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Volcano Scientists Want Volcano Tourism To Slow Down, Even As Its On The Rise

The Royal Geographical Society has warned of the ever-growing risk of volcano tourism, which sees hordes of tourists rushing into countries like Iceland to see an erupting volcano. A study released by the society shows that volcano tourists fail to see the danger involved in getting too close to an active volcano. Amy Donovan, a University of Cambridge geographer and author of the study, warns that unexpected tourists put stress on stretched rescue services, which have more important issues to deal with than saving stranded onlookers.

The volcano tourism phenomenon reveals that thousands of people attempt to approach active volcanoes to experience the sights, sounds and sensation of the heat of the eruption. Donovan says that many people are captivated by the power of volcanoes and want to experience the eruption first-hand. "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.

Some so-called volcanophiles take it to the extreme by chasing exploding volcanoes around the globe. Donovan believes the increase in volcano tourism may be a result of the omnipresence of mobile phones, which allow onlookers to record the events and share them in real time.

Most people are unaware that they can be injured as a result of being hit by pieces of rock or lava bombs. There is also the risk of getting too close to a fire fountain and inhaling poisonous gases. Many tourists ignore the fact that eruptions often vary and lead to other threats such as flooding and fires.

For emergency services, the need to rescue endangered tourists puts the services themselves in harm’s way and delays their rescue and safety efforts. In Iceland, a group of volcanophiles ignored all safety limits and hired a private helicopter to bring them up close the volcano at night.

In 2010, two tourists died in Iceland after attempting to cross a glacier to access a volcano. The new Royal Geographical Society study shows that civil defense services can be exasperated by tourists entering areas from which it is nearly impossible to rescue them. Though the additional business may very profitable for travel companies, it is an unnecessary added expense for emergency services.

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"People break safety regulations. You can't police the site of a volcano at night,” Donovan says. "Many active volcanic countries face the dilemma of wanting tourists, but also wanting to keep people safe, which creates a difficult conundrum."

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