Diving into a new world
If I told you that you could touch the spot where two tectonic plates met, would you jump at the chance? What if I told you that you could dive down and touch the plates in water that was so clear you could see 100 metres away? Even more interested? Well, this place does exist and it is in Iceland. Silfra is a fissure between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates in Thingvellir National Park, Iceland. Silfra is the only place in the world where you can dive or snorkel directly in a crack between two continents and two tectonic plates. It sounds exciting doesn’t it?
A unique ecosystem
The ecosystem is unique. The fissure is located in Thingvellir lake, which is filled from underground glacier meltwater from the nearby Langjokull glacier. The water is filtered through porous underground lava rocks for 30-100 years before it appears in the lake. The temperature stays a few degrees above freezing throughout the year and the water is potable i.e., completely drinkable. While there is only one kind of fish, the dwarf char, a subspecies of the arctic char, there is microbial diversity in this unusual ecosystem, particularly at the site of the Silfra fissure. There is brightly coloured sea grass that makes the fissure particularly beautiful. This diversity is at risk because Silfra is a popular tourist destination.
Silfra experiences over 15, 000 tourists per year. People come to dive to see the fissure and experience the extreme clarity of the water. Divers are can explore the main areas of the Silfra fissure, from the Big Crack to Silfra Hall, Silfra Cathedral and Silfra Lagoon. If accompanied by a guide, they can also explore the caves. There is, however, a danger that man poses to this UNESCO world heritage site. There is currently no legislation in place in Iceland around the imported use of scuba equipment. This risks the introduction of foreign species which may impact this unique ecosystem in Iceland. The solution is to put legislation in place that protects this special place. We must limit man’s impact and keep this ecosystem as pristine as possible. While the excitement of touching the fissure is appealing, we must always consider our impact on natural places of beauty.