Concern over tourists taking crystals from Iceland mine

A close up of large crystals in the mine Image copyright RUV
Image caption The mine was in operation from the 17th Century until the 1920s

A historic mine in Iceland may have to be closed to the public because visitors keep pinching its crystals, environmental officials have warned.

The Helgustadanama mine is famous for Icelandic spar, a type of transparent calcite which was historically used in scientific equipment. Tourist guides note that the area is protected and removing any spar is forbidden, but that message doesn't seem to be getting through to everyone.

The Environment Agency says it has been asking for more government funding in order to patrol the area, but that so far hasn't been forthcoming. Olafur Arnar Jonsson from the agency tells public broadcaster RUV that if things don't change, the mine will have to be shut in order to protect what's left.

Some locals are unhappy that funds have been spent improving access to the mine, including car parking and toilet facilities, but not on security measures to protect the site. Heidberg Hjelm, who lives nearby, says that some visitors come prepared with tools to chip away bits of spar and make off with it.

The English-language Reykjavik Grapevine magazine is unimpressed with the news. "Visitors keep stealing the crystals to keep as souvenirs and that's why we can't have nice things. Because people are terrible," journalist Nanna Arnadottir writes.

Iceland is trying to manage a huge growth in tourist numbers: last year it saw 1.8 million visitors, a 39% increase on 2015. Tourism Minister Thordis Kolbrun R. Gylfadottir says the country doesn't want to increase the number of foreign travellers any further, and that one measure under consideration is limiting the number of people accessing a site at any one time.

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