The Canary Island archipelago is located in front of the coasts of the western Sahara, north of the Cape Verde Islands. Thanks to this location, the subtropical climate leads to the development of unique species and habitats with presence of tropical and southern species as well as a variety of autochthonous species.
Studies concerning marine species and habitats in the Canary Islands are scarce and limited to a few meters depth. The archipelago’s narrow continental shelf has limited the knowledge of ecosystems to just a few miles from the coast. A clear example of this is that only 0.15% of the archipelago is protected.
The location of the Canary Islands also makes it interesting from the perspective of international commercial fishing because it is the Community port nearest to Western Africa and the Atlantic area, where important shark fisheries are carried out. The activity is not always legal in ports like La Palma, where landings from trawlers and large longliners from various countries do not always guarantee the sustainability of the fishery.
Oceana and Fundación Biodiversidad carried out a campaign in 2009 on board the Oceana Ranger, during which time fascinating ecosystems and never-before-seen species were discovered in waters of the archipelago. Over the course of the campaign, professional divers equipped with underwater camera equipment completed various shallow dives along the coast. In deeper waters and on seamounts far from the coast, like Amanay and Banquete or the Sahara seamounts south of the archipelago, Oceana used an underwater robot (ROV) capable descending to a depth of 700 meters to film existing marine species and habitats.
Oceana collaborated with experts and scientists from the archipelago to analyse the information and identify the documented species. After completing the study, Oceana and Fundación Biodiversidad proposed protection for new areas (Spanish), which means 15% of the archipelago’s marine areas would be protected.
One of the 42 measures is the collaboration between Oceana, and other entities such as Ecoocéanos, Oceanográfica, Plataforma para la Defensa del Litoral del Sureste de Gran Canaria, UNESCO or Universidad de Las Palmas de Gran Canaria to declare the “Micro Arinaga Marine Protected Area” in Gran Canaria island. The space proposed would include a small strip of sea from Punta de Sal to Playa del Cabron, with an area of approximately 132 acres (1.32 km2) in the northern boundary of the Special Area of Conservation, Playa del Cabron. The Marine Micro- Area would aim to enhance the conservation of natural resources of the municipality by fostering sustainable uses and activities.
The proposal made by Oceana and Fundación Biodiversidad (Spanish) includes 42 measures that address the EU’s requirements. The initiative aims to create a coherent network of marine protected areas (MPA) that also protects a variety of species and habitats that are currently not included in management plans for conservation. As such, many threatened species are included, such as the white gorgonian, the seahorse, the giant grouper, deep sea sharks, sea turtles and certain whales, including blue and right whales.
Other measures focused on the correct management of marine resources and the conservation of marine ecosystems, are also among the 42 measures proposed by Oceana and Fundación Biodiversidad:
– Protect threatened species and habitats of ecological importance such as seagrass beds (Cymodocea nodosa) by including them in the Canary Island Catalogue of Protected Species and develop specific management measures to prevent their continued decline.
– Convert the waters of the Canary Islands into a sanctuary for sharks, rays and chimaeras.
– Reduce fishing pressure on overexploited resources and improve the control and supervision of this activity.
– Prohibit any type of exploration surveys for the oil and gas industries off the Canary Island coasts.
– Promote and develop renewable energies on the islands, such as wind and wave energy.
Species at Risk
The Canary Island government compiled a list of species whose catch is prohibited, including crustaceans like the brown spiny lobster (Palinurus echinatus), molluscs from the genus Charoniaspp., fish species like the Gorean snapper (Lutjanus goreensis), the goldentail moray eel (Gymnothorax miliaris), etc., although this list was created only for commercial reasons. In addition, the Canary Island Catalogue of Protected Species only includes 6 “endangered” marine species, 3 “vulnerable” species, like the red algae (Alsidium corallinum), the marine sponge (Neophrissospongia nolitangere ) and 18 species that are “of interest to Canarian ecosystems”, mainly cetaceans or turtles like the