Warning against 'volcano tourism' risks

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VolcanoImage source, Getty Images

Thrill-seeking tourists are putting themselves in danger and hampering emergency services by heading towards volcanoes when they erupt.

A report from the Royal Geographical Society warns of the growing risks caused by "volcano tourism".

Emergency authorities in countries such as Iceland now have to contend with the arrival of tourists who rush there to get close to an exploding volcano.

The study says such tourists fail to understand the seriousness of the risk.

The study, published by the Royal Geographical Society and written by University of Cambridge geographer Amy Donovan, warns that such visitors can create dangerous problems for already stretched rescue services.


The phenomenon of "volcano tourism" has seen thousands of people trying to get close to the site of erupting volcanoes for the physical experience of seeing, hearing and feeling the heat of such a natural spectacle.

Dr Donovan says that such people are fascinated by the elemental power of volcanoes and are attracted by such an intense experience.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
How close is too close for tourists chasing volcanoes?

"You can breathe the gas, hear the sounds the earth is making. They want to get closer to feel the power of the earth," she says.

At the extreme end, she says there are so-called "volcanophiles" who chase exploding volcanoes around the world.

She says the increase in volcano tourism could be driven by the rise of mobile phones, where people want to be able to record themselves in such dramatic settings.

But they also fail to realise the great danger they could face.

There are injuries from people being hit by chunks of rock or lava bombs. Or else people might get close to a "fire fountain" and not realise there could be poisonous gases.

Tourists might not understand how quickly eruptions could change or that other threats such as flooding could emerge.

Media caption,

Even experienced scientists and journalists can be caught out by the unpredictability of volcanoes - as a BBC crew experienced in March 2017

In such cases, the need to rescue tourists can put emergency services in danger and delay their safety plans.

An eruption in Iceland saw a group of tourists avoiding safety limits by hiring a helicopter to try to land at night near the volcano.

In 2010, there were two deaths among tourists in Iceland trying to cross a glacier to reach a volcano.

The study says that civil defence services can be left frustrated, as tourists push into areas from which they could not be easily evacuated.

While the tourist industry might want to encourage such travel, Dr Donovan says it can become a big challenge for authorities in an emergency.

"People break safety regulations. You can't police the site of a volcano at night.

"Many active volcanic countries face the dilemma of wanting tourists, but also wanting to keep people safe, which creates a difficult conundrum," said Dr Donovan.