Wednesday 25 July 2012

The Canary Islands. A unique place which needs protection. Now!

The Canary Islands form an archipelago of seven Spanish islands and are located less than one hundred kilometers from the coast of Morocco - a little below of Madeira a Portuguese island, and a little above Cabo Verde. With latter, they share being a very popular tourist destination, especially for British and German tourists. They are not inclined to adventure and are transported by charter flights and immediately after landing they can be identified by a coloured bracelet of the “all inclusive resort they “belong” to. But of course the Canary Islands are much more than only a destination for mass tourism. With their spectacular beaches and the cristal clear water they are  paradise for all sorts of watersports.

Tenerife and Gran Canaria are the most western destinations, beaches are easier to deal with and less hassle is required to understand Spanish. El Hierro is the most remote island of them all, a destination of a day trip rather than a full holiday, now even more due to the new submarine eruptions that are giving birth to a new island. The last two islands are La Gomera and La Palma.

On the opposite front, the eastern one, which is a few tens of miles from Africa, are Lanzarote and Fuerteventura, which are, compared to Tenerife and Gran Canaria, the wildest and least populated ones. And with a unique aspect of their kind, as they are declared “World Heritage Site” by the UNESCO in the' 90s.
Lanzarote, an island covered with lava, and its vegetation is not as we know it, only present are mosses, lichens and vineyards, as less as those of the Italian island of Pantelleria. And fig trees which apparently grow also on the rocks.

The island welcomes its visitors with stunning blacks, reds and greens, depending on the colour of Picon, the lava that covers the ground and some chopped small shrubs. To maintain this uniqueness, tourism is organized to be widespread, very present, but not intrusive and as the dictates of the island's most important artist, César Manrique, say, the point is to make everything " be there, without bothering nature ".
Tourism directly employs 30,000 people a year, for a population of 240,000 inhabitants.
Here comes the silver lining: since 2001, thus for over ten years, Repsol, the Spanish oil company that is also one of the largest multinational players of the black gold, want to plant oil platforms at 25 km from the coast of Lanzarote and Fuerteventura. To grab consents, promise jobs. The point is that if you do a search on Wikipedia, Repsol also employs 30,000 people, but around the world.

What happens?
In 2001 a Royal Decree was issued by the Spanish central government, which allowed Repsol to undertake the "prospecting" and install probes that would allow to verify if there were oil fields off the coast of Lanzarote.
The same operation was carried out also with Morocco, but at a depth much lower than that of Spain. At the Cabildo of Lanzarote - a kind of government of the island - there are documents that say the probes are on their side, because the conformation of the coast would drop to 3500 meters deep. In addition this Royal Decree does not mention any action "buffer" in case there are problems with the probes.
The SECAC, the Institute of oceanographic studies which has its headquarters in Lanzarote, stressed that the area in which the probe is to be installed is too close to the transit zone of many species of whales that could be frightened, if not killed, by the use of sewage which is naturally spilt from the machinery and from the noise produced by the probes.
Therefore, the Canary Islands Government has presented a first application, which has been accepted, and than in 2004, during the Zapatero reign, the Royal Decree was canceled. Now, after 8 years and a change of the government, which is now in the hands of the conservative Rajoy, Repsol is again authorized to carry out his project.

March 24th 2012 is an event that shows how this action goes against the opinion of the local population: more than 20,000 people walked to the streets in Arrecife, the capital of Lanzarote, to say no to the exploration.

foto: Jose Manuel Soria, Minister of Industry.

Funny is the fact that Jose Manuel Soria, Minister of Industry of the Rajoy government, who is the creator of this law decree, is form the Canary Islands.

David and Goliath
The reasons that lead the Canary Islands Government to put the project across the central government and the multinational are different and very easy to see: the platform will be implemented in collaboration with two other corporations, a German and an Australian. Repsol and Spain will participate with less than 30%. Therefore the amount of jobs which are offered is far less than those who are promised.
According to them, the paper that was approved in March 2012 is virtually identical to the one, which was cancelled in 2004. Because it was invalid, then of course the action is not exactly clear and maybe legal.
Third, and this is the motivation of the protest, neither the environmental impact has been calculated, nor has there been an offer to develop alternative energy such as solar or wind. This can easily be accessed on the islands, which are windy enough to be a paradise for windsurfers and where the weather is almost always fine with 25 degrees average throughout the year. The impact on tourism has also not been calculated. Certainly the view of the platforms on the horizon of Fuerteventura or Lanzarote would ruin more than one romantic sunset, not forgetting the fear of swimming in polluted water. Both of which would lead to a progressive abandonment of the islands as a vacation destination.

foto: César Manrique.

The protest against the “petroleras” is something unique. The demonstration that took place in the last months has united national institutions, NGOs, WWF, Greenpeace and art foundations like the Fundación César Manrique. Idoya Cabrera, representative of the Environment Department of the Foundation, says: "Manrique was an activist and would never allow such an exploitation of the island and so, we, as a Foundation, we try to continue what was also his struggle. "

In Fuerteventura there are associations such as the Clean Ocean Project. The founder Wim Geirnaert, a Belgian surfer who has been living on the island for over twenty years, explains: "We want to rise the awareness and change the attitude towards the island and its unique nature, especially for those who come only for a short time on the island to spent their holidays. If something happens here it affects everyone everywhere". For many years he has been conducting the surf culture combined with a respect for the beach offering periodic beach cleanings. In the last years the organiser of the Fuerte Waveclassic and the participating surfers have been a great help, cleaning the beaches where the contests have been held.

Everyone understands that it is a battle against giants. But the consultant of the Cabildo de Lanzarote, Ezequiel Navio Vasseur is convinced that "fighting is the only option we have to make clear that the implanting of the oil platforms is wrong". He says, that the protest is about to spread thanks to the support of Greenpeace with which the Cabildo is going to hold press conferences around Europe and the world. 

You can sign the petition here:

Alice Vivona. Italy.