Nature & wildlife in Fuerteventura

Interior, Isla de los Lobos, Fuerteventura. Photo by Nick Haslam Fuerteventura was granted the status of a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in May 2009 in recognition of its extraordinarily rich and unique natural setting. The Biosphere Reserves are large scale studies for demonstrating sustainable development on a regional scale and it is hoped that the award will secure the island's future as a high quality sustainable tourism destination. Of the total coastline of 326km (202 miles), the eastern coast of low cliffs, long beaches and sand dunes has wetlands and sand dunes with many endemic and rare species of plants and birds.

The western coast, with over 100km of cliffs and beaches are virtually untouched by man, making it unique in the Canary Island archipelago. The interior, with the largest area of extensive dry steppe in the entire Canary Islands, provides habitats for rare birds - like the Houbara Bustard, Egyptian Vulture and the endemic Canary Islands Chat, a tiny black headed sparrow-like bird once found in all the islands but now only on Fuerteventura.

Camels on Fuerteventura. Photo by Nick HaslamAll mammals on the island have been introduced accidentally - or as in the case of the camel, donkey and goat - deliberately. Shepherds and their flocks of goats are a common sight in the hills and on the rolling plains; the goat meat and milk of Fuerteventura is reckoned to be the best of the Canaries for the animals feed on the wild grasses, lichens and aromatic herbs which grow wild on the dry steppe and scree. Feral donkeys and goats roam freely in some of the more remote parts of the island on the west coast.

There are 13 natural protected parks and areas on the island which means that nearly 50 percent of the total land area is under legal protection or has conservation status. Plans are afoot to create a national park along the west coast, an area of more than 100km in length which would include beaches once used by loggerhead and leatherback turtles to lay eggs.

Young Loggerhead turtles bred on Fuerteventura. Photo by Nick Haslam The Environmental Agency of Fuerteventura has launched an ambitious project to reintroduce turtles to the west coast, and now loggerhead turtle eggs are being brought each year from the Cape Verde Islands to the beach of Cofete, where they are placed in artificial nests on the beach. The vulnerable hatchlings which emerge are then kept in special tanks for about two years before being released. In 10 years or so it is hoped that for the first time in a century female loggerheads will return to the beaches to lay their eggs once more.

The island of Fuerteventura rises sheer from the sea bottom which is nearly 1km deep just off the coast, and the upwelling of nutrient rich currents here attract fish of all kinds. Sperm and blue whales are often seen close to the coast, and pods of resident dolphins and pilot whales are frequent visitors to inshore waters on both sides of the island. The protected nature park of the Isla de los Lobos has areas of marine wetlands which are vital stopover for birds on the western migration route from Africa to Europe.

Lagoon on Isla de los Lobos, Fuerteventura. Photo by Nick Haslam Now for the first time some species are nesting on the island avoiding the long hazardous flight to northern Europe and Siberia - an indication that the island is becoming safer for birds and perhaps that climate change is also disturbing long established patterns. There are plans to reintroduce here the Mediterranean monk seal, one of Europe's most endangered species. The seal colony here was hunted to extinction by pirates who used the island as a base to attack ships returning to Europe from the New World.

Geologically the island is a treasure house of information. Its rugged rock formations reveal the creation of the islands from the first eruptions to the most recent. With practically no trees or vegetation the rock structures are easily visible and with 50 sites of registered paleontological interest researchers are gaining invaluable insights into climatic changes and formation of volcanic oceanic islands.

Tony Gallardo
Head of the Environment Agency, Tony Gallardo on Fuerteventura's biodiversity
"This is one of the best places on earth to observe the biodiversity of the planet" [4:44]
Responsible Travel would like to thank the Fuerteventura tourist board for their sponsorship of this guide
Photo credits: [Page banner: VnGrijl]
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