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Island Ecology

Island Ecology

by José P Ribas

A Walk By Where She Sells Seashells


Ibiza Ecology

Summertime. The right time for the beach, to get this lovely, sexy tan, for "il dolce fa niente". In fact, this is the main reason (apart from the Ibiza nights, of course) for the great majority of visitors to endure all the hassle and flight delays.

For the ones who want to explore the seashore and to take back a little bit more then just sunburn and sore eyes, here's a little bit of knowledge about this very rich Ecosystem, as the Pitusan littoral is.

I recommend you walk, swim, or - even better - do both, along the coast, out of the sandy beaches, by the rocks, and take a proper look into the little pools and in between the rolling stones of the shore.

Life begins to flow into your eyes. Crustaceans like prawns and shrimps "Palaemon serratus", common prawn "Crangon crangon" brown shrimp, are the most common. Crabs ("Carcinus maenas", "Carcinus mediterraneus", both common shore crabs, "Maja squinado" spider crab, "Macropipus puber", swimming crab, "Eriphia verrucosa" also a shore crab). All edible, especially the "Maja" and the"Eriphia", a somewhat furry creature, 10cm. maximum size, dark-green, solid, hairy legs and powerful pincers. Its flavour is considered very good indeed in the South of France where they are used for the "Soupe de Pélous" and the price is not cheaper than lobster.

Molluscs Gastropods like limpets "Patella caerulea" is the most common, but there are a few more species, the delicious abalone "Haliotis tuberculata" which used to be plentiful, but are difficult to find nowadays, the top-shell snail, "Trochocochlea turbinata" and the horn-shell "Cerithium vulgatum" are still easy to see in good numbers, The murex "Murex trunculus" "Murex brandaris" "Murex erinaceus" by themselves attracted the Phoenicians from Tyre, the Greeks and the Romans, boats and sailors to the coast of Ibiza-Formentera. It could very well be that Caesar's purple imperial cape or the purple sails of Cleopatra's warship at the Battle of Actium were stained with purple dye ("Purpura") made from the murex of this island.

Bivalves, like cockles "Cerastoderma glaucum" and the carpet-shell "Venerupis decussata" used to be so abundant in the sandy beaches of Sant Antoni bay, up until the "Tourist Boom", that nobody sold them, because nobody had to buy them. In the summer school holidays, children used to collect both types and sell them to the bars for the first tourists whom flew into our new airport. The price was one peseta for two dozen. Something similar happened, a bit later on, with the oysters "Ostrea edulis" (and other local varieties). Teenagers would dive for them and they were sold in restaurants at five pesetas each. "Pina nobilis" fan mussels were also abundant in those days in the prairies of "Posidonia" all around the island. The fan mussel has two beautiful pearly-yellow shells that can reach almost three feet long; a shell this size could sell for a hundred pesetas each. A good diver could collect ten or more in no time at all, far from the shore, 15-30 feet deep. Anyway, those were the days, my friends.

By the rocks you can find, among others, the tasty date-shell "Litophaga litophaga" "Mytilus galloprovincialis" the common mussel, Noah's ark "Arca noae" all good with pasta and a pretty shell.

Cephalopods, specially octopus and cuttlefish "Octopus vulgaris" "Sepia oficinalis" are far more abundant than we think, and they come very close to shore, sometimes out of the water, but you will need a well -trained eye to spot them. The way they can change colours and camouflage them with the seabed makes them almost invisible if they don't move. There are also plenty of squids, "Loligo vulgaris" which are very difficult to see in the water and believe me, they don't look like onion rings.

Other sea creatures that decorate the seabed and you can be easily seen by the seashore are "Actinia equina" and "Anemonia sulcata", two of the most common anemones. Equnodermos like the sea stars "Asterina gibosa" "Asteria rubens" "Pentagonaster granularis". Sea-urchins "Echinus esculentus" "Paracentrotus lividus" are both edible, the tiny mouthfuls of their rose or orange roe is excellent, just with a drop of lemon juice. The Catalans and especially the French will agree. (They invented a kind of big scissors known as "coupe-oursins" just for the purpose of cutting them in half to reach the roe or "corals" with a teaspoon). Even so, make sure that you don't step on them, the spines are very painful and they send quite a few patients to doctors every summer. Jellyfish, celentéreos of different species, sometimes appear in hundreds of thousands along the shore, leaving a ribbon of dead bodies along the coast.

The fish. "Muraena helena" the moray eel, conger eel, "Conger conger" breams like "Diplodus vulgaris" and similar species, red mullet "Mullus barbatus" several species of labrus "Labrus turdus" "Labrus mixtus" "Coris julis" blenny and goby "Blennius" "Gobius", grey mullets "Mugil cephalus" scorpion fish "Scorpaena porcus". We will need a thick catalogue to name them all, so, I hope you don't mind if I leave it there for today.

The bad news for us (good news for them) about all these beauties and gastronomic treasures is that you can only look but not touch. The fines to catching a single crab, shrimp or limpet can be up to 15,000 pesetas. The same amount if you get caught fishing without a licence and even more if you use more then three hooks on the line. To dive and fish with air-bottles has severer consequences for locals or tourists.

For the ones who prefer to barbecue themselves on the beach or by the pool, it can be good to remember what local doctors say about sunbathing. Don't expose yourself longer then 15-20 minutes, and do it before 11 o'clock in the morning or after 7 o'clock in the evening, especially for the first two or three days. Doctors say that if what you want is to get a lovely tan without damaging your skin, you shouldn't be any longer, and, there is no need for it. The "Melanin" - the pigment that turns you brown, as everyone knows - stops being produced by the body after 15-20 minutes of Solar-radiation exposure. After that, you just get burnt. It will take a few hours to be active again, the practice increases the production of it, and yesterday's Melanin protects you from today's sun.

The Good News

The good news this week is about the Red Cross volunteers who look after the security on our beaches. With very few professional lifeguards, these young boys and girls spend a good amount of their free time to help others, and they do it very well. Over two hundred and fifty rescues operations and first aid services in the waters of Ibiza-Formentera last summer prove it. Recognising the irreplaceable job they do, the government has provided them with a larger security plan with more equipment and two new rescue ski-jets. One is in Ibiza, at the "Playa den Bossa" and "Es Cavallet" area, the other is in Formentera, by the coast of "Es Trocadors" which is one of the most dangerous spots along littoral, with fatalities every year. Let's hope that this new plan and equipment can help to save lives.

God bless and thank you Red Cross volunteers for your enormous generosity and for the lives saved.

Telephone number for any local emergencies 112.

José P Ribas