Iceland is a vulcanic island, situated close to the arctic circle, it is surrounded by the cool rich north- atlantic ocean. A warm oceanic current, the Gulf stream, sends a steady supply of warm water up past Iceland making it warmer than would otherwise be expected from a land at this latitude. The fauna and flora of Iceland are of course determened by its climate, but the coastal waters of Iceland, sometimes considered the richest in the world, have a key role to play, in making Iceland as interesting as it , undeniebly, is from a naturalistic viewpoint.
BIRDS: Well over 300 species of birds have been recorded in Iceland even though only about 80 species are regular breeders, others are passage migrants, winter-guests, or simply vagrants most often carried off course by strong winds during the migration in autumn. Icelands vast seashore hosts millions of birds in spring, summer and autumn, and the ever bountyful ocean supports some of the most numorus seabird colonies in the world. Waterfowl is also very abundant in Iceland as are many shorebird species. The number of breeding passerines is low, because of the distances over which small birds have to fly and the lack of woodlands. On the whole Iceland can be concidered one of the most interesting birding places in the world.
MAMMALS: As can be exspected the species of mammals in Iceland are not many, the only original terresrial mammal to be found in Iceland being the Arctic fox. All the other mammals there today have been brought there by man, knowingly or inadvertently. Among these are two species of mice, Reindeer and the American mink, all of which can now be considered a part of the Icelandic enviroment.
The marine mammals are on the other hand many both in the number of species as well as individuals. Icelands vast and uninhabited coast still offers many inaccessible areas which offer sanctuary for the two species of seals which bear they´re pups on the island. The Harbor seal being more common than the Grey seal, is still counted in tens of thousands. All the other seal species frequenting the arctic, can be found along the shore, frome time to time, even though visits from some are considered a rarety.
It has been a well known fact since the middle ages that the waters around Iceland supported a large number of whales of different species. For hundreds of years whalers from faraway countries such as Spain and New England came to hunt these huge animals.Two of these species have since vanished altogether from the atlantic, i.e. the Gray Whale and the Bowhead, the third just barely lingers on but hopefully the north atlantic race of the Right whale will again be a sight for the seafarers of the north. Well over twenty other species have been sighted in Icelands waters or found washed ashore. All the large whales are to be seen during the summer months at least, and the Minke whale can be concidered common all around the coast. This is also true of the White-beaked Dolphin, as well as the harbor porpoise.
FISH: The same riches that support the whale populations also offer good coditions for fish, but some 330 species of fish have been found in these waters. Only about 10% of that number can be concidered of economical importance. Icelanders haul about 2 million tons of fish out of the ocean each year, about half of which is Capelin, a small species, which is caught in purse-nets, mostly in the late winter. The most important species for the Icelander is however the Cod which has always been a substancial part of everyday life in Iceland. Not only is the ocean teeming with life, fish abound in lakes and rivers all over Iceland. Salmon rivers are counted in the hundreds, and trout can be found allmost anywhere, where you find enough water for it to swim in. Two species of trout are found in Iceland the Brown Trout and the Arctic Char.
PLANTS: Icelands flora is arctic-alpine and the largest part of it´s 500 flowering species is of european origin. Icelandic woodland are made up primarely of Birch, with very few other woodland species being present. The land was at settlement believed to have been covered with these woods up to about 400 M. but human inhabitation has had a serious impact on these, so that today only very few patches remain of the original birchwoods. Only one conifer is native to Iceland, the juniper, but in past decades many different foreign conifers and other trees have been imported and planted in large numbers changing the landscape substantionally in many areas.
Much to the delight of many, Iceland´s insect life is not as spectacular as in some of the neighboring countries, there are for example no Moscitos in Iceland, or ants, as a matter of fact, very few harmful or menacing insects are found there, but also no butterflies. No reptiles or amphibians inhabit the island.
Paintings courtesy of
Jón Baldur Hlidberg