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Was the Tenerife winter drought - a sign of Global Warming perhaps?

Updated on September 11, 2015

Signs of Global Warming

Anyone who doesn't believe in Global Warming would find it hard to explain what was happening in Tenerife the winter of 2011 to 2012!

Mt Teide, which is normally covered in snow on its peak at Christmas time, and well into the New Year, had none. An on-going drought had hit the island, and at time of writing (12 January 2012) was showing no signs of stopping. Skies were clear and the sun was beating down day after day.

Very hot dry periods and occasional droughts in summer can be expected but not in the winter months. Whilst blue skies and plenty of sunshine are welcomed by tourists who flock to Tenerife, a lack of water spells disaster for the farmers and is a serious threat to the wildlife and ecosystems of the island.

Dead vegetation on Mt Teide

Dead and dying vegetation on Mt Teide. Photo by Steve Andrews
Dead and dying vegetation on Mt Teide. Photo by Steve Andrews
Dead vegetation on Mt Teide in Tenerife drought. Photo by Steve Andrews
Dead vegetation on Mt Teide in Tenerife drought. Photo by Steve Andrews

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Mt Teide - highest mountain in Spain

Mt Teide, which is the highest mountain in all of Spain, is in a national park which the island prides itself on. It offers fantastic scenery with its weird rock formations and barren volcanic landscapes but it also offers unique habitats for many species of flora and fauna. Some of the plants that grow on Mt Teide, such as the Red Viper's Bugloss or Tajinaste Rojo (Echium wildpretii ) are found nowhere else in the wild. The Teide Violet (Viola cheiranthifolia ) is also in this category and is found at elevations above 3,000 metres.

Usually the unique vegetation that grows on the mountain receives plenty of water in the form of snow that falls from the end of October all the way through until March of the following year. Mt Teide is often covered in a white and gleaming icing throughout all of this period. When the snow melts the water goes into the ground and into the plants.

Further on down the mountain's slopes are vast pine and evergreen laurel forests, known as "Laurisilva." These laurel forests are usually covered on a daily basis all year round by a "sea of clouds" that gather around the mountain but this is not happening at present.

This sea of clouds is one of the attractions for tourists to see but the clouds are missing, and the forests which are normally humid and damp enough to support lichens, mosses and ferns are becoming tinder dry.

Meanwhile on the higher reaches of Mt Teide near the Parador Turismo, tourist centre and hotel, the ground has become so dry that the plants growing in the scrub-land are turning brown and dying. Many will crumble to dust if handled.

later on in the year, these plants produce a lot of nectar which feeds the honey-bees which live there and the Canary Blue butterflies (Cyclyrius webbianus ). There are hives that have been placed up on this high ground as a source of genuine Mt Teide Tenerife honey. If many of the plants die there will be a lot less nectar for the bees in spring and summer.

I have lived on the island for seven years and have never seen anything like the sorry state the vegetation was in when I went up on the mountain with a friend on 11 January. I had been telling her about the many friendly Tenerife Lizards (Gallotia galloti ) that live up there, and how they will come out if, for example, you throw them some crumbs from your sandwiches. We tried doing this and saw none. In fact, we didn't see any lizards at all the whole time we were up there.

In the space of several hours wandering about all we saw in the way of wildlife was a couple of small birds, two flies and a solitary honey bee desperately looking for any flowers it could find. We saw no flowers of any type only dead and dried up ones from last year.

Prickly pear cactus

Wilting and shrivelled Prickly Pear cactus in Tamaimo. Photo by Steve Andrews
Wilting and shrivelled Prickly Pear cactus in Tamaimo. Photo by Steve Andrews


Houseleek (Aeonium urbicum). Photo by Steve Andrews
Houseleek (Aeonium urbicum). Photo by Steve Andrews
Healthy Houseleek. Photo by Steve Andrews
Healthy Houseleek. Photo by Steve Andrews

Prickly Pears and Houseleeks

Recently I was in Tamaimo in the south of the island walking with another friend and was dismayed to see that the Prickly Pear (Opuntia species) cacti and Houseleek (Aeonium urbicum ) succulents were wilting and clearly suffering from the drought conditions despite their adaptations to survive without much water.

Many people think of cacti as plants that grow in deserts that don't need much water, and whilst it is true most types can go without for a much longer period than ordinary plants, they still do need the life-sustaining liquid. The Prickly Pears in many places in Tenerife are showing conspicuous signs of trouble caused by lack of water. The cacti are drooping, going yellowish, and displaying lines in the normally firm green fleshy pads .

