Our first summer stop is Atlantic. We become one of the 2,200 privileged who visit the Galician archipelago every day
Protecting the Vigo estuary from the force of the Atlantic Ocean, the Cies Islands are a natural paradise that surrounds and captivates anyone who decides to visit them. We take the boat in the port of Vigo. The crossing allows us to see from inside the estuary, which placed Captain Nemo in search of Rande’s treasure, in his work 20,000 leagues of underwater travel (in this chapter is when Professor Aronnax tries to escape from Nautilus). And in this river that Just the Sea sails now, dressed more like Captain Ahab, we are hopeful to find something more valuable and the same color as the Gold coins collected by Nemo’s divers in his book. We are looking for a sea horse from Cíes, beings from a protected world that now institutions want to take care of more than ever.
Together with the islands of Ons (Bueu), Sálvora (Ribeira) and Cortegada (Vilagarcía), the Cíes Islands reach the “final stretch” in their candidacy for World Heritage by UNESCO. The nomination is promoted by the municipality of Vigo and the Xunta de Galicia and the petition highlights the importance of the islands as a unique refuge of fauna and flora, and of our signatories, as scientists call the seahorses.
The archipelago belongs, since 2002, to the Maritime-Terrestrial National Park of the Atlantic Islands of Galicia and also has other European distinctions that protect its biodiversity. These are some: Zone of Special Protection of Natural Values, Zone OSPAR, Areas of Special Protection and SPA (Zone of Special Protection for Birds). For this reason, and in order to preserve and take care of this small refuge located just 15’7 km from the city of Vigo, all of us who cross the river today on this ferry are looking forward to stepping on what was recognized as a few years ago as The best beach in the world by The Guardian.
We are only 2,200 lucky people a day who can visit the “Galician Caribbean”.
Part by part
We disembarked at the port of Cíes. The archipelago is made up of three islands: Faro, Monteagudo and San Martiño. The island of the gods, as the Romans knew it seems to be made at the whim of nature, full of contrasts in a unique balance, in which its fauna and flora are the main protagonists.
This small paradise bathed by cold crystalline waters, which are around 15-18ºC in summer season, are the refuge of numerous animal and plant species. The continuous sway of waters that enter and leave the Galician estuaries together with the mixture of fresh and salt water, favor the concentration of nutrients and microorganisms. In addition to the 2,200 privileged, they visit whales, dolphins and sea turtles. The cliffs, exposed to the strong Atlantic waves, overflowing with mussels and barnacles share space with a stony seabed, where octopuses, crabs or crabs, find an ideal habitat. The protected and quieter beaches of the eastern part of the islands constitute a perfect space for mollusks, turbot or sole. While anemones, brown seaweed forests and sea urchins find their place in the most rocky areas of the interior of the islands. In its backgrounds, there are also archaeological remains full of stories of pirates and shipwrecks. That was the part that Nemo knew well.
On the surface, the Cies Islands never cease to surprise us. The ecological relevance of the terrestrial environment is of great value, many of the endemic species of fauna and flora that inhabit the islands are represented in the Red List of the Spanish Vascular Flora, and therefore, in danger.
The plant landscape is the result of various environmental factors, in which three ecosystems can be seen: rocks and cliffs, beaches and dunes and thickets, which host species that are endangered or not common in the continent. Among the flora stands out the one known in Galicia as herba de namorar (herb of love), a small medicinal plant with small round flowers of a strong violet color.
Like the marine fauna, the birds find an ideal home with cliffs where to nest, abundance of marine resources and partially separated from the hand of man. The yellow-legged gull is the most abundant species, they constitute in the islands the largest concentration in the world of that bird. They also highlight small sea birds such as the pigeon plot or the common arao, amphibians, some wild mammals such as the otter and small reptiles, all of them harmless and non-poisonous.
We come to enjoy the beaches, do hiking trails, observe the milky way at night (we spend the night at the campsite), enjoy photography or bird watching.
We will listen to The Guardian and stay at Rhodes Beach. After the siesta, we will enter some route on the other side of the island, which is exposed to the Atlantic fury, where there are 4 defined routes (The 3.5 km Cíes Lighthouse Route with 175m of unevenness, Route of the Porta da Lighthouse of 2.6 km with 55m of unevenness, Route of the High do Principe of 1.7 km with 122m of unevenness and Route of the Lighthouse do Peito of 2.5 km with 60m of unevenness) with starting point in the port, which also houses the information booth where we asked about the seahorse.
No one of the 2,199 island companions has seen it. We will wait for tomorrow, maybe he will come to greet us, knowing that the gods protect them.