Last Friday I visited Mykines – the westernmost island of the Faroese archipelago. The occasion was an invitation from locals, who were worried about the increasing numbers of tourists and their impact on the seabirds. The problem is that the only path to the lighthouse on Mykineshólmur leads right through a Puffin colony at Lamba.
Since Mykines has been designated a Ramsar-area certain protection measures have been taken. People from the administration, the tourist board, local land owners, the founder of the company hiking.fo and me representing the ornithological society met on Mykines. After a cup of coffee we walked for several hours through the area to observe the impact of people walking through the area.
The Puffins seem to have a reasonable breeding season with many birds flying with small Sand-eels fit for newly hatched chicks. But it turned out that when people were closer than approximately 10 meters from the nesting holes the birds did not dare to fly into the holes. This of course causes stress and decreases the valuable hunting time and increases the risk of gull and skua attacks as the Puffins cannot get into safety with their precious load of Sand-eels.
It is next to impossible to reach the lighthouse on Mykines on foot without passing through the Puffin colony. And as this is one of the most scenic and popular hikes on the Faroes closing the area is not realistic. This means that the only way to protect the birds is by limiting the number of tourists passing through the area – and just as importantly getting them through the area quickly. For instance 10 minutes of traffic every hour would help quite a lot. Currently two local rangers are employed to facilitate a quick passage.
But there is one major obstacle. The path trough the area is really bad. In wet conditions it is actually not even advisable to use the path at all. The designated path is so worn by tourists now that it has virtually turned into a muddy slope. It is very slippery and steep. Even for us being used to walk on the Faroes the walk was very challenging. While walking in the area we encountered tourists with kids trying to walk the path. It was not a pretty sight and surely not a nice experience for the poor tourists. If a child wearing a rain coat slips it could have fatal consequences. It could potentially slide 50 meters before hitting the rocks close to the shore.
It seems like most tourists are not aware of the difficulties they are about to face as they take on the journey. Most wear sport shores and some have even tried the walk in high heels. Sadly a day after we visited the island a tourist slipped and broke her leg, so she had to be pick up by helicopter and rushed to the hospital.
The conclusion is that the state of the path is so bad that walking there is not advisable. Secondly due to the difficulties walking the passing through the Puffin colony takes so much time that is seriously disturbs the breeding Puffins. This situation calls for immediate action!
We survived the hike to the bridge and got to enjoy amazing views of breeding Guillemots, Kittiwakes, Fulmars, Gannets and of course Puffins. Hopefully the breeding season will turn out well.