Analysis of the presence of microplastics in the Teide National Park.

Vista del pinar con el Teide de fondo

In June 2022, the Canarina Foundation, together with the Applied Analytical Chemistry Research Group (AChem) of the University of La Laguna, launches the MICROTEI project (determination of microplastics in the Teide National Park).

The Teide National Park is a high mountain volcanic environment unique in the world. It is home to the Natural Monument of El Teide, the highest peak in Spain, which also makes Tenerife the highest island in the Atlantic Ocean with an altitude of more than 3,700 metres. This area, which has unique geological and ecological values and was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2007, has been subjected to intense, diverse and continuous activities imposed by human activity throughout history.

Thus, activities such as grazing, firewood extraction and charcoal production, the exploitation of sulphur and pumice deposits, ice extraction, beekeeping and hunting practices have succeeded or overlapped over time from pre-Hispanic times until the mid-20th century. One of the most significant effects of these actions has been the degradation of soil resources, mainly due to the acceleration of erosion processes (e.g. elimination of vegetation cover or breakage of soil aggregates due to trampling by livestock). The declaration of the Teide National Park in 1954 led to the prohibition, or at least control, of such exploitation, thus initiating a stage of regeneration of the vegetation cover and the soil ecosystem, which now seems to have reached a state of fragile equilibrium.

Foto de las cañadas

But what might appear at first sight to be an isolated and well-preserved ecosystem is not, in reality, safe from anthropogenic impacts. In addition to the direct contribution of tourism and human use in general (El Teide is, for years, the most visited National Park in Europe, reaching a state of massification), this Park, due to its geographical position in the Atlantic Ocean and high altitude, could act as a potential sink for microplastic particles which are carried there by atmospheric phenomena, reaching the soil through rain, wind and snow.

Foto de Tajinastes

In this sense, very recent research carried out in the Arctic, the French Pyrenees and in different National Parks in the USA has highlighted the high level of microplastic pollution in these protected areas, which are of great ecological value and relatively distant from the main industries and populations. Surprisingly, the quantities of microplastics measured in these areas (mostly polymers used in industrial and textile applications) are close to those found in urban areas.

This project aims to evaluate for the first time the presence of microplastics in an isolated high mountain National Park, such as the Teide National Park, both in soils and in rabbit droppings, a species widely distributed throughout the park.

The data obtained will make it possible to assess the degree of microplastic contamination of the National Park and to determine the suitability of the microplastic study as an indicator/descriptor of human pollution of terrestrial environments, and may also be extrapolated to other parks and regions. This study will also help to establish the basis for future research on the effects on different ecosystem processes, as well as the degree and type of potential actions to be taken.