Despite past volcanic eruptions, the seas of this tourist hotspot contain a multitude of habitats and high levels of biodiversity.
With the support of the Biodiversity Foundation and the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and the Environment, Oceana has conducted over ten ROV dives at depths of between 80 and 1,000 meters around El Hierro Island in the Canaries, as well as several others with divers in shallower areas. Through this work, Oceana has documented large colonies of deep-sea white coral, crystal aggregations of sponges and dense forests of black corals, oceanic puffers, giant foraminifera, carnivorous sponges and sharks, as well as many other biological communities and species in the south of this island.
“Although there are some habitats that are specific to certain depths, in all dives and environments we have documented many different species, demonstrating the richness in biodiversity of southern El Hierro”, states Ricardo Aguilar, Research Director at Oceana in Europe. “With information gathered from this expedition, we intend to promote the creation of a marine national park in the southern part of El Hierro island; the first one in Europe.”
Some forms of legal protection are already in place in order to conserve the unique biodiversity of the area. Among other features, this biodiversity is due to the heterogeneity of its substrate, its steep shelf and its strategic geographic location for the convergence of different species (of temperate origin, of tropical origin, etc.). In addition, the underwater volcano which erupted in La Restinga in 2011 continues to eject gases. Therefore, its impact on the marine environment is still being evaluated today.
“In some specific areas, one can see what could be considered as damage caused by volcanic eruptions, as mortality rates for deep-sea corals are high. However, the general state of the seabed is very good.” says Helena Alvarez, Marine Scientist at Oceana.
Over the next few days, Oceana will be diving in the area around the volcano in order to document and film the current state of the area, and to monitor its progress. So far, all dives were carried out in areas within 2 and 12 kilometers of the volcano
More Information: Onboard Diaries