Lost paradise: The story of the Salvaje Islands that should have been part of the Canaries
The Canary Islands are a breathtaking archipelago off the northwest coast of Africa renowned for their stunning landscapes and unique biodiversity. While most people know about the main eight islands, Tenerife, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote, Fuerteventura, La Palma, La Gomera, El Hierro, and La Graciosa, there's a fascinating tale of what could have been, involving three uninhabited isles known as the Salvaje Islands.
On June 26th, 2018, the General Commission of the Autonomous Communities unanimously approved a motion recognising La Graciosa as the eighth inhabited island of the Canary archipelago. However, long before this historic decision, during the conquests from 1402 to 1496, Castilian ships purportedly reached the shores of the Salvaje Islands, located 165 kilometres from the Canary Islands.
Later, these islands became the private property of Madeiran families until the Portuguese government acquired them in 1971, transforming them into a natural reserve.
Belonging to the Macaronesia region along with the Canary Islands, Azores, Cape Verde, and Madeira, the Salvaje Islands consist of three main islands: Salvaje Grande, Salvaje Pequeña, and Ilhéu de For a, along with various islets.
Positioned administratively within the Madeira region, this territory spans 2.73 square kilometres and is home to 150 plant species, making it an ornithological haven. Interestingly, the renowned French naturalist Jacques Cousteau once declared its waters to be the cleanest and most transparent he had ever encountered.
Why aren't the Salvaje Islands part of the Canary Islands?
Historically, Spain and Portugal engaged in disputes over the sovereignty of the Salvaje Islands. In 1938, the Permanent Commission of International Maritime Law issued a verdict in favour of Portugal.
Airam González del Rosario, the author of "Orgullo Canario," notes that Spain couldn't defend its interests at that time due to the Spanish Civil War. Eventually, in 1997, Spain conceded the islands to Portugal as a requirement for joining NATO, acknowledging Portuguese rights over the archipelago.
However, the disagreement persists, as Portugal believes the islands are inhabited by technicians and scientists, while Spain maintains they remain uninhabited and under Spanish waters.
The Salvaje Islands, once on the brink of becoming the ninth, tenth, and eleventh members of the Canary Islands, remain an intriguing piece of history. While their fate may have been sealed by political decisions, the allure of these uninhabited paradises and the dispute between Spain and Portugal continue to cast a shadow over the crystal-clear waters and lush landscapes of the Macaronesian region.
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