The morning included a leisurely start with time spent marveling at the majestic Latrabjarg cliff. This sheer cliff is on the northern coastline of Iceland’s second largest bay, Breidafjordur and is Europe’s largest bird cliff. Subsequent lava flows and melting soil to clay left striations up and down the cliff face. The red clay lines are soft enough to allow birds access for nest building. Razorbills are abundant here, and 40% of the world’s population of razorbills can be found here. At the base of the cliff, you can see a stretch of green reaching down from a white line above. This stretch of green is actually plant colonies made possible by the guano line above, which provides a great fertilizer for plant growth. The many razorbills this morning along the cliff and in the waters off the ship combined with a beautiful sunny, warm morning made for a spectacular start to the day.
After some staff introductions (including us teacher fellows!) and a photography session, we were off to explore Flatey Island, which is one of the largest of thousands of islands in Breidafjord. The island is charming, with sweet, colorful houses dotting the shore. This island had a monastery that was founded in 1172. There’s a church atop a hill that was built in 1926 with a mural sporting a sweater-wearing Jesus painted by a Spaniard-Icelander. There were many nesting Arctic terns on this small island. One highlight today was watching a local scientist capture the terns with a net and then provide us with further explanation. He caught a younger bird and then an adult, which he banded. They band the birds with numbers only. The Artic tern populations are declining, largely due to a lack of food. This lack of food can be attributed to rising water temperatures surrounding Iceland. Yet another example of the growing impact of climate change on our fragile ecosystem.
I really enjoyed the zodiac ride, which reminded me fondly of my trip through the Galapagos Islands. Of course, here in Iceland I want to stay dry and avoid an unanticipated wet landing. The weather today was great, cool and very little rain. Had a lot of fun and looking forward to tomorrow’s activities! Now, off to the bridge to look for whales….