Island living means you’re never far away from the ocean, especially on an island of something less than 800 sq miles. From the peak of Spain’s highest mountain you see the Atlantic and some of the other islands of the Canarian archipelago. It’s a constant presence. I’ve lived in a couple of places where the sound of the waves lulled me to sleep, and for me there is nothing like it.
This is why when I think about World Environment day I think first about the ocean, which is not to under-rate the devastation we are causing on land or air, it’s just my personal passion.
Where I’m living, El Médano, is very lucky to have a crew of lifeguards who take their responsibilities much further than scanning the beach for human problems. I’m biased because my son, Austin, was once one of them, and many of the guys still there are his friends, but it isn’t hard to see that they make caring for the environment a part of their work……even to the point where they think nothing of gathering up rubbish from the beach, and making pleas to the public to be more aware of and responsible for our communal environment.
Austin has worked on boats in the waters around Tenerife, too, and in both jobs quite frequently found or saw found injured turtles. Turtles are the wanderers of the oceans, traveling miles and miles, but always returning to the shore on which they hatched when it’s time to lay their own eggs. The turtles found in Canarian seas come mainly from the shores of Central or North America, or from the Cape Verde islands, south of the Canarian Archipelago. Because they travel so far it’s hard to say for sure where they become entangled in the nets from the big commercial fishing fleets, ingest plastic bags or become entrapped in those plastic rings which hold your six-pack together.
If they are lucky they are found by our lifeguards or by local fishing boats or pleasure boats, and most are taken to La Tahonilla in La Laguna to recuperate. Many do. Some don’t. When it comes to mammals plying these same waters, dolphins or whales, most that are injured don’t make it.
La Tahonilla had an open day this week to celebrate World Environment Day, so we could go and see for ourselves the great work they do. Funded largely by the EU (who says the EU is a waste of space?!) the center cares not only for turtles, of course, but also for any wild animals which have been injured, which is to say, not domestic or farm animals, and not exotic animals, which one would normally find in a zoo. The main occupants on Monday were turtles and birds.
The birds are, mostly, either victims of their own over-eagerness to swoop down on prey (i.e. mostly hawks and owls who, quite literally crash-land), or more to the point of this post, victims of the poisons and pesticides used around the countryside. The good news is that the number of cases of poisoned or injured birds is falling, as less poisons and pesticides are now used……which is also good news for those of us to like to buy from our local farmers’ markets.
We were able to look around the tanks where turtles paddled around, and the ample cages where the birds were housed, and see the kitchen and other (don’t be squeamish think hunting birds who have to relearn to fend for themselves) food is prepared and reared. The animals are nursed back to health and then released back into the wild as near to the place where they were found as possible. There are some who can never be released, like the turtle who had lost a flipper.
Having been so shocked over the last few weeks by the extent of the damage from last year’s wildfires I asked how much more of a burden the tragedy had placed on the Center. The good news was that the majority of animals seemed to know their escape routes, and had found ways around the blaze, but the bad news was that the Center hadn’t had many patients as a result because the ones who didn’t escape were burned to death. Basically, there were few injuries. The ones who didn’t get away had no chance.
A few days before I’d been lucky enough to witness a much happier event when two turtles which had been found by our local lifeguards were released back into the sea from the beach here in El Médano. Even the mayor turned out to watch and celebrate the event. It’s not the first time I’ve witnessed one of these events, but it was every bit as emotional as it was the first time. As they are carried to the shore, the turtles clearly sense the proximity of the ocean, their heads perk up and they wiggle their flippers in seeming eagerness to get back into their true environment.
Before they were brought out there was a brief, informative talk, which I was a bit too far away to hear, well, I was knee-deep in the ocean, waiting! The net in which one of the victims had been found trapped was on display. Apparently it came from some huge “factory” fishing vessel. Local fishermen are strictly controlled and use very different nets. The nets have to be checked and displayed when they return, as proof that they haven’t been jettisoned at sea, and the size of the netting is strictly controlled too. Sadly, it’s much harder to police the huge fleets which swoop around these shores which come from far afield (and we all know how much the fishermen of certain countries treat our planet). They manage to stay just inside international waters, which makes it almost impossible to trace wrong-doing. You can see a picture of the turtle when it was found on the Lifeguards Facebook Page.
These ocean wanderers may be far away now, en route to the Caribbean or West African waters. They were lucky to be found by our lifeguards, who deserve a huge round of applause, as do (to give it its full title) Centro de Receuperación de Fauna Silvestre La Tahonilla. Tenerife is lucky to have both these caring teams of guys around.