Lanzarote: biosphere reserve

Lanzarote: biosphere reserve

We often talk about the wealth of flora and fauna and the immense biodiversity in many zones of South America or Southeast Asia. Although it’s normal to idealise and admire foreign parts, often we don’t realise what we have in our own country, in Spain. Here, within one single region we can find a broad variety of landscapes, climates, geographies, vegetation and fauna that other countries can only dream about. A prime example of this wealth is the Canary Island archipelago, with multiple microclimates, endemic species of flora and fauna, and a number of geographical accidents that will make you view Spain’s wealth through new eyes (in terms of Nature at any rate). It’s worth remembering that UNESCO has recognised and designated biosphere reserves on each of the seven Canary Islands.

Although we could talk in great detail about each of the Canary Islands, there is one that is very special: Lanzarote, the island of volcanoes. This is the most easterly and most northerly island to have an administration (if we didn’t take this into account, the most northerly would be La Graciosa). It is also the fourth in terms of size, at 845 km2.

The slogan of Lanzarote’s Tourism Office sums up to perfection what this territory is: “a unique island”. What is Lanzarote? Lanzarote is an amazing volcanic landscape, a UNESCO biosphere reserve, with great weather all year round, an expanse of vineyards in the midst of a terrain of solidified lava, the birthplace of César Manrique… Lanzarote is all this – and much more.

When we think of Lanzarote, several questions spring to mind: When did the island come into being? When was Lanzarote designated a biosphere reserve? What species are typical of, and unique to, Lanzarote? What comprises Lanzarote’s biosphere ecosystem?

When did the island come into being?

  1. Around fifteen million years ago, the first traces of the island began to emerge in the zone of what today is called Famara, located in the north of the island and in Los Ajaches, in the south.
  2. Between the Miocene and Pleistocene periods, due to volcanic and magmatic activity, these two points situated to the north and south gradually joined together.
  3. In the third phase, between approximately the 18th and 19th century, the island grew a little more to be as it is today, as a consequence of magmatic activity. It’s worth noting that this expansion was not large compared to the previous phase, but it solidified and was well conserved thanks to Lanzarote’s incredibly benign climate.

There are also five major geographical landmarks that give this island its distinctive appearance:

  • The two mountain massifs of Famara and Los Ajaches (the first traces of the island to emerge).
  • The two zones where magma erupted to the surface more recently (located in the centre around Timanfaya).
  • The tongue of sand of marine origin in the area known as El Jable, in the central part of the island.

When was Lanzarote designated a biosphere reserve?

The combination of all these elements have made Lanzarote’s biosphere unique. In addition to this, the environmental protection policies (especially the restriction of urban development and building) put in place by the Government of the Canary Islands with the support of the local population and influential Lanzarote figures such as César Manrique, all played a role in making UNESCO designate the entire island a biosphere reserve in 1993. UNESCO classifies a biosphere reserve as “a territory whose objective is to harmonise the conservation of biological and cultural diversity and economic and social development through the relationship of people with nature. They are established in ecologically representative zones or those with a unique value, in land, coastal and marine environments, where the integration of the human population and their activities with conservation are essential. The reserves are also places for experimentation and the study of sustainable development.”

What species are typical of, and unique to, Lanzarote?

Although it shares endemic species of flora and fauna (native to only some parts of the Earth) with other islands on the archipelago and with others in the North Atlantic zone, Lanzarote has several that are unique to the island. In fact, they are so unique that they have been adopted by the Government of the Canary Islands as symbols of this zone.

Lanzarote flora

Sweet tabaiba

This is the first of the Canary Island symbols we mentioned. It is a species of perennial shrub that can be found across the island, especially in the central zone.

Canary Island date palm

When you think of a palm tree, this is probably the image that comes to mind. It is another of the symbols of the Canary Islands and in the zone of Haría, in the north of the island, there is Lanzarote’s largest palm grove, commonly known as the “Valley of a Thousand Palms”.


Together with sweet tabaiba, verode is another type of succulent shrub very common in the island’s central volcanic zones.

Volcanic Malvasia grape

Here, mention should not only be made of the characteristics of this grape variety, but also of the Herculean efforts of the wine producers who have succeeded in growing vines in volcanic terrain. It is an incredible achievement that has given rise to an iconic image of Lanzarote that attracts countless tourists. And it goes without saying that Lanzarote wines have an outstanding quality.

Lanzarote fauna


The most typical birds that inhabit Lanzarote are the common kestrel, the Iberian grey shrike, the Eurasian stone-curlew, the Canarian houbara, the Egyptian vulture, the white scavenger vulture, the black-headed gull and the Barbary falcon (these latter three are in danger of extinction).


The Atlantic lizard and the perenquén majorero (East Canary gecko) are both small omnivores.

Blind crab

This is the second official symbol of Lanzarote. It is commonly called the ‘jameito’ by locals as it can be found in the waters of Jameos del Agua, one of Lanzarote’s most iconic tourist spots. Jameos del Agua is a unique volcanic tunnel with an underground concert hall, restaurant and salt lake, designed by César Manrique, the Lanzarote-born and world-renowned painter, sculptor and artist. This crab is distinctive for being blind and albino, and also very small.

Lanzarote marine fauna

As well as the ‘jameitos’, special mention must also be made of Lanzarote’s marine fauna that includes groupers, dentex, Atlantic wreckfish, parrotfish, moray eels, Atlantic horse mackerel and more.

Related publications