Category Archives: Tenerife


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.



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.



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.

As green as houses in Tenerife

It’s taken 13 years but at last there is an end date in sight for the bioclimatic housing project at the I.T:E:R renewable energy centre on the Granadilla industrial estate. Back in 1995, plans were submitted to build 25 totally self sufficient houses as prototypes at the wind turbine dominated park, but administration delays meant that work didn’y begin on the houses until 2002. The good news is that by summer 2009, all 25 houses will be ready to be rented by families who want to see just how self sufficient living can be.

Bioclimatic house

The houses are partially dug into the ground, to absorb and contain ground heat and are fitted with solar panels and small wind turbines. The houses have been placed in the optimum position to enhoy the winds that blow in from the north east. Recycling will also be practised on the site and a desalination plant will turn sea water into clean drinkable water.

Architect Maria Delgado is very relieved to finally see the project reach fruition. If it is a success, it will be the blueprint for estates of bioclimatic houses across the Canary Islands.

Cueva del Viento, volcanic tubes below Tenerife

Walking around Tenerife, there are many examples of the volcanic forces that formed the islands, but for a real inside view, Cueva del Viento (Cave of the Wind) takes you into an underground landscape where volcanic lava flows have bored their way through the rock to form one of the longest series of volcanic tubes in the World.

Cueva del Viento

The 17,032 kms of tunnels are made up of three main levels that are linked by fissures, off shoots and the odd chasm. The lava came from Pico Viejo on the eastern slope of Mount Teide, started by an eruption 27,000 years ago and added to by later activity, inside the tubes, the different layers of lava can be clearly seen as well as smaller channels where water has followed the meandering of the caves.

EntranceCueva del Viento is a steep 10 minute drive above Icod de los Vinos in the north of Tenerife, it is well signposted and less than 5 euros by taxi from Icod. The visitors centre is in the heart of the small village and was added for the reopening of the tunnels to the public in mid June after a 15 year closure. For the opening few months the tour is free but that is to be reviewed, you are recommended to wear sturdy shoes or hiking boots, and take an extra coat or pullover, the north is often cooler and cloudy and inside the tunnels, there is a distinct chill.

A minibus takes parties of around 20 at 10 am and Noon each day, starting with a 10 minute drive up into the pine forest. From there a 30 minute walk leads through the trees and onto the historic Camino Real track up into the mountains. The scenery is stunning, with Mount Teide in the background and vast ranges of flowers and plants en route. the entrance point to the cave is a heavy metal grill that opens upward to reveal stone steps hewn into the rock, before leading onto more sturdy modern metal stairs.

Once inside, the light on your hard helmet, powered by a waist belt power pack, will illuminate a 20 foot high chamber where you can gather to hear the first of the informative talks by your guide, with the help of a wall chart in Spanish and English. Moving onwards and downwards, the chamber narrows to a tunnel, where the roof is only just above your head. Small galleries feed off the main route, and stacks of worn rock almost block the way at times. There is a wealth of insect and small animal life in the tunnels but in the selected 1,200 metre stretch of the tour, you will probably only see some spiders, most of the creatures live in the less disturbed sections.

Knowing the tunnels

Walking is a slow and careful process as the floor is very rough and rocky, and the minimal lighting of the helmet lights only clears a small area ahead of you. Clambering up into one of the galleries, you get some idea of how far some of the smaller tunnels wander and it’s good to know the tunnels are bone dry despite strands of pine tree roots poking through the roof. At the end of the selected stretch of tunnel is a large chasm, just before another small opening up to the surface. This is sealed closed with another metal gate but that doesn’t stop the sun light and warmth making a fleeting appearance.

Group in tunnel

The tour includes a good 90 minutes below ground and is a real treat for all the senses. Tours have to be booked in advance via the website or on 922815339. Cueva del Viento is the biggest of the volcanic tubes and caves in the Canary Islands but there are many of them, some still remain uncharted and potentially dangerous. The contrast between the destructive history of the volcano and the lush flora and pine trees, recovering well from last years fires, is startling and helps to show what a cycle of natural growth Tenerife has gone through. This Icod council backed tour is the perfect way to see the underside of Tenerife and appreciate some of its powerful and turbulent history.

