Freyr Jónsson said.
"Because the mud is so thick, visitors step over the fences and walk parallel to the path, which rapidly damages the plant life," he added.
The Google Trends graph, which shows the number of people who have searched for certain terms on the search engine, indicates a sharp rise in searches for ‘Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon’ since the video released in 2015.
The Environmental Agency of Iceland started manning the Fjaðrárgljúfur area with guards in 2017 due to the increased interest. Since the site closed last month, rangers have reportedly stopped 100 to 200 cars per day attempting to enter the area.
The Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon is not the only scene from I’ll Show You that has seen a boom in interest in the years since the Bieber video was posted online.
In the video, Bieber is seen skateboarding on the Sólheimasandur plane wreck. The US Navy Douglas Dakota DC 3 came down in November 1973 and the wreck remains on a beach not far from the village of Vik in South Iceland.
The wreck has become so popular that, in 2016, the landowners decided to close the road leading to the sight. Farmer Benedikt Bragason told IcelandMag the decision was made because visitor behaviour in the area was not acceptable.
As a result of the closure, people now need to walk for two miles from a car park. Local authorities warn that tourists must go prepared, and not attempt the walk during winter: in October 2017 a young American tourist died of exposure near the plane wreck.
In a recent Instagram post, user @yeoyeo86 wrote: “Getting photos here without people standing, hanging or climbing over the plane was difficult, but I managed to capture a couple in the sun highlighting the scale.”
In the video Bieber also visits the Skógafoss waterfall, one of Iceland's most popular sights. In a similar move to the recent temporary closure of the Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon, the Environment Agency of Iceland closed a stretch a path at Skógafoss in spring last year to protect vegetation and allow for the heathland to recover.
Tourism in Iceland has boomed in recent years. In 2010, fewer than 500,000 people made the trip here. But after receiving worldwide attention following the eruption of Eyjafjallajokull, hundreds of thousands travelled here in search of remarkable natural landscapes and untouched, volcanic views. Last year, 2.3million people visited the country.
Alongside the 'Justin Bieber Effect', Iceland has seen a rise in interest after featuring as a filming location in the hit HBO series Game of Thrones, which will return for its final season next month.