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Justin Bieber Ruined This Idyllic Icelandic Canyon

Over a million people have tromped the edges of Fjaðrárgljúfur since Biebs danced on its edge in a 2015 video

Over 1 million people have made the pilgrimage to the ecologically sensitive spot since 2015. (ullstein bild/Getty Images)
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Iceland has lots of scenic canyons, any number of which are the perfect backdrop for an Instagram post. But in recent years, many tourists to the island nation are only interested in one small canyon on the south side of the island: Fjaðrárgljúfur, which was featured in Justin Bieber’s 2015 video for his song “I’ll Show You.” Since then, hordes of fans have descended on the canyon, trashing vegetation and eroding trails. All of that has led authorities to close the site until it can be upgraded to handle the Bieber Fever.

Bieber’s video has racked up almost 445,000,000 views since being posted on YouTube in November 2015. In the video, the pop icon thoughtfully gazes over the canyon edge, bounds around in waterfall spray and eventually ends up floating in the river in his underwear (naturally). Since then, the Associated Press reports over 1 million people have made the pilgrimage to the spot, which has scarred the vegetation.

According to Caitlin Morton at Conde Nast Traveler, the damage prompted the Environmental Agency of Iceland to close the site to visitors in the spring of 2018 to allow it to recover. Earlier this year, the agency implemented a two-week closure, but decided that the site needed more time to heal. While it was rescheduled to re-open in June, the agency now says it will only open the canyon this year if the summer is dry enough.

Not all the blame is on Bieber. In the last eight years, tourism to the photogenic island has increased dramatically, from about 600,000 visitors per year to 2.3 million. Tourist attractions and natural areas around the island are struggling to accommodate the holiday seekers while protecting their natural resources.

Inga Hlin Palsdottir, director of the national tourism agency Visit Iceland, tells Lilit Marcus at CNN Travel the trouble at Fjaðrárgljúfur is part of this influx. “It’s just a natural wonder that wasn’t meant to be that popular,” she says. “We need to build a better infrastructure there so we can invite people all year round. We need paths that can be discovered all year round. It’s not only because of nature, it’s a safety issue.”

Currently, Iceland has yet to come up with a permanent solution for the 328-foot sheer-walled canyon. Various ideas have been kicked around, including building viewing platforms, selling a limited number of tickets or shutting the area down at certain times of year to preserve the vegetation.

Despite the current closure, the AP reports determined visitors are getting the selfies they came for anyway. Ranger Hanna Jóhannsdóttir says she refuses bribes every day from people accessing the site. But footprints in the spring mud show that every time she takes a break or has to leave her post to perform another duty, people hop the fences to dance on the canyon edge.

Fjaðrárgljúfur isn’t the only tourist spot where social media has created chaos. In April and March, Instagram posts of the superbloom in Walker Canyon south of Los Angeles led to epic traffic jams and tourists behaving badly in order to get images of themselves surrounded by poppies. Earlier this year, China was also forced to close Mount Everest base camp on the Tibetan side of the mountain, which is accessible by car, after 40,000 people per year made the trip to the remote spot with no public facilities. Now only the 300 or so people with climbing permits are allowed. In 2017, tourists drawn by funny images of the swimming pigs of Big Major Cay in the Bahamas also caused problmes. It’s believed visitors were feeding the pigs too many snacks on the beach, and half of the animals died, likely from ingesting sand.

About Jason Daley

Jason Daley is a Madison, Wisconsin-based writer specializing in natural history, science, travel, and the environment. His work has appeared in Discover, Popular Science, Outside, Men’s Journal, and other magazines.

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