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Garajonay celebrates its 40th anniversary today as a National Park


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Diario de Avisos and La Opinión de Tenerife

Luis Herrera

Full Professor emeritus of Environmental Biology of the University of Navarra

March 25 will mark the 40th anniversary of the creation of the Garajonay National Park on the island of La Gomera, C by Law 3/1981. The Park, with an area of about four thousand hectares of public ownership, exceeds 10% of the surface of the island. Subsequently, in 1986, UNESCO included it in the list of natural assets that are part of the World Heritage. Garajonay is also the most emblematic area of the island of La Gomera, which was declared in 2012 reservation of the Biosphere.

The Park borders with other protected areas such as the Natural Monument of Roque Blanco to the north; the Natural Park of Majona to the east; the formidable Natural Monument of Lomo del Carretón between Alojera and Taguluche to the west; and to the south the protected landscape of Orone and the integral natural reservation of Benchijigua. The Park includes the Natural Monument of Los Roques, with the rocks of Agando, Ojila, La Zarcita and Carmona, and the public utility mountains of San Sebastián, Hermigua, Agulo and Vallehermoso.

In my next book to be published in a few weeks on "Ecology, climate change and sixth extinction", I make a special reference letter to the declaration of these areas and protected areas in order to conserve the most vulnerable species and habitats, with a singular review to Garajonay National Park as a protected natural area that, for its special charm, has been incorporated in 2008 to the European Charter for Sustainable Tourism (CETS) of the EUROPARC Federation; and declared in 2009 a Special Protection Area for Birds (SPA), of the network Natura 2000, according to the Community Directive 79/409/EEC on the Conservation of Wild Birds. 

The goal of the network Natura is not to create wildlife reserves in which all human activity is excluded but, on the contrary, to seek a relationship of harmony and symbiosis between natural ecosystems and man. In the areas of network , the aim is to carry out sustainable activities ranging from tourism and sports activities compatible with nature to agricultural and forestry activities, in such a way as to make the Economics of the local authorities compatible with the protection of nature. In this way, the public utility of natural areas is increased and sensitivity to biodiversity conservation is improved.

As is well known, the Park takes its name from the high Garajonay, the highest point of the island with 1487 m and the hamlet of El Cedro which is the highest part leave at about 650 m above sea level. The Park is home to the best laurisilva reservation of the Canary Islands, as a relic of the Tertiary rainforests that covered practically all of Europe. The laurel forest is characterized by a uniform climatic regime with small variations in temperature and almost constant humidity due to the horizontal rain of the 'sea of clouds' produced by the trade winds. This horizontal rain is of vital importance in the islands for the recharge of subway aquifers.

The Park includes an extraordinary biological diversity, with 4,182 described species, of which 1,063, that is, 25% are endemic to the Canary Islands and 268 are exclusive to La Gomera, mainly concentrated in the monteverde and laurel forests of the central area of the island, where new species such as the Gomera pigeon beak 'Lotus gomerythus' are still being discovered today. Of these species, 2,000 are invertebrates. Of these, 577 are endemic to the Canary Islands and 227 are exclusive to La Gomera.

The most representative species of the laurel forest are laurels, viñátigos, tiles, acebiños, durillos and palo blanco. The main components of the fayal-brezal are the fayas and heathers of arboreal size.
The vertebrate fauna includes 38 species, among which the most important ones are the common dove (Columba junoniae) and the turquoise pigeon (Columba bollii), endemic to the Canary Islands, and the woodcock, which is more widely distributed.

Recreation and tourist enjoyment of the park.

According to the National Institute of Statistics, Garajonay National Park receives more than 820,000 visitors annually, although this figure has clearly decreased in the last year due to the pandemic of the coronavirus, COVID-19. Most of these visits come from organized excursions from Tenerife that cross the Park by bus with stops at viewpoints and sometimes at the Visitor Center. On the other hand, tourism that stays overnight on the island is a much smaller minority, mainly from Germany and other European countries, who enjoy the Park by hiking along the carefully marked trails. From agreement with my colleague at department Dr. Villarroya, "this subject of walks in the mountains reduce stress levels, moderate tension and strengthen the immune system. Countries such as Japan have already incorporated this prescription into their health system, and doctors prescribe shinrin-yoku sessions -forest baths-, to prevent certain conditions or reinforce treatments".

The Park is managed by the Cabildo Insular de La Gomera, which has published various publications to help visitors learn about the values of Garajonay, with the Juego de Bolas Visitor Center, which offers a wide range of information and interpretation services; and the classroom de la Naturaleza in the Caserío de El Cedro, in the vicinity of the Park, for environmental Education activities.