Tenerife’s 2 wheel revolution is a capital idea

When you have all year round warm sunny weather like Tenerife and a capital city like Santa Cruz, blessed with such a range of attractions and good roads, cycling becomes a real pleasure. The addition of the tram system a year ago, has reduced the number of cars entering the city, so the time is ripe to get people cycling.

Parque Garcia Sanbria

Santa Cruz ayuntamiento (council) is introducing a new cycle hire scheme that costs just one euro per hour. The base for this new revolution is the Parque Garcia Sanabria, where they initially will have 16 single bikes and 4 tandems for people to hire 7 days a week. The scheme has been set up at a cost of 25,000 euros and will run for a year to see how popular it is. The people of Santa Cruz are about to find just how healthy cycling can be.

Fiction Plane rock the green scene

Aguaviva festival of the seas is loud and proud, and music plays a big part in the celebrations. Several concerts were arranged in Tenerife and Gran Canaria this year but one of the most impressive was the performance of Fiction Plane at the Plaza del Conquistador on Saturday evening, just a short run and dive away from the Atlantic Ocean.

Fiction Plane

Lead singer of Fiction Plane, Joe Sumner (centre) , son of Gordon, better known as Sting, is no stranger to green issues, as he has a degree in Environmental Science from Richmond University, however it failed to fire his imagination and the lure of rock and roll took him down another path. Seton Daunt (left) , lead guitarist, was always drawn to bands “I was into groups like Nirvana and performed around Camden ” and drummer Pete Wilhoit (right) met the other 2 in New York in their early days of changing line ups, and they became the trio they are today. Pete had a wide music base “I studied jazz at Indiana University and was influenced by Stewart Copeland of The Police”. That proved to be very prophetic before meeting Joe and then last year supporting The Police on their U.S comeback tour.

Joe Sumner

So did the connections with The Police help Joe in the music business? “Not really, most people either didn’t help me as they assumed I knew everything about the business or they thought I was spoilt and had it all handed to me on a plate.” All that is history now as Fiction Plane have carved out their own career as a hard working live band, they did 200 concerts last year, and after a short break, they are off to North America supporting Snoop Dog.

The free concert in Tenerife must have been a strange experience after playing to packed houses at the Stade de France and Twickenham. The open air gig was bathed in hot sun, with Montaña Roque as a backdrop and palm trees swaying around them. There were a couple of thousand watching at the peak of the concert, but the opening band, Oscartienealas from Lanzarote, started with just a sprinkling as many were still on the beach or watching Spains Euro 2008 game. The summer of green music continues, and even as Fiction Plane were performing, leaflets were being handed out for the 2 day Eolica festival at the Granadilla wind park next month.



Santa Cruz tram keeps the cars at bay

TramAs the Santa Cruz tram system comes up to one year in operation, it’s congratulations all round, as it has won over many doubters and reduced the number of vehicles entering the capital city of Tenerife by 3 million.

Linking the bus station in Santa Cruz to La Laguna, the tram has carried 11 million passengers in 11 months and has proved to be a clean and efficient service at a very low cost to users. Recent figures show that 25 % of people coming into Santa Cruz, now use the tram. Work has just started on a second line from Tincer to La Cuesta, once in operation, it will mean that 65 % of people in Santa Cruz will be no more than 500 metres away from a tram stop.

Future plans would see four lines criss crossing the city and outlying areas. A recent addition to the service has seen Wi Fi access installed on all carriages, a useful bonus for students travelling to and from La Laguna University. Taxi drivers may not be quite as keen on the new kid in town, but as far as everyone else is concerned, the tram is just the ticket.

Aguaviva, turning the tide for nature

Aguaviva tent

The waiting is over and the Aguaviva festival of the seas, is back, bigger and bolder than ever. The big music concerts will grab all the headlines, but there are a lot of other events going on all through June to educate, and promote awareness of the problems facing the sea, particularly, the Atlantic that laps around the shores of the Canary Islands.

One change this year is the re-location of the information stands from various environmental groups, from the Los Cristianos church plaza, down to Las Vistas beach in a big hanger type tent. As well as being more appropriate to be in sight of the ocean, the large hanger attracts the curious, who will then hopefully learn more about the message behind Aguaviva.

