CLEAN OCEAN PROJECT: Campaigning to keep Canarian beaches clean

Sometimes it takes a fresh eye to spot things which, as locals we take for granted, or don’t even notice. In 1994 a young man named Wim Geirnaert from Belgium arrived in Fuerteventura to follow his passion, surfing, and cast that fresh eye over what he saw. Over the following five years, the rubbish accumulating around the island increasingly disturbed him. In those days, this included even old fridges and electrical appliances. Instead of tut-tutting, as most of us do, he decided to do something about it.

Clean Ocean Project

Clean Ocean Project

He began by organizing protests about the rapidly growing problem. Since his passion is for the ocean, it was natural for him to concentrate especially on the shoreline, and he started to organize beach cleans, but instead of criticizing the lack of activity in this area from the local councils, he involved them by asking for gloves and bags for the volunteers to use. Little by little, involving the community in this way began to work. Wim’s philosophy is to teach by example instead of lecturing – which none of us like to hear, even when we know the lecturer is right!

Clean Ocean Project

The name of this growing movement is Clean Ocean Project, and when I first met Wim he was busy practising what he preaches, cleaning the beach at Majanicho, near Cotillo in Fuerteventura, favourite haunt of surfers. True surfers are usually a conscientious bunch when it comes to keeping their environment clean, but nobody is perfect, and beaches are there for all to use in Spain. As well as rubbish left by visitors to the beaches, a fair amount also washes in from the sea. On some islands, trash washes down the barrancos during the rainy season, so it isn’t just people who use the beach or sea, but those in the mountains who pollute too.

Wim was, obviously, busy that particular day, but I managed to catch up with him in his shop in Las Lajares a couple of weeks later. The shop, of the same name, sells clothing and surf gear made from organic cotton and recycled materials. It’s easy to spot when you arrive in Las Lajares from the south, by the distinctive mural outside, representing a surfer in a sea of rubbish. I can vouch for the excellent quality of the goods, as I bought a couple of T-shirts and a hoodie. I asked how he could be sure that everything made for Clean Ocean Project is the genuine article, and he assured me that he personally ensures that everything in the shops (there is also one in Corralejo) is sustainable. That said, he was eager to point out that this is a movement, encouraging us to be positive about looking after our environment, and he was reluctant to answer questions about himself. Nevertheless, I had the distinct feeling that his leadership and example is the driving force behind the movement and the business.

Beach Clean up in Alcala, Tenerife

It goes without saying that the words “islands” and “ocean” go together, perhaps for some archipelagos more than others, making pollution of the seas a topic which is of vital concern to those of us who are island dwellers, and it is encouraging to know that someone is giving back to the ocean.

The Canary Islands, sited at this crucial crossroads between Europe, the Americas and Africa, as the politicians like to remind us, perhaps is more conscious of its relationship with the ocean than other island chains are. Since the Spanish conquest, shipping from all four of those continents has passed through here, and with all the environmental concerns that implies. First they raped the land for wood and tar for their wooden boats, now they dump their rubbish in the water, and there is the constant worry of oil spills on pristine beaches.

Then there is tourism, the great and the awful lifeline, which lifted the islands into the 20th century, when its agriculture was failing and thousands were migrating elsewhere, but which brought its own distinct problems when it comes to the environment

Apart from supporting the movement against the drilling for oil off Canarian shores, Clean Ocean Project is concentrating on campaigning against plastic at the moment. Figures suggest that 80% per cent of rubbish on beaches is plastic, and Clean Ocean Project believes that we are all responsible for our own litter, but that companies should take more responsibility for plastics. Nestlé in particular, with its plastic Nespresso cups is coming in for a lot of criticism.

Will big business listen? Wim thinks so, provided that enough of us make our voices heard, after all it’s our environment.

You can follow Clean Ocean Project on Facebook and Twitter to see when there is an activity in your area you might want to join.


Oil Protests in the Canary Islands

Saturday, June 7th, was, without doubt, a triumph for the environmental groups who organized protests throughout the islands, against the exploration of the ocean bed between the archipelago and the continent of Africa by oil giant, Repsol, at the behest of the Spanish central government.

