Iceland’s Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon is a jaw-dropping bit of natural splendor in Iceland, a star attraction in a small country that is positively bursting with them. Or at least, I assume it’s jaw-dropping. It was closed to tourists when I visited Iceland last year. It’s a fragile place, composed of easily marred volcanic soil, subject to destructive trampling by hikers. I couldn’t see it myself, a shame, because in photographs it looks too fantastical to be real.
Now it’s closed again, at least through the end of the month, and according to the Associated Press and the Iceland Review, that closure is at least partially because of the increased popularity of the canyon after having been featured in a 2015 Justin Bieber music video, “I’ll Show You.”
In the video, Bieber runs through the canyon as if it’s own backyard playground. He dances over sensitive outcroppings, floats down a stream, twirls arms outstretched like Maria in the Sound of Music. It’s not the only place that gets the Bieber treatment in the video—he even skates on the Sólheimasandur airplane wreck (also closed when I was there), but it’s the most visually stunning.
And the Icelandic tourism agency Visit Iceland, thinks Bieber’s video, which has over 440 million views on Youtube, is part of the reason tourists are drawn to the canyon.
“It’s just a natural wonder that wasn’t meant to be that popular,” says Visit Iceland’s Inga Hlin Palsdottir. “We need to build a better infrastructure there so we can invite people all year round. We need paths that can be discovered all year round. It’s not only because of nature, it’s a safety issue.”
Unfortunately for Fjaðrárgljúfur, roping off the canyon and posting “closed” signs hasn’t necessarily kept people away.
Tourists are walking around barriers when authorities let their guard down, and even try to bribe rangers to look the other way. Sometimes with food. Sometimes with free trips to Dubai.
Of course, Bieber can’t entirely be blamed here. Iceland purposely sought to attract mass amounts of tourists after their economy imploded after 2008.
It’s “a bit too simplistic to blame the entire situation on Justin Bieber,” Environment Minister Gudmundur Ingi Gudbrandsson told the AP. But “Rash behavior by one famous person can dramatically impact an entire area if the mass follows.”
Iceland estimates that since Bieber’s video, one million people have visited Fjaðrárgljúfur. The AP’s story even quotes a Russian couple who visited the canyon specifically because of “Justin Timberlake.” The ranger then politely informed them it was Bieber, not Timberlake. Either way, they were there because of the video.
The canyon will now be closed to all comers all but five weeks out of the year.
Photo, top: Andrés Nieto Porras