A large sign warns motorists that Iceland’s Fjadrárgljúfur canyon is closed to visitors but drivers keep on coming down the narrow gravel road. A ranger at a roadblock has to explain why no one can pass: the vulnerable landscape cannot sustain more visitors.
Blame Justin Bieber, the Canadian pop star with a worldwide reach.
Bribes to law breaking
Bieber’s magical music video I’ll Show You was filmed at the canyon and seen by millions, creating overwhelming demand for the once-pristine spot. For a chance to follow in Bieber’s footsteps, his fans are not letting a few fences, signs or park rangers keep them away.
Eager visitors try to sweet-talk ranger Hanna Jūhannsdūttir into opening the gate. Some offer bribes. They should know in advance it’s not going to work.
“Food from people’s home country is common bribery,” said Ms. Jūhannsdūttir, who turned down a free trip to Dubai in exchange for looking the other way at trespassers.
Last year, 2.3 million tourists visited Iceland, compared with just 6,00,000 eight years ago. The 20% annual uptick in visitors has been out of proportion with infrastructure that is needed to protect Iceland’s volcanic landscape, where soil forms slowly and erodes quickly.
Environment Minister Gudmundur Ingi Gudbrandsson said it is “a bit too simplistic to blame the entire situation on Justin Bieber” but urged famous, influential visitors to consider the consequences of their actions.
“Rash behaviour by one famous person can dramatically impact an entire area if the mass follows,” he told .
In the viral video watched over 440 million times on YouTube since 2015, Bieber stomped on mossy vegetation, dangled his feet over a cliff and bathed in the freezing river underneath the sheer walls of the canyon.
“In Justin Bieber’s defence, the canyon did not, at the time he visited, have rope fences and designated paths to show what was allowed and what not,” Ms. Gudbrandsson said.
Game of Thrones
Over 1 million people have visited the area since the release of the video, the Environment Agency of Iceland estimates, leaving deep scars on its vegetation. After remaining closed for all but five weeks this year, it is expected to reopen again this summer only if weather conditions are dry.
Icelanders are reluctant to fault the pop star, who enjoys enormous support on the island.
About 12% of Iceland’s entire population 38,000 people attended his two concerts in Reykjavţk, the capital, a year after the video was released.
The selfies and drone images have stopped for now but more exposure is coming. The latest season of the popular HBO drama “Game of Thrones” features scenes filmed at the canyon.
The nearby Skūgar waterfall and the Svţnafells glacier are also backdrops in the fictional Thrones world of warriors and dragons.