Reported estimates by organizers claim between 150,000 and 200, 000 turned out to show their opposition to the plans. Central government representatives, and local members of the ruling PP claim the numbers to be more like 45,000 to 50,000. You can’t be everywhere at once, and I can only tell you that the numbers at the rally I attended in tiny La Gomera were definitely closer to the 1,000 estimated by organizers than the 500 claimed by officials.

Oil Protests in the Canary Islands

The biggest protest was in Tenerife where either 16,000 or 80,000 attended, depending on whom you believe, but of course it isn’t the numbers themselves so much as the proportion of the population which is significant. The spokesman for environmental group Ben Magec told me that he was delighted with the La Gomera turnout as a per centage of the population.

There isn’t the slightest doubt in my own mind, traveling around the islands as I have been doing of late, as to the depth of opposition to the drilling, though for obvious reasons it’s a hotter topic in Fuerteventura and Lanzarote. President of the Canary Islands autonomous government, Paulino Rivero chose to make his position clear on the tiniest inhabited island, La Graciosa, saying; “ Our petroleum is tourism, the landscape, the environment and our rich biodiversity.”

La Graciosa, possibly, has more to lose than any island in the event of an oil spill reaching its shores. A true “desert island” with long, white beaches, it has nothing but fishing and tourism. An oil spill affecting those industries would be fatal to the island economy.

La Graciosa

The image of the sort of oil damage we’ve seen from Galicia, Alaska or the Gulf of Mexico over recent years on those pristine sands is powerful, but the issue is about more than just the possibility of an oil spill, as various speakers pointed out. It’s about the safety of drilling into the sea bed of an area which is less than stable; it’s about the image oil platforms present to tourists; it is about our reliance on fossil fuels over all, not just on this archipelago. It’s also about the callousness of central government which in imposing this on the islands without proper consultation of the population. As Canarian Socialist spokesman, Manuel Fajaardo Palarea said: “Refusing to consult the population confirms the contempt the government has been showing towards the islands.”

Whatever individual reasons for protesting were, there was no question of the unity this has brought about. At all the rallies, the cries were; “Una sola Voz” (One voice only) and “Canarias no se vende, Canarias se defiende” (The Canaries is not for sale, the Canaries will defend itself).

Meanwhile, the president of the ruling PP in Fuerteventura claimed that the Socialists and the Coalition Canaria were politicising the question. I observed no overt party politics going on in La Gomera, it has to be said. Though the crowd was chanting slogans aimed at Jose Manuel Sória, Spanish minister of Tourism and Industry, who is, unbelievably, Canarian, one speaker asked not to blame him alone, but to understand that there is shared responsibility, pointing out that Caixa Bank was one of Repsol’s largest shareholders.

Oil Protests in Lanzarote

Speaker after speaker in La Gomera pointed out that not only do we need to protest oil exploration, but at the same time it is vital that we demand more investigation and investment in alternative energies. Elsewhere, spokeswoman for Ben Magec, Rita López called on the Canarian government to commit to sustainable energy, and pointed out that whilst it was a great thing to be united against big oil, her organization was still against Canarian investment in gas.

Remarkably, whatever the turnout, it’s a triumph that out of 8 marches no serious incidents were reported, in fact, scarcely any incidents at all. This came as no surprise to me because the most impressive thing about the event was that this really was a united front of ordinary people. At protests in the past I’ve observed a majority of the attendees to be, well, people who prefer “an alternative lifestyle,” not to criticize that, but they are not the main stream. Last evening’s rally was made up for the most part of ordinary citizens, grandparents with walking sticks, young mums pushing prams, families, in other words, your neighbors.



Presentation Event on Charging Point for Electric Cars

An informal presentation event for the new charging point for electric cars took place on Monday, 5 August 2013 in Santa Ana, La Gomera. The event was well attended and gave an opportunity for everyone to take a look at the new charging point for electric cars which is expected to be put into operation in the coming months.

Terra Fortunata, in conjunction with the City of Santa Ana are wishing to promote the area free of noise and pollution, reducing CO2 emissions and highlighting the island of La Gomera as an example of sustainability and showing a respect for nature.

There was also a presentation of the new 100% electric Renault ZOE, courtesy of Guacimara Arisa and Mrs. Morales & local company Guader Cars. The event was definitely a success with representation from Endesa Energía, Mr. Jose Manuel del Valle and we look forward to many more events like this to highlight the need for such an innovative concept.


