Fuerteventura, the second largest of Spain’s Canary Islands and in the Atlantic Ocean, is increasingly becoming a popular holiday destination. The white sandy beaches, beautiful landscapes, fresh air and warm weather year-round appeal to many tourists. The island’s popularity is elevated by the possibility of engaging in water and wind sports such as windsurfing, surfing and water-skiing. By the way, Fuerteventura loosely means strong winds, that is, Fuerte=strong, and Ventura=fortune/wind. Besides sunbathing at the beach, hiking enthusiasts have many options thanks to volcanic hills and mountains. Cyclists and riders can test their skills and abilities through the rough terrains, particularly the zig-zagged roads, up and down the valleys.
The island, which is essentially a desert, is about 1,659 km2, with the highest elevation of 807m above sea level. Fuerteventura is just 100km off the Northern African Coast and is primarily part of North Africa, although it is politically and administratively in Spain. Spanish is the official language of operation, but English is widely spoken, especially in touristic areas. Often, information in hotels, restaurants, and historic and common places are inscribed in Spanish, English and German.
Water and energy sources, and other environmental concerns
During this exploratory trip, I was keen on understanding the sources of water and energy, renewables or not. Another concern was the possibility of rock falls and flooding due to the rock formation, soil structure and type. The glaring, extremely scarce vegetation and tree cover and arid lands were also some of the triggers to dive deep into learning the dynamics surrounding the island’s local inhabitants and the expanding tourism and hospitality sectors.
On average, Fuerteventura receives 101 mm of rainfall annually, with the most significant proportion being received in December and January. This means reliance on rainfall is unsustainable for day-to-day activities. Although it is a desert, the island is said to have had enough water to sustain its inhabitants throughout the years several centuries ago. Ever since the entry of the first settlers, water abundance declined, but it was still sufficient for the population. However, sufficiency began declining with the establishment of the mills in the nineteenth century, which were used to extract water from the subsoil. It put a lot of pressure on the aquifers. During this time, crop irrigation became possible. However, over-exploitation of the aquifers to meet the growing water needs coupled with poor water management resulted in high salinity in the water, making it unsafe for drinking.
The 20th century recorded a bulging population (slightly more than 124,000 people in 2023, according to Statista.com) and increasing water needs. Specifically, the tourism boom from the 1960s resulted in an exponential rise in water demand, leading to the establishment of water treatment and desalinisation plants. Currently, Fuerteventura’s largest proportion of water is from the sea.
Caution! The desalinated water is not safe for drinking; one has to buy bottled water, which is relatively cheap.
The island capitalises on the long sunshine hours (about 3000 hours of sunshine annually) and strong winds experienced every day to generate electricity. Fuerteventura’s location in the Northern subtropics makes it suitable for consistent and reliable solar energy generation as there is less weather-related disruption, such as heavy rainfall. The summer months produce the highest energy output due to the increased solar radiation and longer sunshine hours compared to the other seasons.
Mostly, solar panels are installed on the rooftops for essential household use, such as lighting to commercial and heavy usage, such as heating swimming pools and running air conditioners.
Wind power has been used in Fuerteventura for so many years. In the earlier years, wind energy was used for different purposes, such as pumping water from wells and in cheese-making farms. One can easily notice the transformation in the windmills from old to current designs. Although times have changed, the old designs are still being used to pump water.
Notably, for instance, huge amounts of energy, mostly from wind energy, are used in desalinisation plants.
The first wind farm on the island is the Fuerteventura Renewable II, a 4.7MW. It is estimated that in 2020, it generated 8.5 GWh of energy. A new and second wind farm in Fuerteventura was commissioned in 2020 with an estimated capacity of 105 GWh annually. This capacity was calculated to be enough to serve nearly 42,000 households and offset about 52,000 tones of carbon dioxide emissions annually.
Flooding and other environmental concerns
Several parts of Fuerteventura have been cited as high-risk areas for flooding, especially during heavy rains. During our stay, we encountered flooding that led to the closure of some roads. Even though it rained for a few minutes, the impact was felt immediately.
Several factors could be attributed to the floods and flooding occurrences in Fuerteventura. They include lack of vegetation and tree cover, bare soils, poor soils, poor water infiltration, pressure on land, and inadequate proper drainage channels. The velocity of the water could be reduced if there was some vegetation on the hillsides.
Fuerteventura is a unique, beautiful, exciting island to explore, with many things to learn. Despite being a desert, the island fosters socio-economic and environmental sufficiency and sustainability. The friendly weather, even during winter seasons, is appealing. While there are so many things to write about the island, I restricted myself to what is relevant to this blog section of Enviro Wild Initiative.
Happy festive season 2023!