Cabo de Gata-Nijar

Map: CMA de la Junta de Andalucía

Cabo de Gata in the south east extreme of Spain in the province of Almería is still, despite recent inroads by corrupt local councils, one of the last relatively large and relatively unspoilt stretches of the Spanish Mediterranean.

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The Sierra of Cabo de Gata, Spain is predominately volcanic. Together with Tabernas, a few kilometres inland, this is surely the driest region of Europe with barely 150mm of rain a year. Unsurprisingly trees are thin on the ground, being restricted to ramblas and irrigated areas. The park is home to some 1,000 species of vascular plants, around 12% of the total figure for Iberia, the vast majority of which is xerophytic and halophytic. Particularly characteristic is the fan dwarf palm (palmito) the only native palm in Europe, though much has been felled, and these two plants:

Sisal (pita) and prickly pears (higos chumbos)

The park can be divided into four distinct areas;

  1. the marine habitat of reefs and posidonia seabeds (12,000 ha) supporting more than 1,400 species of animals and plants. In addition to being some of the cleanest waters in the Western Mediterranean , the high biodiversity os also due to the convergence of the Med and Atlantic currents.
  2. the 40km coastline made up of sea cliffs (up to 100m high), beaches and coves
  3. the coastal plain of the Bahia de Almeria with dunes, coastal lagoons and xerophytic scrub
  4. the arid volcanic sierra hinterland. Juan Goyistola in Campos de Nijar described the area as xxx

Note the line of greenhouses marking the park’s north-west and north-east border.

Cabo de Gata was the last site in mainland Spain of the monk seal. However, any tourist bumf you may read proclaiming the plan to reintroduce the species is beyond a joke. The park is under permanent threat from illegal greenhouse development and the expansion of holiday villas and second homes, often in connivance with seemingly corrupt local officials and authorities

Information adapted from UNESCO Biosphere Reserve Directory

This biosphere reserve is located in the extreme southeast of the Iberian Peninsula in the most arid part of Europe. It covers 46,000 hectares, of which 12,000 hectares are in the marine zone to a depth of 60 meters. Its volcanic rocks characterize the landscape and Mediterranean plant communities such as cornical (Periploca laevigata ) tomillares (Labiatae) and halophytic matorral adapted to drought which have a high floristic diversity and are considered a priority for conservation at the European and Mediterranean levels. The coastline has natural seagrass beds. Due to the arid climate, the population is disperse (3,500 inhabitants in 2001), but there are many tourists – some 500,000 (1998) per year – which puts great pressure on water resources and land use, but which also provides employment and a market for local produce. Tourism impacts are expected to be reduced as a consequence of the designation as a biosphere reserve.

Major habitats & land cover types Volcanic formation with species such as Ziziphus lotus, Periploca laevigata, Chamaerops humilis, Stipa tenacissima etc.; marine areas with algae and species such as Posidonia oceanica; sand-dune habitats; salt mines of Cabo de Gata

Information adapted from Ramsar Directory of Wetlands of International Importance

Wetland Types: The site primarily consists of salt pans (salinas) which occupy a coastal depression at the foot of southwestern slopes of the Sierra de Gata mountains. There are also sand dunes and saltmarshes.

Biological/Ecological notes: The area in the immediate vicinity of the salt pans supports halophytic vegetation composed mainly of Arthrocnemum macrostachyum , Limonium cymuliferum , Frankenia corymbosa , Salsola vermiculatus and Inula crithmoides . There are limited areas of Phragmites australis reedbeds.

Hydrological/Physical notes: Lying below sea level, the salinas are supplied with seawater by gravitational flow. A sand dune complex separates the wetland from the open sea.

Human Uses: The salinas are being used for salt extraction.

Conservation Measures: The site is a Natural Park . It is also designated an EU Special Protection Area for wild birds, as part of the much larger Cabo de Gata-Níjar SPA (26,000 ha).

Around the web

Cabo de Gata on Wikipedia. “Cabo de Gata-Níjar Natural Park is characterised by volcanic rock formations and by matorral, an abundance of drought-adapted flora: low-growing vegetation, dwarf fan palms and a number of xerophytes. ” Read

Good intro from Wildside holidays on Cabo de Gata. “An arid part of the Iberian Peninsular that is molded from volcanic rock giving rise to a demanding habitat for both plants and animals. ” Read

Official site of the Spanish Marine Reserves, including Cabo de Gata (in Spanish)

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