Category Archives: El Hierro

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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.

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Low down shame in El Hierro

The President of El Hierro, Tomas Padron, is not a happy man. The smallest of the 7 Canary Islands is a magnet for deep sea divers who love to explore the Mar de Las Calmas marine reserve, it’s one of the islands biggest tourist attractions. Iberia Airways have upset the President by charging up to 150 euros excess baggage to divers bringing their underwater gear on their flights.

The President points out that equipment for sports like golf and skiing usually receive special dispensation on flights, but the Iberia policy on diving gear means it is charged as excess if it goes over 20 kgs. The charges could have a damaging effect on El Hierro tourism, if no concessions are made.

Pancho

El Hierro has built up a strong reputation for it’s preservation of fish, and has even produced an unlikely national hero in Pancho, the grouper fish, the star of the marine reserve. Pancho weighs in at 40 kgs and is 40 years old, and underwater photographers just can’t get enough of him. The fish is so revered that most restaurants on the island refuse to have grouper fish on their menu as a mark of respect.

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El Hierro, goes for 100% home grown power

As ecological projects go, El Hierro, the smallest of the Canary Islands, is chasing a really ambitious dream, to be 100% self sufficient in clean renewable energy by 2010. They are turning the entire 278 square kilometres of the island into a vast experiment costing 54 million euros and producing a saving of 18,700 tons of CO2.

El Golfo

The project was announced in 1997, and plans are well advanced to complete the infrastructure needed to make the dream a reality. It includes a wind park, to harness the power of the wind on this exposed eastern island, and a large desalination plants on the coast to clean water for direct use and to feed a giant hydro electric plant.

The hydro electric station is the centrepiece of the plan and will produce power from a water filled valley that presses down on the turbines. This water will then be recycled, pumped back up into the resevoir to perform it’s function again and again.

The 10,000 people who live in El Hierro will embrace eco friendly living as part of their daily lives, in Charco Azauleverything from sustainable agriculture to hydrogen powered buses on the internal transport system. The cost of the project is being shared between the El Hierro government and the Canary Island government, with a big input from power company Endesa. This is a showcase project and one that other islands will look to follow. There are 100 other islands in the world that have already made official enquiries about taking on the challenge themselves, and there are plenty more that could follow. In the European Union alone, 17 million people live on islands and that rises to 700 million across the world.

The landscape of El Hierro, and it’s size, makes it a perfect testing ground for this scheme but what has really made it all come together is the political will and commitment of the island inhabitants to push the project forward and the vision to see the rewards that lay at the end of it.Â

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Giant Lizards, and history, thrive at El Hierro eco museum

At just 277 square metres, El Hierro is the smallest of the seven Canary Islands, but it punches well above its weight in the fight to preserve its natural heritage. Declared as a World Biosphere site by UNESCO in 2000, the most south easterly island has a project to preserve a native village and breed a species of giant lizard, thought to be extinct, and they have made it into an unlikely tourist attraction.

The Guinea museum lies at the bottom of El Golfo, a giant natural amphitheatre, formed 50,000 years ago when a volcanic eruption sent 300 cubic kames of land sliding into the sea. The tsunami it caused would have impacted around the world and has fuelled a scientific debate over a possible repeat from the neighbouring island of La Palma.

Eco Mueum

Later Bimbaches, the ancient island natives, built a settlement here, above and below ground, and it has been preserved to show how they lived, complete with rudimentary tools for cooking and working. The small stone and rough thatch settlements above land cover long volcanic tubes below, called Jualclos, where many of the Bimbache lived before taking to the surface. This is the base of the museum, which is about a ten minute drive from the town of Frontera.

The giant lizards (galliota simonyi) were a much later arrival, they are one of the five most endangered species in the world and were thought to be extinct in the Canary Islands until a shepherd discovered one in 1974. They were then carefully and slowly re-introduced into a breeding centre. The lizards live for up to 30 years and grow to 70 cms long, and have distinctive yellow spots.

Storms and new life

Nature had another surprise in store when heavy storms hit the island in 2007 and a landslide from the mountain above, damaged the museum and the breeding centre killing half of the 1,700 lizards that had been released to live on the mountain slopes. More dedication since then has seen several new batches of eggs laid and young lizards hatched to start building a new colony.

The museum and breeding centre are now a popular stop for school parties and holiday visitors, who can have a guided tour of the village and learn more about the trusts work. It’s just one of many projects proudly developed by the El Hierro government and more information can be found at www.el-meridiano.com

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Blue skies, black sand, green hopes in the Canary Islands

The 7 Canary Islands sum up all our thoughts about holiday islands, relaxing, laid back and welcoming, but a delicate balancing act is going on. The very qualities that attract so many visitors, are also in danger of being over exploited and destroyed by too much development. But there are plenty of forward looking business’s and organisations on these islands and hopefully, as they tackle the big enviromental issues facing them, maybe the Canary Islands can even take a lead in green issues.

Of necessity, these islands have constantly had to develop new ways of working with nature, from water management and delivery to ensuring that fishing stocks are rationed to support the traditional industries of the islands. Lots of exciting work is going on with Biosphere Reserves, Wind Parks, Animal Preservation Projects and much more.

Nature can be very fragile, this is something that the Canary Islands have learned from past experience with volcanic eruptions, something that can happen at any time on any of the islands. Many old traditions and ways of life are under threat, but with encouragement and strong government policies there is still time to protect the past and learn for the future.

This site will bring you the latest trends and updates on what steps are being made to put the Canary Islands at the forefront of green planning. Your comments are welcome and if there is anything you need to know more about, we will try to shine a light on it.