A short distance offshore, the seabed drops by 3,000 metres, and this wide bathymetric range gives rise to a great variety of habitats and species in a relatively small space. Many of these creatures are extremely fragile or difficult to find elsewhere.
In the waters of El Hierro we find animals such as the loggerhead turtle, the sei whale, the dusky grouper, the manta ray, the island grouper and the hammerhead shark, all of which are considered threatened species according to the IUCN Red List.
Exploring unknown waters
In 2014, the Autonomous National Parks Authority announced an initiative to create a national marine park to the south of El Hierro. In order to gather more data about the deep seabeds, the Biodiversity Foundation subsidised an Oceana expedition in the autumn of that year. Thanks to an ROV (submarine robot), images were captured at depths of up to 1,022 metres, in waters practically unexplored up to that point.
During the expedition to the Las Calmas Sea a number of scarcely known animals were filmed. Among them was Dolichopteryx longipes, a type of transparent barreleye with six eyes for which no previous recording existed. Oceana also filmed some of the few remaining living deep sea white coral reefs in the Canaries, and a reef of giant oysters which can live more than five centuries.
In May 2016, Oceana presented these results at the universities of Las Palmas and La Laguna. In addition, in collaboration with the University of La Laguna and the town council of El Pinar in El Hierro, we organised an event in the square of La Restinga, to present the findings to the inhabitants of the area. During this we showed videos and presented a summary of the biodiversity of the area and the proposal to create a national park.
Proposal to create a marine national park
After the first expedition to the Canaries in 2009, Oceana presented an initial proposal for the creation of a marine protected area around El Hierro. In 2014, the Autonomous National Parks Authority launched a proposal to declare a new national park on the island. The Oceana expedition of that same year led to an increase in the information available about the island’s deep seabeds and demonstrated its enormous ecological importance.
Oceana’s proposal is to create a marine national park with an approximate surface area of 22,600 ha. This would make it the first exclusively marine park in the Spanish Atlantic and southern Europe. The waters of El Hierro enjoy a good conservation status thanks to low human pressure, which gives them undeniable scientific value as a natural laboratory for the evaluation of the responses to the impact caused by climate change.
The inclusion of El Hierro in the network of national parks would be outstanding because of the improvement in the representation of the following natural systems: (1) Banks of deep corals, as these waters shelter one of the few living reefs of cold water corals in the Canaries and spectacular gardens of black coral; (2) Unique communities of large filtering organisms: sponges, ascidians and bryozoans, with unique aggregations of nest sponges, stone sponges and glass sponges in deep areas that shelter a wide variety of species; and (3) Pelagic areas of passage, reproduction or with the habitual presence of cetaceans or large migratory fish, a natural system not yet included in the network and which in this area includes a great diversity of cetaceans, turtles, sharks and rays. Of particular importance is the presence of Blainville’s beaked whale (Mesoplodon densirostris), with a permanent population in the area.