Scientists from Canary Islands Oceanographic Center of the Spanish Institute of Oceanography (IEO), in collaboration with the University of La Laguna (ULL) and the SBiodiversity Service of the Government of the Canary Islands, have carried out a meticulous analysis of the biodiversity of the marine areas protected from the Banco de la Concepción and the East and South of Lanzarote and Fuerteventura.
These spaces, which occupy a total of more than two million hectares, were declared as Places of Community Importance (SCI) within the framework of Natura Network in 2016 and, currently, within the project INTEMARES LIFE work is being done to design their management plans and increase their level of protection as Special Conservation Areas (ZEC).
The work, published in the Journal of the Canarian Academy of Sciences, analyzes the biodiversity of the two SCIs from the updated catalog of the species known in them -something more than 1,700-, some of them never mentioned in the waters of the Canary Islands and more than a hundred protected by different regulations.
This catalog is the result of studies carried out between 2009 and 2018 by the IEO, SEO / BirdLife and SECAC within the framework of the LIFE + INDEMARES and LIFE INTEMARES projects, as well as the information collected in the Canary Islands Biodiversity Data Bank. “Updating the knowledge of the biota of the two SCIs and identifying the protected species and those that form habitats is key as a preliminary step to the future declaration of these spaces as ZEC”, explains Jesús Falcón, IEO researcher and first author of the work.
The SCI of Banco de la Concepción, 75 kilometers northeast of Lanzarote, is a circular seamount with an almost flat top that rises from a depth of more than 2,600 meters to 150 meters. At one time it was a refuge for sirens like the manatee and a privileged place for the largest shark that has ever existed, the famous megalodon, to find food.
The location and morphology of the bank and its interposition to currents cause the outcrop of deep waters loaded with nutrients, which make this seamount an oasis of biodiversity. As a consequence, in addition to benthic species, the school attracts numerous pelagic organisms, from plankton to small fish and, after them, other larger ones, such as tunas and sharks, along with cetaceans or turtles in search of food.
Also seabirds are widely represented in the Banco de la Concepción, which is a place of extraordinary importance for the feeding of species such as psquirrels, petrels, cloths, terns, seagulls or paws, so this space is also considered as Special Protection Area for Birds (ZEPA).
On the other hand, the SCI Marine Area of the East and South of Lanzarote-Fuerteventura comprises an extensive area of more than 14,000 km2 that includes the islands of the Chinijo archipelago, the entire coastline to the east of Lanzarote and Fuerteventura and the underwater banks of Amanay and The Banquet, to the south. The enormous extension of this space and its great variety of environments makes it the one with the greatest biodiversity of habitats and species. About twenty different habitats have been identified, from sebadales on the coast to coral gardens and gorgonians in deep waters.
In addition, the influence of the outcrop of the nearby African coast, as well as the local upwelling of deep waters caused by the interposition of the islands to the currents, makes this area one of the most productive areas of the Canary Islands, attracting large banks of small pelagic fish that form the trophic base for the settlement of a very well structured community of predators composed of sea turtles, tunas, sharks, seabirds and cetaceans that feed near the surface.
Of the 30 species of cetaceans known for the Canary Islands and of the 84 described in the world, 28 have been recorded in the waters of the SCI, among which it is worth highlighting the presence of deep diving species such as beaked whales which, due to the existence of seamounts and the pronounced slope they find here an ideal habitat.
This research has been carried out within the scope of the LIFE IP INTEMARES project, coordinated by the Biodiversity Foundation of the Ministry for the Ecological Transition and the Demographic Challenge and with the financial support of the LIFE program of the European Union. This project advances towards the objective of achieving effective management of the marine areas of the Natura 2000 Network, with the active participation of the sectors involved and with research as basic tools.