The eruption of the island of Surtsey most likely began several hours, even days, before anyone was aware of volcanic activity in the area. The first signs above the sea that an eruption was occurring were seen by the crew of a fishing boat, Ísleifi II from Vestmannaeyjar, early on the morning of November 14, 1963. They had laid their fishing lines 7 km. west of Geirfuglaskeri, which at that time was the southern most island in the Vestmannaeyjar archipelago and consequently the southern most point of Iceland. The eruption stopped several times but only for short periods.
The first stop was on December 1, 1963 and lasted for 4 hours. There was no sign of smoke nor steam and it was just as if there had never been an eruption. The seagulls that glided above and around the island landed there that day and were probably the first living things that touched the island. At the end of March and the beginning of April 1964 the island of Surtsey had grown to about one square kilometer.
On April 4th lava began to run from the crater similar to eruptions on land. Streams of lava exploded 50 to 100 meters into the air and the glowing lava streamed down into the sea.
In this way rock formations of rock were created from the thin layers of lava. The lava ran out over the edge of the crater and also through long tunnels into the ocean. These tunnels of streaming lava made the many caves that exist on Surtsey today.
The lava continued to spew forth except for several small periods of time when it stopped, until of the end the eruption on June 5, 1967. Speculation about the future of the island began as soon as it rose from beneath the sea. While Surtsey was still only composed of pumice and ash, it was thought that the island would quickly disappear. The hope that the island could withstand the onslaught of the wind and waves heightened when lava began to flow from the crater. At the end of the eruption the island was approximately 2.8 square km.
Now, 35 years later, it has eroded to about half that size. Vegetation was found on the island quite soon after the eruption, the first plant being discovered there in 1965.
By 1990, 20 different types of plants had been found. Birds were also quick to make the island their home and at the present time there are 5 different species nesting there. Surtsey is a protected area and travel to the island is only allowed for scientific reasons and with special permission. Scientists have been able to gather invaluable information in this unusual natural "science laboratory" that Surtsey has become and will remain.