Warns about the dangers three times
Reynisfjara Black Beach can look deceptively calm but the sneaky waves are very powerful and dangerous. mbl.is/Eggert Jóhannesson
"I think I can talk for all guides in the country when I say that I am mortified over the death that occurred in Reynisfjara Black Beach last weekend," says Friðrik Rafnsson the chairman of Leiðsögn, the union of Icelandic guides. He says he warns tourists three times about the dangers in Reynisfjara Black Beach before they leave the coach to walk on the beach and enjoy the natural beauty.
"For the people involved in such tragedies and the people witnessing, the tragedy is just beyond words." Tragedies like this is something that all guides dread because it is always a possibility even though we try our best to prevent it. It is just so sad to have accidents like this happen and I am full of empathy for the people involved."
Don't go closer than 20 meters
He says that the role of guides is threefold. Firstly, they should give the historical background of the area, secondly they need to be on top of ecological concerns in the area and thirdly there is the security factor. "We inform people about the dangers and that they have to be careful when they are in nature. Reynisfjara Black Beach is one of the areas we especially stress the dangers," he says.
He has a rule of warming people three times in the coach on the way to Reynisfjara Black Beach when there is about ten minutes until they reach their destination. "I explain that even though the sea looks calm and the weather is good, the sneaky waves at the shores are very powerful." He explains how specific conditions on the beach can be fatal. "The rule of thumb is to not go closer to the water than 20 meters and resist the urge of taking selfies on the shore." We also go with the group to the shore and try to monitor what is going on to the best of our abilities. However, it can be tricky with 40-60 people in the group.
He says that there is little else to do for guides than to warn people strongly about the dangers, even when the sea looks deceptively calm at first. People are taken in by the beauty of thea area, but most people understand what he has been talking about when they get closer to the water.
Apologized for his behaviour
During his twelve years as a guide he says that only once did a tourist in his group get wet in Reynisfjara Black Beach.
After warning him three times about the dangers and walking behind the group to the beach, one of the tourists came soaking wet back. "He profusely apologized for not heeding my warnings. I said: You are wet but alive. That is all that matters," says Rafnsson, who was too far behind the first people in the group that he personally did not witness the man going into the sea.
Unfortunately, he has often had to intervene when people are making their children pose on the shore too close to the sea. Sometimes people are not happy with his intervention but when he explains the situation they usually follow suit.
What can be done?
In spite of warnings and warning signs on the beach some tourists don't seem to take the warnings seriously and sometimes with horrific consequences. Rafnsson suggests the possibility of having red flags or green flags on the beach based on the levels of danger or even put up a sign of a cross that shows the number of fatal deaths on the beach.
He says that personally he thinks the area should be closed when the conditions are very bad, like the Minister of Business and Culture Affairs has suggested might happen as a result of these tragedies.
Rangers should be present during summer
He also thinks rangers should be present at the beach over the busiest time of the year in the summer. It is important to maintain the reputation of Iceland as one of the safest places on the planet and news travel fast. "We need to address this fast, otherwise we are not doing our job," he says.
Rafnsson thinks that authorities have been doing a good job when it comes to tourism, especially during the Covid 19 pandemic. The most popular destinations in the country have been updated to accommodate more people as well. He says that even though there are many dangerous places in Icelandic nature, Reynisfjara Black Beach stands out because it looks deceptively calm and nice when it can be fatally dangerous.