When cacti are looking sick there is clearly something very wrong!

Houseleeks normally have rosettes of succulent leaves at the top of their sturdy stems. They are adapted to growing in very arid and stony conditions and can even grow on roofs and walls, hence their name. The leaves are usually quite thick and have gelatinous tissue inside but currently many of these plants are curling their leaves, which have become very thin and reddened, in an effort to conserve water.

Houseleek species in Tenerife should be at their best now and in flower or getting ready to bloom in the forthcoming months. Sadly, many of them look as if they are doing their best to simply survive the fierce heat and sunshine the island is experiencing!

It is clear that conditions are far from normal when both cacti species and endemic succulents such as the Houseleeks are in obvious trouble due to lack of water.

Mt Teide, Tenerife

The Kogi

22 years ago a television documentary was filmed for the BBC by Alan Ereira entitled From The Heart Of The World. It told the story of the Kogi tribe who live on the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in Columbia in South America. These people survived the Spanish invasion long ago by retreating high into the mountain range and forests in a similar way to the Guanches held out a long while on Tenerife. The Kogi are said to be the only tribe that has kept their cultural traditions absolutely intact because they had no contact with western civilisation and kept hidden away for all these hundreds of years.

The leaders of the Kogi are men who were selected as babies to be brought up and trained to become what are known as Mamos/Mamas. In their tradition they believe that they are the guardians of the planet and that their sacred mountain is the "Heart of the World."

The Kogi think of themselves as the "Elder Brother" and we, the rest of the world, are called the "Younger Brother." They think of us as children with machines and no understanding of how people should live. In their belief system the Younger Brother was sent away across the seas and he was given tools. Unfortunately he came back. The Kogi lived in peace and in balance with nature before their land was invaded. They understand all the signs to look out for when thinking about the ecology of the planet and their immediate environment.

The Kogi have many micro-climates on the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, ranging from Arctic tundra in the highlands down through jungles, cloud-forests and eventually to the lowlands and the coast. It is like a microcosm of the macrocosm which is the rest of the world.

All those years back the Kogi Mamas became alarmed enough to know that it was time to talk to the Younger Brother. It was time to issue a serious warning. This was the only reason they allowed Ereira into their secret world and let him film them.

The Kogi know that the mountains produce water for the land below. When the snow and ice on the peaks melt. then the rivers and streams carry the water downwards. Also clouds that naturally form around mountains bring more rainfall and moisture. All life depends on water. But Younger Brother does not seem to understand this.

Towards the close of From The Heart Of The World, Ereira is shown high on the mountain's summit. He explains that what got the Kogi really worried was that the plants that grow up there were dying, and that the clouds were missing, as was the snow. Global Warming had destroyed the natural order there and the Kogi believe that unless the Younger Brother stops wasting resources and destroying nature that the world will end.

The conditions up on Mt Teide now mirror those high on the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. Unless Tenerife gets a lot of heavy rainfall soon then it means disaster for many farmers here and untold damage will be caused to the flora and fauna of the island.

Although the holiday-makers that come to the island would hate this type of weather, thunderstorms and torrential rain are what Tenerife really needs.

© 2012 Steve Andrews


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    • Tenerife Islander profile imageAUTHOR

      Steve Andrews 

      7 years ago from Tenerife

      CASE1WORKER, if we don't get rain soon I forecast a terrible year for farmers here, many of whom have experienced very poor harvests in recent years anyway and a lot have given up. I don't think anyone could say what the effects on the flora and fauna will be but certainly for endangered species this is not going to help at all! It is usual for the south of the island to be hotter and drier but the whole island is lacking rainfall.

    • CASE1WORKER profile image


      7 years ago from UNITED KINGDOM

      Excellent hub-In the UK things are not brilliant- drought orders in the southeast. I live in the Midlands and the vast reservoir at Rutland water was looking sadly depleted at Christmas- although we did have a lot of rain last week, when we were on holiday- your holiday makers wont like the rain, but it has to come at some time, surely?

    • Tenerife Islander profile imageAUTHOR

      Steve Andrews 

      7 years ago from Tenerife

      How would you explain it then David? I have never seen anything as bad as this here!

    • DavidParkes profile image


      7 years ago from Tenerife

      I believe in Global Warming, but I wouldn't use it to explain what is happening in Tenerife at the moment.


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