The beaches of the Canary Islands are the emblem of the Archipelago. The islands have a total of 1,500 kilometers of coastline and 750 bathing spots ranging from large beaches with crystal clear water and white sand, to natural pools. However, for years, pleasure boats, boats and jet skis have gradually cornered bathers. The misuse of this type of vessel in the region has not only caused fatal accidents in the ocean, but has also put the marine species that inhabit the coastline at risk. “The issue of aquatic safety in Europe and Spain is waterlogged”, values the president of the Canary Islands association 1,500 kilometers of coastline, Sebastián Quintana.
Five deaths in four years in the paradisiacal puddle of Tancón
Last summer, the south of Gran Canaria was the scene of a tragedy. A French tourist died as a result of a head-on collision between two jet skis. In one of them he was with his partner. In the other, his son. When they collided, his father fell into the sea and was hit by the motorcycle that the 17-year-old was riding. The woman suffered head trauma. Both the minor and the company that rented the motorcycles were investigated for their reckless use.
“When jet skis are rented, the slightest knowledge, neither theoretical nor practical, is not required, despite the fact that they are machines that can reach up to 120 kilometers per hour,” says Quintana. The Royal Decree that updates the security measures in the use of jet skis states that rental companies must have an area where they explain how they work. “The explanation must be given by one of the monitors. This theoretical class will be held before the use of jet skis, it will be about their handling and basic navigation rules.
According to the rule, the lesson will last as long as necessary to ensure safe navigation. For Quintana, who calls the legislation “lax”, in practice “a previous course of ten minutes is enough for a person who has never used a motorized device like that to be able to use it.” From the association he presides over, they have also demanded that users be forced to wear a helmet. “When you go at high speed and fall into the water, it’s as if you fell to the ground,” says the director of the Blue Flag.
Diving under jet skis
The carelessness in the use of jet skis, as well as the increase in recreational boats on the coasts of the Islands, also threaten divers, fishermen and marine species. Pablo Martín is a marine biologist. He frequently dives to study the seabed of the Canary Islands and carry out outreach work. On several occasions he has had “scares” with jet skis. “No more misfortunes happen because there is luck,” says Martín.
“I have been coming out of the water and I have seen a motorcycle go by at full speed at five meters. In the area of Caleta de Adeje (Tenerife), I have also been snorkeling with a buoy on the surface, signaling correctly, and three jet skis have passed a few meters away. Sometimes they don’t even see you,” she recalls.
The marine biologist assures that, in many cases, the imprudence is committed by people who have not received training in driving jet skis and only receive “a couple of tips” from the company that rents them, that “the His only goal is to make as many trips as possible during the day.” “They don’t go far, they go through diving areas, bathing areas, and they don’t take any regulations into account. Many fishermen complain that they scare away the fish. They pass very close and can break their fishing gear”, says the scientist.
Royal Decree 259/2002 of March 8 on safety measures in the use of jet skis establishes that the navigation of jet skis is expressly prohibited within marked bathing areas. In the stretches of coast that do not have marked bathing areas, the navigation of these motorcycles in “the strip of sea adjoining the coast in a width of 200 meters” is prohibited. As for speed, it should not exceed 3 knots.
For Pablo Martín, the species that inhabit the Special Conservation Area (ZEC) in the south of Tenerife are in particular danger. “The lack of vigilance, control and speed regulation puts dolphins, turtles and cetaceans at risk”, highlights the biologist. The green turtle and the loggerhead turtle are the species that are most frequently on the coast and are most exposed to impacts and collisions.
Some of the solutions proposed by the biologist involve increasing control and surveillance. “For activities such as jet ski excursions, companies should have a closed circuit marked with buoys. In this way, the chances of collision would be greatly reduced”, proposes Martín.
On the other side of the scale are deaths by drowning. So far this year, according to data published in July by the association Canary Islands 1,500 kilometers of coastline, 35 people have died from this cause, eight more than in the same period of 2021. Added to this figure are 100 affected by aquatic accidents.
The main cause of death by drowning in the Islands is, according to the president of the association, recklessness. Many bathers get into beaches marked with a red flag or in places where the sea gives signs of danger due to wind or currents.
In recent years, a new risk factor has been added: social networks. La Cueva del Tancón, in Tenerife, was also a fatal example last summer. This point in Santiago del Teide went viral due to its paradisiacal appearance, but not all visitors know that bathing there is prohibited since, although it looks like a puddle, it is not. El Tancón is a bufadero, a cave generated by wave erosion with an opening in the roof through which air and pressurized water enter and exit.
In August 2021, this bufadero registered its last fatality, the fifth in four years. A young man of 27 years. The Civil Guard located his body after several hours disappeared.