Norway’s Lofoten islands, known for their spectacular scenery, are attracting so many tourists again this summer that local officials can’t keep up with all the garbage they generate. Local residents are worried, as trash piles up alongside overfilled containers and some visitors use the nature as an open-air toilet.
“I think Lofoten is in the process of losing some its beautiful and undisturbed outdoors,” Ivan Myklebust, who works at a local pre-school, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) on Monday. With a million people now visiting Lofoten every year, he thinks the soiling of his home region will destroy its reputation.
Myklebust lives at Skjellfjord in Flakstad, not far from the wildly popular fishing village of Reine. While out walking near his home he found lots of litter and even human feces. “Then it’s limited how ‘undisturbed’ we are,” Myklebust said.
He said it’s common to take children from the pre-school he leads out on local hikes, “but it’s a terrible when the children are with us in the mountains and can’t climb up on a rock because someone has defecated on the other side of it.”
Lack of capacity
Myklebust claims that despite Lofoten’s booming tourist industry, the area simply doesn’t have the capacity to accommodate all the tourists who are arriving. There have already been problems with campers pitching tents in churchyards and even graveyards, and hotel capacity is at the bursting point.
Some small communities have tried to fence them off or charge a fee to finance sanitation needs, where there’s clearly a lack of public toilets. “This is a question of capital and willingness to accommodate so many people, and how much of a mark we want to make on the natural surroundings,” Myklebust told NRK. “We really don’t want garbage cans on every mountain peak either.”
He stressed that the problem isn’t only created by tourists but also by the lack of local cleaning and refuse crews. Flakstad Mayor Fredrik Sørdal has also been concerned about the consequences of the summer influx of tourists, while tourism officials have been trying to spread the annual invasion to other parts of the year, by promoting how pretty the area can be in the autumn and winter.
Kristian Breivik of the Lofoten Surfsenter shares Myklebust’s worries as well. He complained that tourists have all but taken over a public area featuring a lean-to and barbecue grill. “It looks awful, full of garbage,” Breivik told NRK.
Monica Kleffelgård Hartviksen, leader of the “Clean Up Lofoten” project run by the local government is also worried. “I think most of the tourists want to help keep Lofoten clean, but lack facilities when their needs are greatest, so to speak,” she said. “They don’t know where the public toilets are.”
Hartviksen sees a need for both more information on where toilets are located, plus more and better public toilets, garbage containers and parking places. Local officials have wanted to impose a “tourist tax” to help finance such infrastructure improvements, but that was turned down by the state government. Remi Solberg, mayor of Vestvågøy, concedes that local authorities now must do more.
“There are 25,000 people living in all of Lofoten,” Solberg told NRK. “In the summer that doubles many times over what the infrastructure is designed to handle. We have a long way to go, but we’ll just have to do a better job.”