The rate of construction taking place in Tenerife is mind-boggling. Just 50 years ago, before mass-tourism, the whole La Orotava valley was cultivated land.Â Today, pretty much every space below about 500m altitude has already been urbanised to some extent. It has one of the highest population densities of anywhere; the average figure is now 400-500 people / kmÂ², depending on how many tourists are present. In fact, if this island were a country, it’d be the 24th most populated country on the list… needless to say, I often feel a strange sense of agoraphobia. It’s not like a city, from which you can always escape.
But the main trouble that I can see is that there is so much construction going on here that there pretty soon, there won’t be much of a natural landscape left. We cannot simply keep building up the slopes of Mt Teide forever – although that does seem to be the current attitude. It goes without saying that as civilisation migrates up towards the centre of the island, the remaining untouched zones shrink pretty rapidly.
People often say that the island of Tenerife is like a miniature continent; that is surely part of the appeal for the many tourists who bother to venture outside resort areas. I’m often suprised by their reponses, although most people that come think that the scenery is truly amazing. I do not agree 100% with that view.
Tenerife is unique in that it is almost big enough to be entirely self sufficient, yet small enough for local effects to be strongly felt. It reminds me of a scaled-down version of a whole continent; for me, this tiny island represents Earth’s whole landmass. And I feel that what happens here will surely happen on the grand scale too, given enough time. Now the important question remains: just what is going to happen?
First of all, it’s disheartening to witness this irreversible transformation taking place. People cling to the coast and build all around it. I find it terribly saddening when I look around; indeed, not much intact coastline remains around this island. What can be built on, has already been built upon. I do not look around and think “what a beautiful island”. Instead, I look around and think “what have we done to this beautiful island? What has the island done to deserve it?”.
I might be alone with this visualisation, but it’s a little depressing to think about the thin band of forrest which encircles the volcanic crater at the top of this island, what it will one day become, and what’s happening to it now. Imagine if this really were the only tract of land on the planet… imagine if these trees were all that we had. Would we treat the one remaining natural zone with any more respect then? Could this one ring of pine trees and all the biomass that it contains support the oxygen requirements of half a million cars and people? If not now, what happens when we stretch that demand further in future?
Am I being melodramatic? Most certainly, I am. But I almost cannot bear to think about it. At least the “sea of cloud” phenomenon is enough to block it out for now, visually at least.