Earlier this year, a “lava bomb” crashed through the roof of a sightseeing boat in Hawaii, injuring 23 people. Last year, an 11-year-old boy died in Italy when he fell through a volcanic crater. His parents died trying to save him.
People are going to extreme lengths to get up close with an active volcano, resulting in extreme consequences for some.
"Volcanoes are one of the forces of nature that truly are beyond human power to control,” Amy Donovan, a geographer at the University of Cambridge and author of a paper about volcano tourism, told CNN. “We can't do anything about eruptions, other than get out of the way."
Donovan’s new report, published this week by the Royal Geographical Society, warns about the dangers of “volcano tourism.” Hordes of “volcanophiles” are racing around the world to get as close to the powerful eruptions as possible. Tourists who don’t understand the volatile nature of eruptions also put emergency services at risk if they need to be rescued. Donovan specifically pointed to the rise of tourists to Iceland in accordance with active volcano eruptions.
The problem has become so bad that local authorities in Iceland are debating whether or not to announce eruptions as active volcanoes draw reckless tourists who want to hover over bubbling lava.
It is worth noting that there are safe ways to visit volcanoes. It goes without saying that hiring local pilots to take you secretly over restricted areas after dark — as some visitors to Iceland did in 2010 — is not a good idea. Pay attention to announcements from local geologists and safety boards. A registered (and responsible) tour operator will never take you to an area that the government has closed to visitors.
The notion of hovering over a pit of molten lava and sulfurous gas may seem like a once-in-a-lifetime experience — and it may turn into just that. Conditions can drastically change, possibly for the worst, in a millisecond.