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Blame it on Bieber: Iceland canyon too popular with visitors

AP  |  Fjadrrgljfur(Iceland) 

A large sign warns motorists that Iceland's is closed to visitors but drivers keep on coming down the narrow gravel road.

A 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.

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 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 the most common bribery," said Jhannsdttir, who recently turned down a free trip to in exchange for looking the other way at trespassers.

The Bieber-inspired influx is one part of a larger challenge for the island nation may be too spectacular and too popular for its own good.

Last year 2.3 million tourists visited Iceland, compared with just 600,000 eight years ago. The 20 per cent 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 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

Bieber has the third-largest account at over 105 million followers, after and Barack Obama, according to friendorfollow.com and he has over 112 million followers on

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 defense, the canyon did not, at the time he visited, have rope fences and designated paths to show what was allowed and what not," Gudbrandsson said.

Over 1 million people have visited the area since the release of the video, the Environment Agency of 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 per cent of Iceland's entire population 38,000 people attended his two concerts in Reykjavk, the capital, a year after the video was released.

Locals underestimated the canyon's potential as a major attraction because it's relatively small compared to those formed by the country's powerful glacier rivers. But unlike others, it is easily accessed and requires less than a kilometre of trekking.

The selfies and drone images have stopped for now but more exposure is coming. The latest season of the popular drama "Game of Thrones" features scenes filmed at the canyon.

The nearby and the are also backdrops in the fictional Thrones world of warriors and dragons.

Inga Palsdottir, Visit Iceland, said a single film shot or a viral photograph has often put overlooked places on the map.

The most extreme example, she said, is the U.S. Navy plane that crashed on the black sand beach at Slheimasandur in 1973. The seven Americans on board all survived but the plane wreck was never removed.

"Then someone decided to dance on it and now it's one of the most popular places in the country," said Palsdottir. On a foggy Wednesday morning, Jhannsdttir observed fresh footprints on the muddy pathway to the Fjadrrgljfur canyon, indicating that someone had jumped the fence overnight.

She predicted that more people would trespass that afternoon when she left the roadblock to give a presentation at a community center. She was right. Less than 30 minutes passed before tourists began ignoring the fences and signs.

"We came because of Justin Timberlake," said Mikhail Samarin, a tourist from Russia, traveling with and Elena Malteseva, who were quick to correct the artist's last name to Bieber.

"It was so amazing," said Malteseva about the Bieber video. "After that, we decided it was necessary to visit this place."

The three took turns posing for a photograph, standing at the edge of an Icelandic cliff.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Sun, May 19 2019. 16:16 IST
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