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Roaming the Chinijo archipelago

Text: Annemieke van Roekel
Photography: Eva Maldener

May 18, 2006

The Canarian island of Alegranza is an important breeding site for the once intensively hunted Cory's Shearwater (Calonectris Diomedea Borealis). This impressive pelagic bird roams the Northern Atlantic Ocean during the breeding period, between May and October. The adults and young birds migrate to the Southern Atlantic in October.
The Cory's Shearwater - Pardela Cenicienta in Spanish - has been popular for its meat and oil since historic times. Columbus must have eaten the salted bird on his transoceanic travels. Intensive hunting took place until a few decades ago when bird conservation became an issue. Cory's served as a local dish for the inhabitants of the Spanish and Portuguese islands, who tried to make a living in often hard times. Mainly the chick was the hunter's target, being pulled from the nest by a iron hook and sometimes even caught with the help of tamed predators such as the ferret.

Breeding Cory's Shearwater on La Graciosa © Eva Maldener On the Spanish Chinijo archipelago, situated north of Lanzarote and part of the Canary Islands, the name of the capital (and only village) of La Graciosa reminds of old times when the Pardela Cenicienta still had an important economic value. 'Caleta del Sebo literally means 'bay of grease',' explains Eva Maldener, who works as a photographer and tourist guide on La Graciosa. The nearby island of Alegranza is one of the world's main breeding areas of the Cory's Shearwater. The Chinijo archipelago comprises the islands of La Graciosa, Alegranza, Montaña Clara and two tiny rocky islets: Roque del Este and Roque del Oeste. The Chinijo archipelago has been declared a Natural Parc in 1986.

Other main breeding centres of the Cory's Shearwater are the Azores archipelago and the Selvagens, both Portuguese territories. The Selvagens archipelago is an unknown group of three uninhabited, volcanic islets, situated halfway between Madeira and the Canary islands. The area is severely protected and no tourism is allowed.

In 1995, the Chinijo archipelago has been classified as a Marine Reserve, which added the waters to the protection zone as well. Maldener: 'It is the biggest marine reserve in Europe and covers more than 70.000 hectares. Restrictions are many in this area. Only small scale fishing is allowed, which means that only traditional fishing methods are applied by the local fishermen. However, we do see big fishing boats from Lanzarote sometimes. They pay their fines if they are caught but continue their illegal practices. Harpoon fishing is also forbidden as are other diving activities.' To make sure that the rules are not restricted to paper only, two boats with guards roam the Reserva Marina permanently.

Since the Chinijo archipelago is classified as a Natural Parc and guards are stationed on the uninhabited island of Alegranza, hunting seabirds has almost come to an end. Killing Cory's Shearwaters - and some still try - may be costly and a fine amounts up to 600 euro's. 'The guards stay on Alegranza from the middle of July until the end of October and are assisted by volunteers,' says Maldener. 'Every week the team, whose main purpose is vigiliance, scientific research and collecting garbage from the Atlantic that is drifted ashore, is renewed.'

Cory's Shearwaters make their nests in burrows in volcanic rocks and come back to the same nest every year. As many other pelagic birds, they produce only one egg a year. Maldener: 'It is a real thrill to see the pardela on its nest. It doesn't move at all and looks like a statue'. Since hunting has come to an end, the population of the Cory's Shearwater has recovered to about ten thousand pairs on Alegranza and thousand pairs on Montaña Clara. Less than a few hundred couples nest on La Graciosa and the two rocky islets.

Other seabirds breeding on the Chinijos are Bulwer's Petrel (sp: Petrel de Bulwer, Bulweria bulwerii), Madeiran Storm-petrel (sp: Paíño de Madeira, Oceanodroma castro), Little Shearwater (sp: Pardela Chica, Puffinus assimilis baroli), White-faced Storm-petrel (sp: Paíño Pechialbo, Pelagodroma marina hypoleuca) and the European Storm-Petrel (sp: Paíño Común/Europeo, Hydrobates pelagicus pelagicus), which suffers a lot from feral cats in La Graciosa. Most of these seabirds also breed in the Selvagens archipelago, 160 kilometers up north. The breeding colony of the White-faced Storm-petrel on the Selvagens exceeds 60.000 pairs. Two species of gulls are abundant in the Chinijos: the Lesser Black-backed Gull (Larus f. graellsii) and the Yellow-legged Gull (Larus michahellis atlantis).

La Graciosa is the home for the Houbara Bustard (sp: Avutarda hubara, Chlamydotis undulata fuerteventura), an impressive terrestrial bird that can become as high as half a meter. This subspecies is endemic to the eastern Canary Islands. The Canarian population is estimated around 500 birds and less than twenty are living on La Graciosa. 'Some people visit La Graciosa specially to see the Hubara,' says Maldener. 'It breeds in the area between Montaña Bermeja and Las Agujas, two of the four volcanic complexes that are so characteristic to La Graciosa's landscape.'

Eva Maldener works as a photographer and tourist guide on the island of La Graciosa (Lanzarote). For more information about guided walks, you may send an email to:
Phone number: 0034-928-842105
Mobile: 0034-649067029

Annemieke VAN ROEKEL is freelance journalist

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© Annemieke van Roekel. Niets van deze website mag worden vermenigvuldigd of openbaar gemaakt door middel van druk, microfilm, fotokopie, plaatsing van teksten en/of afbeeldingen op andere websites of op welke wijze dan ook zonder voorafgaande schriftelijke toestemming van de auteur en de betreffende tijdschriftredacties.
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