Tenerife News of the environment that doesn't get reported in the Canary Islands

Tenerife news that isn't making the headlines

There are several serious environmental news stories that are simply not getting the coverage in the Tenerife and Canary Islands news media so I have decided to report on them here. All have to do with threats to the flora and fauna of the island.

There is an ongoing winter drought that has now continued into the spring that has already caused a tremendous amount of damage to vegetation and dried up ponds here. Reservoirs for the farms are low in water.

Besides this there are threats to Tenerife trees. Pine trees are being killed by bark beetles and Dragon Trees (Dracaena draco) are being destroyed by scale insects. I have witnessed many examples around the island.

Dried up pond

Pond at Erjos dried up in the winter drought 2012. Photo by Steve Andrews
Pond at Erjos dried up in the winter drought 2012. Photo by Steve Andrews

The winter drought

Tenerife usually has heavy rainfall from October onward into March of the following year and Mt Teide is usually covered in snow on its peak for several months but this has not happened. The winter is the time when the island gets the water it needs for the rest of the year. For many plants and trees it is the time of growth and when Tenerife is at its greenest.

Summer results in dried up land and dead and dessicated vegetation, withered and brown due to the heat and sunlight. With the onset of autumn rains the plants recover and new ones spring to life.

Tenerife has many drought-resistant species but they are built to withstand summer drought and not a double period of lack of rainfall. Cacti and succulent plants are wilted and shrivelled up, and if they cannot stand the conditions how can plants that are more tender cope?

Tenerife has two species of frogs, the Stripeless Tree Frog (Hyla meriodonalis) and the Iberian Water Frog (Rana perezii) that breed in spring and you can hear them calling at night and after rainfall. This year has been sadly silent. We haven't had the January and February heavy rains. Frogs and their tadpoles are an important food source for Herons and Egrets.

The freshwater ponds of Erjos, which form a wonderful nature reserve for many species of water birds, such as Coots and Herons, as well as for dragonflies, water beetles, and as a breeding site for the frog species, are drying up. It often happens that these ponds have little water or are dried up completely at the end of the summer but this year they are like it in March!

Of course, for farmers this spells disaster too. How can you grow good crops without any water?

Forests of pine and the evergreen laurel woodlands are suffering badly too. Many endemic wild flowers, ferns, mosses and lichens grow in these places, as do fungi, but without water they are having a very hard time or are absent!

If there are no thunderstorms in what is left of March, or in April at the latest, then I dread to think what Tenerife will be like in a few months time. It is already tinder-dry and brown in many parts!

Dead pine tree

Dead pine tree cut down above Los Silos. Photo by Steve Andrews
Dead pine tree cut down above Los Silos. Photo by Steve Andrews

Dead pine trees in forest

Dead pines in forest above Los Silos. Photo by Steve Andrews, March 2012
Dead pines in forest above Los Silos. Photo by Steve Andrews, March 2012

Bark beetles

Bark beetles (Scolytinae) are a serious pest that kill living trees that they infest. The larvae riddle the trunks with tiny tunnels just under the bark. The insects attack weakened trees and finish them off.

Tenerife forests rejuvenated from the fires of a couple of years back but obviously the trees were weakened by this. Many actually died and did not recover. In the pine forests of the endemic Canary Pine (Pinus canariensis) there are conspicuously dead trees in many parts.

I first noticed that this had happened when walking in the forests of Chinyero. Around the island there are also many Norfolk Pines (Araucaria heterophylla) in gardens and parks that are dead too.

In the forested slopes high above Los Silos many pines have died. Here it seems likely that the pines have become stressed and weakened due to lack of winter rainfall. The forestry department of the island is clearly aware of the problem and is doing what it can by felling the dead trees.

In America the threat of bark beetles destroying forests is regarded as a very serious issue because acres of woodland can be lost. Tenerife prides itself on the beauty of its magnificent forests and the trees also help attract the rain clouds we need here. If the trees die and the island continues to experience drought then desertification will set in.

It is very hard to imagine Tenerife without its magnificent pine forested mountains and the island becoming mostly desert like Lanzarote and Fuerteventura. However, if the drought continues weakening the trees, and bark beetles continue to kill them then this could be their very grim future. Large stretches of woodland could be lost for good.

Mountain Pine Beetle: A Climate Change Catastrophe

Dragon trees are dying

The Dragon Tree is a species that has become recognised as an official plant symbol for the island of Tenerife. The ancient and mighty "Drago Milenario", 1,000-year-old specimen, in Icod de los Vinos is rightly a tourist attraction.

These strange trees are adapted to withstand heat and drought but they are not able to fight of insect pests that are attacking them. Dragon Trees in many places are becoming covered in a species of scale insect and are eventually dying.

The scale insects plaster the leaves and suck out the sap. The long spiky leaves go yellow and brown, wither and die.

The Dragon Tree is in the Dracaena genus and it is known that plants in this family are susceptible to poisoning by fluoride in their water supply. Many of the trees on Tenerife are watered with the domestic water supply that does contain this substance and it is my theory that they are becoming weakened by the fluoride and then attacked by the scale insects that eventually kill them.

Workmen are sent out to deal with the infected and dying trees and what they do is to severely prune away the leaves that are covered in scale insects. It is almost impossible to eliminate the pests this way and they reproduce rapidly.

The workers come back in a month or so only to find that the rest of the leaves of the rosette at the top of the trunk are now dying or dead and they chop off the topmost part of the tree in the hope it will sprout side-shoots. Sadly this usually fails and eventually they remove the dead Dragon Trees.

Large trees are being attacked by the scale insects as well as younger ones and I have seen well-established Dragon Trees that have died in a number of locations. There was one at a roundabout in La Laguna that succumbed, as did the large tree at the bottom of the Barranco del Ruiz, and also a Dragon Tree in Buenavista (see photo) has died.

In conclusion

I am not sure why the media here in Tenerife is not reporting much, if anything at all, on these important matters, but I feel that the public should be informed.

The drought affects us all and if Tenerife's prized Dragon and Pine trees are dying this really is a serious problem!

Copyright © 2012 Steve Andrews. All Rights Reserved.

Erjos

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Comments 2 comments

Dario 2 years ago

Could all be true, but let's not forget, naturally high levels of fluoride in the waters, in particular, around S.J. de la Rambla and Icod have been known about since Hardisson published a paper on it in 2001. So, don't jump to the conclusion that this is wicked civil servants or scientists causing it.


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Tenerife Islander 2 years ago from Tenerife Author

The problem is that the fluoride is added to the waters and is not their naturally.

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