ASEMTEIDE Declares War On Plastic Bags In Santiago Del Teide

It takes a united approach to make a big change and in Santiago del Teide on the west coast of Tenerife local business association ASEMTEIDE are taking a lead by issuing 3,000 reuseable eco bags to their members for customer use. ASEMTEIDE – Associacion Empressarios y Comerciantes de Santiago del Teide was formed in 2005 and has over 80 active business’s signed up.

The new bags have a life of two years and can make a big difference to peoples shopping habbits, it’s estimated that the average person gets through 600 plastic bags during their lifetime. The new scheme is part of a strategy from the Department of Commerce within the Canary Island government, they can see the big savings this can bring. A spokesperson said “over the next two years this will avoid the use of 990,502,800 million plastic bags, enough oil to drive a car 41,500,400 miles,”

Most councils in the Canary Islands have now embraced the green message and are looking at ways to preserve resources and to protect the local environment.



Lanzarote Joins Canary Islands Olive Oil Revolution

An ambitious project to add olive groves to the natural economy of the Canary Islands has grown steadily since it’s launch in 2005 and now another island government is taking it a stage further with the campaign Ecological Olives In Lanzarote. The climate in the Canary Islands is ideal for large scale olive oil growth and cultivation, the first of the new groves were planted in Arico, Tenerife but now there are over 60,000 of the Acebuche trees planted across the seven islands, all promoting organic farming.

AgroLanzarote, part of the Lanzarote Insular Agricultural Service are taking the lead by offering olive trees to prospective farmers for 2.70 euros each with a minimum order of 300 trees. Francisco Fabelo of AgroLanzarote has pledged their full support. “Olive trees can be very productive, and can generate profits in the agricultural sector of the island. Therefore AgroLanzarote is trying to promote this culture and help farmers who venture to try it. The Insular Agricultural Service is hiring technicians experienced in these olive varieties, who can control the plantations until they reach production, with at least three visits per farm per year.”

The Acebuche tree is native to the Canary Islands, mainly in the valley areas, and produce large crops of olives. The long term aim is to encourage more olive groves across the Canary Islands and add exporting to the already growing local market.



Cabildo Gives Unemployed A Green Purpose In Tenerife Parks

It’s a perfect match, 122 unemployed people in Tenerife have been given rewarding and useful work that will benefit the entire Tenerife community. The Cabildo (government) have taken on the work force to clean and maintain key areas of protected natural spaces around the island.

The project was started up in December 2010 through the Cabildo’s environmental department and is 80% funded by the European Social Fund. There are many protected natural spaces in Tenerife including the rural parks of Teno and Anaga, both of these have been targetted for the new campaign. At the Parque Rural de Anaga 31 workers will clean and clear forest paths, viewing points and walkways that are part of the main hiking routes. At Teno similar work will see 29 new staff helping to replant indigenous plants and also improve walkers access to Monte del Aqua.

SupaSwap Starts Recycling At A Young Age

In this use it up and throw away society it’s good to know that recycling can be fun and taught from a young age. SupaSwap the leading online trading website for 8 to 18 year olds is showing that there is a market for almost new toys, games and much more.

Social media is the thing of the future and something that schools are trying to install in peoples understanding at an early level. Supaswap makes full use of all the social media networks and encourages young traders to learn as they save on waste and also learn the value of good housekeeping.

With Facebook, Twitter and You Tube all included in the SupaSwap package youngsters are getting used to everyday use of these useful tools for work and fun. Global warming is also a burning issue these days, recycling goods through exchange sites like Supaswap is making real inroads into reducing CO2 emissions. and most of all, it’s fun.


Community Key To Green Year In Tenerife

The Office of Participation and Environmental Volunteers for the Tenerife government has looked back on the 2009 programme with some pride after 2,290 volunteers joined business backers to improve Tenerife.

The biggest project was a reforestation programme involving 750 people, this covered Finca La Orilla in Anaga National Park, Las Calderetas in El Sauzal, plus El Rayo and El Rosario. Some 2,500 trees of varying species were added to boost the natural scenery.

La Mar de Limpia is another long standing project that cleans up rubbish along the shoreline. Last year 470 volunteers removed 830 kilos of discarded rubbish from around the coast. Education was an important part of this initiative with talks about the coastal environment and the release of turtles back into the wild after treatment for injury. In Teno it wasn’t just the beaches that were cleaned up, teams of divers made sure that the sea beds were also made safer.

