Tenerife-La Gomera Marine Area
Europe’s first Whale Heritage Site
With its unique resident population of pilot whales that can be found alongside a high diversity of other whales and dolphin species, all within a designation Special Area of Conservation, it’s no wonder that the Tenerife-La Gomera Whale Heritage Site has become a thriving whale watching destination.
Tenerife’s whale and dolphin watching industry is already one of the largest and most famous in the world, estimated to directly generate €42 million revenue annually from 1.4 million tourists.
After seeing a rapid rise in recent years, there is now a recognised need to cap that growth, continue to improve standards, and encourage further collaboration between operators. The Tenerife-La Gomera Whale Heritage Site certification recognises the incredible work being done by a diverse range of engaged stakeholders doing just that. The collective efforts of not-for-profit organisations, government departments, whale watching operators, the scientific community and many more is a true example of how collaboration and cooperation is making great steps towards the unified goal of protecting whales and dolphins and their habitats.
Tenerife-La Gomera Marine Area became a Certified Whale Heritage Site in January, 2021.
- Region – Europe
- Country – Spain
- Area/State – Tenerife
- Area size – 2000 km2
- Short-finned pilot whales
- Bottlenose dolphins
- 21 other species
The site encloses approximately 2000 km2, of which 90% is marine area. The geographical area starts 2 kms inshore along the west coast of the island of Tenerife, from the village of Las Galletas at the southern corner to the village of Buenavista at the northern corner; then the area extends west all the way to 7 nautical miles past the west coast of the island of La Gomera. The site excludes most of the land of La Gomera, and only encompasses a 2 km wide strip along the coast where whale watching tours depart from.
Cetaceans regularly seen
- Short finned pilot whales
- Bottlenose dolphins
Tenerife-La Gomera is an important migration stop for 21 other cetacean species: Rosso’s dolphin, Sperm whale, Killer whale, False killer whale, Short-beaked common dolphin, Striped dolphin, Atlantic spotted dolphin, Rough-toothed dolphin, Fraser’s dolphin, Cuvier’s beaked whale, Blainville’s beaked whale, Gervais’ beaked whale, Northern bottlenose whale, Humpback whale, Fin whale, Sei whale, Blue whale, Bryde’s whale, Common minke whale, North Atlantic right whale, Pygmy sperm whale.
Achieving Whale Heritage Site Status
Each Whale Heritage Site has a unique route to meeting the criteria set out by the WCA. Check out some of the highlights from the Tenerife – La Gomera Whale Heritage Site:
Encouraging Respectful Human-Cetacean Coexistence
There are various national and international regulations and laws in place that protect cetaceans in the site. Responsible whale watching operators in the site have been making great efforts towards best practice.
Research groups, associations and naturalists are monitoring cetaceans and the human impacts using both, land and sea observation stations. Bad practices are recorded and included in reports and presented to the authorities.
The Whale Watching Association of South Tenerfie (ACEST) is formed of a growing group of whale watching companies that are committed to the preservation of the whales and dolphins that live the waters of this region. ACEST has demonstrated the importance of collaboration in enhancing whale watching as an industry in a sustainable and responsible way by effectively putting pressure on the authorities, both regional and national, for a better management of the Tenerife whale watching activity.
The communities within the Tenerife-La Gomera Whale Heritage Site are hosts to a whole range of education centres, events and festivals that celebrate whales and dolphins and the wonderful local marine life.
Arona Son Atlántico, is one such event. This large annual festival is a chance for residents and visitors to learn about the importance of protecting the environment on land and in the oceans. It is a celebration of music, film and photography, supported by a programme of educational workshops, marine experiences and conservation events, such as beach cleans, turtle and bird releases.
Working Towards Sustainability
Whale and dolphin watching is a hugely important industry for Tenerife’s economy; it is the second most popular activity for tourists visiting the island.
There are several stakeholder groups within the Whale Heritage Site committed to reducing environmental impacts and protecting the habitats and the welfare of the animals upon which the industry depends.
The members of the Whale Heritage Site steering committee are working to develop an Action Plan with clear plans to address the current and future threats that the cetaceans in the region face.
Individuals, groups, businesses and governments within the Whale Heritage Site have been dedicating themselves to developing this area as a sustainable destination.
Those within the tourism industry have been adopting sustainability tools and systems to reduce their environmental impact while the Tenerife Sustainability, Environment and Safety Council has introduced the Tenerife Más Sostenible Project (Tenerife More Sustainable). This initiative spreads sustainable practices in a wide range of sectors, from reforestation, to zero waste, circular economy, clean transportation and the use of renewable energy.
Developing Research, Education and Awareness Programmes
The Tenerife-La Gomera Whale Heritage Site is a location of an impressive range of environmental education, conservation based research and citizen science programmes. These initiatives are so important to help gain a better understanding of the whales and dolphins in the area and to bring the marine environment to life for residents and visitors of the site.
Comprehensive photo identification catalogues is one example of a brilliant development to monitor the cetacean populations found within the site. These catalogues are also adding value to whale watching experiences by providing fantastic data to tell tourists and several whale watching companies are even contributing their sightings to grow these data sets.
Who is leading the process locally?
The Steering Committee members are:
- Sara Pombard & Aida Cedres, Turismo de Tenerife (Tourism Tenerife Council)
- Mirna Piñero, Calderones de Canarias (Pilot Whales of the Canaries, NGO)
- Francis Pérez (Freelance wildlife photographer, Hope Spot from Mission Blue)
- Natcaha Aguilar & Chloe Zyoard (La Laguna University)
- Felipe Rabina, Especies de Canarias (Species of the Canaries, NGO)
- Marc Fernandez, MARE (Research group)
- Kathaysa Ugido; Peter Hoste & Mercedes Reyes (ACEST)
- Representant from Asociación Tonina
- Volker Boehle from Ventana al Mar (Conservation NGO)
- Tomas Azcarate (Marinas of Tenerife)