Lanzarote’s blue lung: the wealth of its underwater world
It’s in our DNA. We are water. Life emerged in the depths of the ocean millions of years ago and Lanzarote reminds us of this every second. Did you know that you are in the largest Marine Reserve in Europe? Take a deep breath and let’s dive in.
“Somewhere beyond the sea, somewhere waiting for me…” 🎶 Suena el clásico de Bobby Darin en el teléfono mientras nos ponemos los trajes de baño, dispuesto el grupo entero a sumergirse en todos los azules que perfilan los 250 kilómetros de costa que disfruta Lanzarote.
The world dedicates two days of the year, June 5th and 8th, to celebrating the Environment and the Oceans. This ocean island celebrates them every day.
Magnet for scientists and marine explorers
In 1866 the naturalist Ernst Haeckel landed in the port of Arrecife and declared himself fascinated by the “animal soup” he found in the waters of Lanzarote. After a year of research, he left with the discovery of five hundred species that were rare or new to science under his belt. The study of the biodiversity of this marine environment has not ceased since then.
But why here? What do these waters have that others don’t? Ocean currents, the continental shelf of neighbouring Africa and submerged mountains such as the Banco de la Concepción influence the presence of a large upwelling of nutrients in our sea. That means life in abundance.
Margullar to explore marine biodiversity
We decided to margullar (swim underwater) and enjoy the spectacle at Playa Chica, Caleta de Caballo and the jetty at Punta Mujeres. Almost any cove on the island is a showcase of biodiversity. If, as well as having fun, you want to do some citizen science, you can report your sightings to the Canary Islands Government’s Promar Network.
Very close to the shore of the beach we come across salema porgy, seabream and grey mullet. Around the rocks there are beautiful black Canary damsel, iridescent ornate wrasse, viejas (parrot fish) dressed in flaming red, camouflaged wide-eyed flounder on the sandy bottoms, sargassum and seaweed that look like a vedette’s feather boa… An endless variety of life within reach of those who can swim and wear a snorkelling mask.
Special mention should be made of the Arrecife Marina, at the heart of the capital, which has one of the most valuable seabeds in the Canary Islands. The reason lies in its orography, a labyrinth of islets and shallows, and in its seagrass meadows, underwater pastures where marine species spawn. Children marvel at every low tide, when the waters recede and they can inspect the semi-submerged life that covers the shallows. Rock goby, yellow crab, sea snails, limpets and small invertebrates inhabit the pools. “Don’t touch it, leave it alone,” the adults tell them, giving lessons in environmental education on the beach.
Cliffs, forests and giant groupers
Diving provides one of the most rewarding sensations that can be felt. A mixture of peace, weightlessness and harmony with the marine environment. The Lanzarote Diving Guide is a must-read to find out about the thirty most famous dives on the island (out of a total of seventy-five possible dives). Six of the world’s seven species of turtles, silvery swarms of shrimps and up to 259 species of fish swim in these waters.
We go to a specialised centre that offers both diving baptisms and experiences for advanced divers. As the weather is fine, we decide to go to La Pared, a reef where you can see hanging gold coral, orange coral, huge groupers and trumpet fish. We left with the magical sensation of having discovered another island – a lush and submerged Lanzarote, very different from the beauty seen on land.
Lanzarote has forests and they are under the sea. They are very ancient and are formed by colonies of animals. Researchers from a project led by the Atlantic Biodiversity and Sustainability Association (ABAS for its name in Spanish) have spent the last few months educating students about the black coral forests in four of the island’s high schools. As the oceanographer Jacques Cousteau once said: to protect something you have to know it.
The eastern coast, a sanctuary for cetaceans
Did you know that Puerto del Carmen is home to one of the most important angelshark breeding grounds in the world? Without this sea, this beautiful and peaceful endangered shark would be lost.
In Lanzarote we also have the privilege and responsibility of enjoying the largest marine reserve in Europe, an oasis on which much of the balance of the marine ecosystem depends. If it were not for these waters, we would not be visited by thirty species of cetaceans, more than a third of those that exist worldwide: rough-toothed dolphins, eighteen-metre-long sperm whales, Risso’s dolphins, Cuvier’s beaked whales capable of diving to a depth of three thousand metres, killer whales that feed on tuna… The eastern coast of Lanzarote and Fuerteventura is one of the most important sanctuaries in Europe for these marine mammals and the setting of numerous research projects for the protection of cetaceans in the Canary Islands.
It is essential to respect the habitat of marine animals and to never leave behind any rubbish that could pollute the sea and become a death trap for the animals. As we say here: “a little bit of respect is a lovely thing“. The oceans are the lungs of the planet. Enjoy them and protect them. 💙