Latrabjarg Cliffs & Flatey Island

Jul 15, 2019 - National Geographic Explorer

The sheer cliffs of Latrabjarg loomed over us as we sailed along the west coast of Iceland. The air was a flurry of life as fulmars, common guillemots, razorbills, puffins, and kittiwakes soared and buzzed around us. The noise of thousands upon thousands of birds returning to the sheer cliffs was a beautiful assault while the fresh sea air battered our faces out on deck. Fulmars wheeled around the monkey deck, showing a lazy interest in the humans onboard. The cliffs themselves were awash with green; the guano deposited by generations of birds acts as fertilizer for the vegetation sprawled across the hillside.

The cliffs offer sanctuary to razorbills, guillemots, and other nesting seabirds, keeping them safe from predators as they find precarious flat ledges or hollows to lay their single, beautifully patterned eggs. On the waters around us were many adult birds accompanied by their jumpling chicks. As few as 18 days after hatching, guillemot chicks fling themselves from the cliffs into the sea, where they bob around with their fathers for several weeks before they’re able to fend for themselves.

After working our way along the cliffs, we headed off into slightly deeper coastal waters where we heard a fascinating talk on sea urchins. The magical world beneath the waves here is rich in marine invertebrates, and the urchin family is incredibly diverse. Next, we heard a talk on fisheries in the Northeast Atlantic and the U.S. This covered wild stocks, aquaculture, and how to make informed choices when it comes to eating fish. Another deeply interesting talk from the undersea team.

After lunch, we headed to the beautiful, secluded Flatey Island. Flatey is a tiny, remote gem with houses in a small village that all date to more than 100 years ago. The island is also home to Atlantic puffins that cooed and stood proud around their burrows, their mouths full of sand eels, and arctic terns that dove and squawked and shrieked just above us.

We returned to the ship for the captain’s farewell cocktail party—a nice evening as we all reflected on new friends made, experiences had, and moments shared. A journey of such different adventures. The cold shores of Svalbard seemed a distant memory as we looked out the window at the green, volcanic shores of Iceland. From whales and bears to ice and dramatic landscapes—it was truly the trip of a lifetime.

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About the Author

Ella Potts


Ella’s passion has always been in marine conservation, with a childhood spent swimming, kayaking or boating in the chilly waters of the UK, or surveying the marine life of those waters from windswept headlands. She has numerous, distinct early memories of shivering adults, wrapped up in jumpers and cagoules, looking down at her with slight horror through sheets of rain and commenting on her short sleeves. A phenomena that persists to this day.  She graduated with a Masters degree in Marine Biology: Conservation and Resource Management from Swansea University, setting her up for a career protecting those marine ecosystems that she so loves. 

Ella has worked for several British whale conservancy charities, including ORCA and the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust (HWDT) and is a British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) marine mammal medic. She has a real passion for lecturing, and during her time in these different organizations has presented to vastly ranging audiences; from groups of young children right up to filled auditoriums at the headquarters of HWDT partner, WWF. 

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