Just to help those who don’t make it down to the stands, here are some of the groups involved, and contact points for more information.

Fundacion Neotropico is a project to help save sea turtles, and returned those that have been treated for illness and damage, to the ocean. Many become entangled in nets and rubbish or covered in oil, and need help to recover. Several turtles will be released into the sea during Aguaviva at public gatherings.

Seo Birdlife is a La Laguna based group dedicated to protecting all birds, especially rare species in Spain. You will find lots of information on their website to help you identify the many varied species that live or pass through the Canary islands.

Ben Magec is a Canarian environmental pressure group, that campaigns and raises awareness of issues facing these islands. Always willing to speak out, they have done great service to many causes across the islands.

World Wildlife is one of the biggest world wide organisations, with years of dedication to their name. They are keen to highlight the plight of species on the brink of extinction and have the credibility to make sure that people listen.

Aguaviva cubesAs well as the stands inside the hanger, there is a giant screen outside showing footage of the oceans and some of the problems they face. The white metal blocks may make you scratch your head, but they are made of the metal objects found along the local beaches in a series of clean ups over the last few weeks. They have been crushed down and painted white for artistic effect, but if you look closely, you can make out parts of cars, ovens, fridges etc, people seem all too willing to just dump anything anywhere.

Can the Canaries win the race for power survival?

Imagine a solar energy platform, the size of Gran Canaria, moored at sea, supplying enough clean, sustainable energy to power the whole of Europe. Wolfgang Ehrlich, and his team at the MARE Initiative can, but do politicians and businessmen have the scope to match that imagination, to solve the World energy crisis, as traditional fuel sources slip away like the sands of time.

Kramer Junction

It’s not a new problem to German born Wolfgang, scientific advisor and project holder for MARE, Mid Atlantic Renewable Energy, but after over 30 years of people laughing at his predictions of impending doom, the current upward spiral of oil prices has focused self centred minds on other ways to fuel the planet. Gradually becoming a Tenerife resident from 1995, Wolfgang has turned his thoughts to the particular problems of the Canary Islands and the unique chance they have to respond using the advantages of their Atlantic setting.

With a father involved in the building of nuclear power plants, breakfast discussions were heated and knowledgeable in the Ehrlich household but Wolfgang’s concerns were pushed to the background after becoming a Bachelor of Science in Physics and moving into various business concerns including I.T. Matters came to a head when Wolfgang was trying to build a massive film stage project in Adeje in 2004. “We needed large amounts of energy to power the project, and the best anyone could suggest was to use 10 diesel generators, this went against all of my instincts and seemed the least eco friendly thing imaginable, so I became involved with MARE.”

The Gran Canaria sized platform is an extreme and utopian solution, but for a start, maybe a platform to power just one island or a series of islands like the Canaries or Cape Verde would be easily obtainable. “The system would use Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) which can be fed ashore down extremely efficient high voltage cables that hardly lose any power in transit, over any distance, at a cost of just 5 to 7 cents per kilowatt. A test platform could be running in 3 years and would be modular, so extra capacity could be added in stages.” If all this sounds a logistical nightmare, Wolfgang points out that “in terms of a channel tunnel or a space station, the technology is a lot easier to assemble, and there are already major solar power projects up and running such as Kramer Junction (see pic) in California.”

La Transicion is a forum that has been set up to co-ordinate ideas like MARE and other forms of alternative power, in an effort to pool resources and ideas together, and is another area that Wolfgang is involved in. Another project that could be adapted to the Canary Islands is the growth of sea floor algae for bio fuel. Warnings have been sounded over using traditional food crops to make bio fuel but Wolfgang stresses that this algae grows freely at a greatly accelerated rate compared to field crops and would work well.

Figures from leading scientists in fuel studies are alarming, they suggest that oil reserves are much lower than we care to believe, producing countries are depleting their stocks on home consumption, let alone supplying the World market, and oil production has peaked and is fast running out. This is not very palatable news for politicians to serve up to the electorate, so many are still in denial and it may be the cold financial realities of oil costs that finally force action to seek alternatives.

In the meantime MARE and La Transicion will keep pushing in the hope that choices can be made quickly to avert the unthinkable and save us from sliding into a new dark age.