Canary Islands: Natural Treasures and Threats
NATURAL HERITAGE OF THE CANARY ISLANDS
The Canary Islands is an archipelago of volcanic origin, with high mountains and a small surface area, which means that, in general, they are quite rugged. The presence of peaks and their orientation towards the prevailing winds determine the distribution of rainfall, cloud cover and temperatures, favouring the formation of microclimates. Parallel to this variety of microclimates is a wide range of landscapes and ecosystems, with flora and fauna adapted to the particularities of each area.
Thanks to these special conditions, the Canary Islands have an extraordinary biodiversity, both in terms of the number of species and ecosystems. According to the Canary Islands Biodiversity Data Bank, there are more than 24,000 plant and animal species on the islands, distributed between the marine and terrestrial environments. Many of these species are exclusive to the archipelago. This richness means that the Canary Islands are internationally recognised as a World Biodiversity Hotspot.
Photo: Jorge Caceres
Photos: Jonathan Garcia
Why is biodiversity
“The first law of ecology is that everything is related to everything else.” (Barry Commoner)
Biodiversity is the fruit of Nature’s work over millions of years, so its value is incalculable and irreplaceable. On the other hand, the diversity of species is a guarantee for the correct functioning of the system that living beings form together with the environment in which they live. We humans tend to think of ourselves as separate from our environment and not as part of an interrelated system, where we all depend on each other. We fail to realise that we are still part of Nature, and that without Nature no life would be possible. Biodiversity provides us with the food we eat, the water we drink, the air we breathe, the landscapes we go to for relaxation or sport… it is even biodiversity that provides the raw materials to manufacture absolutely all the material goods we consume. Without biodiversity there would be no medicines, no industry, no technology. Biodiversity is everything; it encompasses all life on Earth with all its relationships.
The destruction of habitats, the unsustainable extraction of natural resources, invasive species, global warming and pollution are some of the main threats to biodiversity at a global level. The Canary Islands are not exempt from biodiversity loss: a not inconsiderable fraction of the Canary Islands’ superb natural heritage is threatened to a greater or lesser extent as a result of the human activities that have been taking place in our territory for centuries.
Since aboriginal times, there has been a succession of human impacts: the introduction of livestock and the hunting of animals began to transform the landscape thousands of years ago. However, the consequences of pre-Hispanic settlement on the territory were small compared to those that occurred after the conquest, which was accompanied by the introduction of intensive agriculture dedicated to various monocultures for export. Over the last five centuries, the islands have been the scene of intense land clearing, indiscriminate felling of forests, depletion of water resources and pollution.
But it is especially in recent decades, with the explosion of tourism on the islands, that the impacts have multiplied. The population of the archipelago is growing exceptionally, which puts increasing pressure on resources (water, air, soil, natural spaces, etc.), as well as generating more waste and increasing energy consumption. There is no infinite capacity to supply these demands, and even less so in a territory as limited as this archipelago.