Expeditions | Oceana Europe

Canary Islands Expedition 2014

A place where water and fire meet, El Hierro is a small volcanic island whose waters boast highly diverse and valuable marine habitats and species.


El Hierro is a small island (2682 km) whose waters boast highly diverse and valuable marine habitats and species. The island has a narrow shelf, which means that there is a rapid increase in depth from the shoreline to depths of 3,000 meters. This generates heterogeneous habitats, and subsequently, there is a great abundance and diversity of fauna. The area is home many endemic and protected commercial species, like the grouper (Epinephelus marginatus) and devil ray (Mobula mobular). Oceana had proposed the protection of El Hierro’s waters as far back as 2011 based on the data gathered from its 2009 expedition to the Canary Islands.

Oceana carried out a one-month expedition to the Canary Islands in 2014 to document the waters around the island of El Hierro, map the seamounts north of Lanzarote and the seamounts of the Sahara — which are located at the southernmost point of the Spanish Exclusive Economic Zone. Seamounts are home to many vulnerable features such as coral reefs and sponge aggregations and are critical to the survival of the marine ecosystem.

The expedition employed a team of underwater photographers and videographers in shallower waters, used a Van Veen grab sampler to gather sediment samples and small organisms and documented deep waters with the aid of a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) capable of reaching depths of 1000 m. Large pelagic birds and cetaceans where also documented, as these islands are home, temporarily or permanently, to one-third of all identified cetacean species worldwide.

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