This years clean up campaigns are already well under way, the removal of rubbish addresses the immediate problem but informing people of the damage caused by discarding waste should help to cut down on further erosion of the coast and rural areas.


Tenerife Councils Pile Up The Compost Heap

Sometimes good intentions are thwarted by a lack of practical method, in Guia de Isora, Tenerife, a local farm is making a great success of producing bio compost. Lomo del Balo farm has made a name for making high quality bio compost, and now local councils are making tracks there to dispose of their bio degradable waste.

No chemicals are allowed in the mix at the farm but the councils of Santiago del Teide, Guia de Isora and Adeje are sending their rubbish from their parks and gardens to be added to the brew. The compost also includes stale beer and is left to stew for 3 months before it is ready to sell for farming and gardening purposes. The scheme is a winner all round and has solved a big waste disposal problem for many in the more remote areas of the island.


Proud Parents At Birth Of Bioclimatic Village In Tenerife

It took collective talent and determination to take a self sufficient dream and turn it into a reality 14 years later. March 19th 2010 will go down as a landmark day for bioclimatic houses, the worlds first village, containing 25 CO2 free and totally self sufficient houses was inaugurated at ITER in Granadilla, Tenerife. The original competition was thrown open to all architects worldwide and attracted 397 entries, this was later whittled down to 25 and the long process of drawing up plans and gradually blending the houses together on one sight began.

Key players in the project spoke at the inauguration about their part in the development and their hopes for the future. Ricardo Melchior was the driving force that started the ball rolling through the Tenerife College of Architects and then the International College in Paris. The Tenerife President has a strong background in engineering, he studied in Spain and Germany and holds an honorary doctorate in science from Ireland University and the National Order of Merit from the French government.

“I always felt we could use architecture to create environmentally friendly living conditions” the President explained. “It’s not enough to just position buildings facing south or north, we have to look into all aspects that can help and comply with international guidelines like the Kioto agreement. In five years time 90% of the worlds population will live in cities, hopefully what we have achieved here at ITER will become a template for those that follow.”

Introducing Dr Wolfgang Palz, chairman of the World Council for Renewable Energy, Melchior commented that he had been greatly influenced by one of the Doctors early books 25 years ago. The German has a PHD in physics and was in charge of the European Union’s research and development of renewable energy for 20 years. “ ITER has a proven record in new technology, the largest producing photovoltaic plant in the world is here. Solar energy is a clean affordable way forward, France tried a nuclear breeder with disastrous results but here they only use totally solar power breeders.”

Manuel Cendagorta-Galarza, director of ITER added his views. “Domestic consumption now makes up 50% of all power demands so we must look at local solution that we can use on a global scale. Here at the bioclimatic village we have blended different ideas together in the 25 houses, we have to ensure we put no limits on the possibilities. The use of recycled and specialist materials can make a big difference, since the project began I have included some of these materials in my own home. In the years ahead we will carefully monitor these bioclimatic houses using sensors to evaluate humidity, temperature and wind, the lessons we learn will be shared openly through the world to help make a difference.”

One of the architects present Madelaine Fava from New York, led a team based in France and explained the process that led to her construction El Alisio. “I read the competition proposal 15 years ago in architectural journals and it fired my imagination. There wasn’t a big interest in ground breaking design in France so it seemed like a good opportunity.

After making contact with the organisers and getting the specifications I worked hard with my team to produce three sample panels to present. After that we had a mechanical engineer look at our plans to check them structurally and make sure that they were possible to turn into reality. The design work was carried out by the Daniel Faure company Adret, that means south facing slope”.

El Alisio combines three units representing water, sun and air. Although the building is complete it is not yet furnished and was not open for visitors at the inauguration. For Madelaine this trip was her first chance to see her work in its complete form. “ I’m pleased with how it has turned out but wish that maybe I had been able to be more hands on and closer in the development stages. My work takes me to Tahiti and the Caribbean as well as teaching in Paris so it is a question of balancing all if these demands. I’m very impressed by the tenacity and dedication of the team behind the bioclimatic village, it has influenced me a lot and now I find myself taking these considerations into the architectural projects I work on”.