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Island Ecology

Island Ecology

by José P Ribas



Ibiza Ecology

All over the Island of Ibiza there are little white plastic cups hanging from the branches of the pine trees.

It is not because some funny fellow has left a glass of sangria for the local Gnomes (the "Berrugets").

The reason is not so funny. These cups contain a wad of cotton impregnated with sticky stuff and pheromones of a female insect, to try to get the attention of males of a type of butterfly "Thaumetopoea pityocampa".

This specimen lives only on pine trees in silky nests (like spiders), is the size of an orange or bigger and hangs from the new branches. They eat the new pine needles and perforate the bark, which is why here on the Pitiusas (the islands of pine trees) they feel like they are in Paradise.

The butterfly was introduced to the Island about twenty years ago, in the area of Cala Vadella-Cala Tarida, with the plants that were imported for the gardens of a new housing development.

By the time we realised what was happening, a few dozen-pine trees were already dry, sucked to death by the caterpillars of this insect. As the trees were already dead and all concentrated in a relatively small area; they set a controlled fire on them, so the main focus could be controlled. But it was too late. The butterflies had flown all over the Island. Now the only thing we can do is keep their numbers down with this dirty, but effective trick. (I suppose birds will eat some as well).

The caterpillars of Thaumetopoea pitycampa have the common name of "Procesionaria". In English this can be translated as "marching in procession" and this is how they move, one after the other, in long lines, up and down the trees, along the forest.

The other night in San Antonio, I was sitting in the car on my way to work, having had to stop for almost five minutes to let hundreds of young boys and girls cross the street on a pub-crawl. A bit further on, another group as big as the first was marching in procession, crossing the street the other way, to the clubs. I had to stop again and they all passed by my side. Some shouted something at me and they were all yelling and screaming among themselves. (The caterpillars are much quieter).

The funny thing is that if you meet most of these young ones on their own, they are good people, like the butterflies. If you see a single one, she is so pretty that you wouldn't think of leaving her without a boyfriend. Even a single caterpillar, hairy and irritating if you touch it, can be a lovely God's creature.

The problem is when they march in procession leaving only desolation.

By the way, what happened to words like "Please", "Thank you" or "I'm sorry"? Aren't they in the Oxford English Dictionary any more?

One thing I have to admit, I find it much easier now to learn the British language. How do you say "Por favor" in English? = F… you! "Gracias"? = F… you! And "Lo siento"? = F… you, twice! All I have to do is to keep saying an "F" every three or four words, doesn't matter which, and they all say that I speak fucking good English.

I'm sorry. Please excuse my French. Thank you.

"Carpobrotus edulis" is a plant that was brought to the Islands not long ago. It comes originally from the arid tablelands of Zimbabwe and South Africa. Nowadays it can be seen in public and private gardens all over the Island. It grows horizontally, flat, covering the floor, forming a thick carpet of little green fingers, with single round flat flowers of very fine petals, that can be from white, yellow-pink to red and purple. It is a pretty plant that needs very little to survive. It can resist very long periods of hot, sunny weather without a drop of rain and the strong seaside winter winds are not a problem at all. If one of its branches gets cut and left anywhere on the floor, its fingers contain so much water it can survive for months until it grows roots again, producing a new plant. And this is the problem; they grow out of control. That's what happened in Formentera and some parts of Ibiza; little by little they have colonised most of the dunes and sandy areas by the beaches, threatening the autochthonous Flora ("Phragmites communis", "Cobularia marina", "Medicago marino", "Limonium caprariense" and the pretty iris "Pancratium maritimum" among others). The situation was so serious in Formentera that drastic measures had to be adopted. Several men spent weeks moving around the Island and removing all the plants from the dunes and the areas where they shouldn't be. Regardless of the economical cost, the ecological threat is real and still persists.

Not far from one of these new colonies of "Capobrotus edulis" there is a big, ugly villa. It belongs to somebody who came to the Island a few years ago, one of the lot that have been coming back for the summer holidays because they love the Island, its People, its Nature and its Freedom (they say). Year after year, until they find the white elephant that they were looking for and when they find it, they shoot it! They buy this land they always wanted, the top of a mountain or a complete virgin area. (At the very best price, of course, the land without a building licence is much cheaper and they are clever lads, which is why they've been waiting, meeting the "right" friends, all those years).

Now this is MINE! First thing: build barbed-wire entanglement all around MY land and keep two pairs of Rottweilers patrolling outside. Second thing: chop all MY trees down, devastate all MY forest, import exotic plants (and whatever comes along with them) and build a tropical garden with the best quality Irish grass around MY swimming-pool (don't worry about the water, I can perforate another well, no problem, the Mayor is a good friend of mine, we think alike, he dines here often with me, I believe in him).

If it happens by chance that anybody walks any closer then ten metres to HIS enclosures, he is already on top of HIS roof shouting: "PRIVATE! PRIVATE!"

But perhaps it is not always the same person shouting. The villa seams to be completely full for four or five months of the summer season. "He invites friends at home"... and moves out to the gardener's hut. (There is no gardener, it's cheaper by the hour). It is not a bad business at all.

Even so, whenever they are elsewhere, away from here, they feel so proud and happy to say, with a big smile on their face: "I live in Ibiza, I love the Island, its People, its Nature, its Freedom! "

At least the "Carpobrotus edulis" flowers can be eaten (they're lovely in salads). "edulis," as almost everyone knows, means edible.

The Good News

In the past month, the local political action seems to have started moving towards what the great majority of the islanders have been waiting for since the present government was voted in.

It is the last chance to stop and find a solution to the tremendous chaos generated by the "Building Rush" of the last five or six years all over the Island.

Since the exact date that Pesetas will be changed into Euros has been known, there has been frenzied activity to spend money that could become valueless.

These are the Pesetas that the Tax-office doesn't know about, doesn't control, and therefore on which no tax is paid. It is known as Black Money.

A good part of this money was - and still is being - used to build and to buy property, especially in new blocks of flats in the Ibiza district and new urbanisation all around the Island (even they have to be closed because there are no customers for nine months or more of the year).

The property that has already been built in Ibiza Town alone in this time is enough to absorb the natural increase of the population of the entire Island for two decades or more.

The big problem is that the Island has not grown at all. There is not enough energy or water for today. There are not enough parking spaces for more then the 85,000 vehicles already on the Island. Our roads are the most dangerous in Spain. There is not a plan in action for waste disposal and nowhere to put it (one of our biggest problems this, which has been ignored for thirty years). The degeneration of the environment runs so fast that we'll reach the point of no return "two years ago". And so on and so on.

At last, the local government has presented new laws to stop any new building licences. More then seven hundred new flats for which planning permission has already been sought this year in Ibiza town alone and ten or twelve urbanisation's all over the Island will have to wait, at least for a while.

I think the local government and the Mayor of Ibiza Town have done the right thing, very late, but better now then never. Please, keep the same direction with goodwill and courage. Don't let us down.

José P Ribas