Born from a series of fiery eruptions in the depths of the earth, the “Island of Volcanos” is created. Over 15 million years old, but nevertheless still active and fuming with recent eruptions in the 1700’s— lasting over 6 years and the 1800’s— lasting 3 months. Eruptions which have transformed its previously fertile and rich soil into a wasteland of red-hot lava fields and grey ash. Craterous to its core, this arid and deserted terrain, with its endless plains of solidified lava streams and extravagant rock formations is a sight to see. Imagine the moon, but a moon bathed by sun rays, struck by repeated waves, blown by gusty winds, and bubbling from volcanic vents all year around. After all we are talking about an island in the Atlantic Ocean! Unspoiled by humans and as-mother-nature intended is a sound description that illustrates this island. It may sound like the last place that life would want to relocate too…relocate they have and thrive they will.
Living beings have a way of surviving the most hostile conditions on earth. Calling these unexpected locations home, while playing their part in preparing an environment where others may come to colonize in the future. A common misconception is that nature is synonymous with lush green trees of various shapes and sizes, corals which diffuse all colors of the spectrum and large mammals roaming in search of their next meal. Usually forgetting and taking for granted the little things that also matter and play a vital role in a functioning ecosystem. System being the keyword here, where one being cannot exist or survive without the help and work of another. These systems rely on keystone species and organisms which define, or in other words make or break the entire cycle.
Among the lava fields lays the “pioneer plant”, a yellow moss looking being which has invaded the volcanic terrain as far as the eye can see. Neither flora nor fauna, but rather a symbiosis of fungus and alga. This essential organism, Lichen, works hard all year around scrubbing the air that we breath while breaking down lava rock — via secretion of an organic acid, into usable soil. Genetically an avid multitasker, the Lichen—a broad umbrella term that represents over 17,000 species, purifies, and breaks down, all the while also spreading mercilessly where others would not dare to go. It is said that where lichen flourishes, the air is clean and fertile soil will reign once again. Soil which will again provide the livelihood for a whole new ecosystem to develop. Its importance goes far beyond the points stated above; sustenance for insects, rodents and birds, a protection for rocks and bushes against extreme weather conditions are but a few additional uses of this mutant organism. One size does not fit all when referring to Lichen, from the humid jungle climates to the dry, volcanic climate of Lanzarote Island, Lichen will be around, doing what they do best, in silence and without accolades.
Lanzarote is as distinct as islands in the Atlantic Ocean go. You will not find any other island on this planet with these unique characteristics. An island with no trees—except for the occasional Canary Palm, but home to 20 endemic species. Species which have survived—independent of adversities, through volcanic eruptions and the constant jostling for the scarcest resource—water. This Island provides us with a glimpse into just how resilient nature can be, a resilience that may very well bestow clues towards our own survival and offer us the tools to combat declining biodiversity on this planet. If a mutant organism as small as Lichen can thrive in such conditions, what is to say that we, the most “advanced” organism, cannot learn a thing or two from them. Lanzarote Island is testament that nature can learn and adapt. We can also learn and adapt, so let’s learn from our mistakes but also adapt and evolve towards a more symbiotic relationship with the natural world around us!