Researchers find largest island’s population has risen by more than 500% since eruption of Calbuco in 2011
Wildfires, hurricanes and floods that have battered central and southern Europe this summer have left thousands homeless but one extra concern has been for locals on Spain’s Canary Islands, who now have more than 500% rise in population due to rising rates of volcanic eruptions.
The discovery will be a cause for concern for the Arcoja region, which lies in an area believed to have been very active in the past.
The region has had five outbursts of magma since 2000. Research conducted by the Canary Islands Emergency Services over six years has shown an “unprecedented and remarkable” population increase as a result.
Jose Manuel Román, the director of the prefectural emergency services, told AFP: “We know it’s not something that will reduce in the near future, and we hope the population doesn’t grow much more.”
Residents of Arcoja, a strip of land at the north-east end of Tenerife, and neighbouring Las Torres find their livelihoods linked to the rain of the Pacific coast. Fish bring in foreign visitors, with foreign visitors spending around €14m (£11.2m) in Arcoja in 2015, according to the regional authorities.
But recent decades have also seen a drastic change in the landscape as the volcanic islands are home to peaks that are as high as 30 metres in peaks over the Tenerife mountains.
La Isla del Coco, named after the village where most of the eruptions have taken place, stands at more than 30 metres and provides a popular hiking spot. The rocks on the north island have started to erode.
In 2011, the island’s highest peak, Monasterio de Fonati, 50 metres above sea level, erupted with a cloud of ash 22 metres high. The regional authorities estimate the risk of a similar event is around one in 100,000.
But the first eruption to happen in nearly 10,000 years, which lasted only 15 minutes, is being touted as a warning sign. It increased natural forces such as ocean currents, which were causing an increase in precipitation and a decrease in rain in other islands.
The eruption of Calbuco volcano in Argentina in 2015, over which the Islas Banderas mountain peaks rise. Photograph: Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images
This year, intense rains caused the worst flooding in Spanish history, followed by the largest wildfire in Spain’s history. Extreme weather events are caused by climate change, the International Alert meteorological service said in March.
Despite being one of the most vocal backers of environmental policies to the world, the Spanish government in January this year rejected a mandatory payment of around €19bn to a fund to help the Mediterranean islanders deal with damage from climate change.