Canary Fires Destroy Unique Habitat, Tourism Unhurt

Canary Fires Destroy Unique Habitat, Tourism Unhurt

2 August 2007

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Spain — Tourist hotspots in Tenerife and Gran Canaria have escaped devastating fires sweeping the Canary Islands but environmentalists said the impact on the Spanish archipelago’s unique wildlife was incalculable.

Various fires have razed 35,000 hectares of mostly pine forest on the islands’ volcanic peaks this week.

Britain’s biggest tour operator Thomas Cook said the fires had not affected beaches or holidaymakers on the Canary Islands, which depend on tourism for their economy. Last year, the region welcomed 9.6 million foreign visitors.

However, environmentalists said the fires could be a disaster for endemic species that are unique to the Canaries.

The archipelago’s isolation, 100 km off the Moroccan coast, means it is a treasure trove for biologists. Gran Canaria contains 50 percent of the species unique to Spain.

“Anything that declines these species can be absolutely catastrophic,” said Peter Jones, a biologist who advises Spain’s Environment Ministry.

“I’m particularly worried about the blue chaffinch which is extremely rare, perhaps just a few hundred left, and which is largely confined to conifer woodlands on Tenerife,” Jones told Reuters by telephone.

Around a third of Gran Canaria’s forests have now been reduced to ashes, said Roberto Castro, an engineer with a foundation working to reforest the islands.

“The main problem isn’t the pine trees but the vegetation underneath … almost none will have been able to survive,” he said, adding that 10 to 15 species would probably disappear. A disgruntled park ranger has admitted starting the fire on Gran Canaria, angry over the shortness of his contract.

Fire fighters stabilised the blazes on Wednesday, as the scorching summer heat and strong winds eased off.

The fires are the first major blazes in Spain this summer, which has been much cooler than last year when fires destroyed 86,000 hectares (210,000 acres) in Galicia — the most destructive fires in the country’s recenthistory.

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