The researcher at the Volcanological Institute of the Canary Islands (Involcán) Matthew James Pankhurst, one of the first people to set foot on the lava delta formed on La Palma after the eruption, together with the volcanologist Emma Liu, has revealed exclusively for the Canary Islands Now that in the new and virgin Spanish territory there are already remains of plastic.
Worrying finding in Canarian waters: “Between the surface and the bottom we have not found samples without microplastics”
The Atlantic currents are dragging all kinds of garbage to the new beaches of the strip: “We found plastic bottles in the first incursion,” laments Matthew. Even without setting foot on the new territory, human beings are already leaving their mark on the landscape.
The presence of plastics and microplastics in the sea has been raising all the alerts in the Canary Islands for years. Precisely, in April 2021, the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria (ULPGC), in collaboration with the Spanish Institute of Oceanography (IEO) and the Canarian Oceanic Platform (PLOCAN), got down to work to prepare a study pioneer that analyzes the microplastic present in the open sea and in the water column.
To take the first samples, IEO oceanographic vessels were used that have the traditional rosette system that allows water to be collected at different depths, even reaching 1,100 meters. In that first analysis, it was discovered, unfortunately, that there were microplastics in all the samples, “we have not yet found a single depth in which we have not found any”, lamented the main researcher of deep PLAS in an interview granted to this newspaper.
A new territory “very dangerous and unstable”
Matthew James Pankhurst, isotopic geochemist, petrologist, volcanologist and geologist, revealed that two months after the eruption ended, the new territory is still “very dangerous”, due to the presence of very sharp rocks, unstable soil, steep cliffs and a large amount of lethal gases. For all these reasons, the dream of enjoying the new beaches will not come true in the short or medium term. “Perhaps in the distant future? Time will tell,” he shares.
The explored belt began to form on September 29, ten days after the eruption began, and extends for at least 43.46 hectares over the ocean. Thus, it was the original flow that supplied magmatic material to this new territory of the Spanish State. Already at the beginning of November, thanks to a video shared by the Higher Center for Scientific Research (CSIC), citizens were able to get to know the sandbanks and begin to build the dream of visiting a new and paradisiacal volcanic territory.
Thanks to the collaboration of the La Palma Marine Reserve and a kayak loaned by the company Aquahobby, both Matthew and Emma were able to take samples of the new territory, documenting its main characteristics and discovering various interesting features in the gas escape structures or in the rocks and magmatic materials. In this first incursion they did not report new puddles or caves, but they did report small and still unstable coves.
Matt could not be more grateful for the opportunity, nor more proud of the impeccable scientific work that is being carried out after the eruption of the volcano in Cumbre Vieja. “It was an honor and also a great responsibility to carefully document the lava delta to support Spanish and international scientific efforts. These efforts will ultimately improve the relationship between humans and volcanic processes,” he concluded.