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Canary Islands

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The Canary Islands are an archipelago in the Atlantic ocean, one of seventeen autonomous communities in 'ultra-peripheral regions' of the European Union.

They comprise seven major Islands; El Hierro, La Gomera, La Palma and Tenerife, which are part of the Province of Santa Cruz de Tenerife; and Gran Canaria, Fuerteventura and Lanzarote, which are part of Las Palmas Province. There are also some islets which are part of the Chinijo Archipelago (La Graciosa, Alegranza, Montaña Clara, Roque del Este y Roque del Oeste) and the Lobos Island, all of them being part of Las Palmas Province.

The archipelago is situated on the north west African coast, between coordinates 27º 37' latitude and 13º 20' - 18º 10' longitude. There is an hour time difference between the Canary Islands and Continental Spain. Africa is just 95km distant at the closest point, compared to the 1.400km. gap between the Isles and the European shores. In spite of this,  the Islands culture is Occidental, half way betweeen European and Latin American.

The Islands are of volcanic origin and are part of the Macaronesian Natural Region, along with the archipelagos of Cape Verde, Azores, Madeira and Savage Islands. The climate is subtropical, but modified by height and the North/South slope. This climatic and geological variability have given rise to great biological diversity and natural beauty, explaining why there are four National Parks and the fact that several Islands are UNESCO Biosphere Reserves.

These appealing natural features, along with excellent weather and beaches make the Islands an important tourist destination, visited each year by nearly 10 million people.

The capital of the Community is shared by its two main cities, Las Palmas, Gran Canaria and Santa Cruz in Tenerife; they take it in turns to be the seat of the Regional Presidential Government for a whole legislative period, the seat of the Vice-president being different from that of the President. The Parliament of the Canary Islands is located in Santa Cruz, Tenerife, whereas the Central Government seat is situated in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria. There is also a subdelegation of the Central Goverment in both cities. All the same, there is a balance between the two capitals with regards to the number of Departments and public institutions.

Ordered from West to East, the Canary Islands are:

  • El Hierro is the most westerly Island, and the tiniest and least populated, having only 10.558 inhabitants. The whole Island has been declared a Biosphere Reserve in 2000. It is known for its specimens of Sabina trees (Juniperus phoenicea) deformed by constant wind. Its ancient Garoé trees and giant lizards are also renowned. In past times, the Greenwich meridian took its reference at Punta de Orchilla, since it was the furthest point before the discovey of America. The capital of the Island is Valverde.
  • The entire Island of La Palma, population 86,000, is a Biosphere Reserve. It has had volcanic activity in recent times, for instance, the Teneguía volcano last erupted in 1971. Additionally, it is the second highest of the Canary Islands, thanks to the Roque de los Muchachos (2.423 metros) as its highest point. This peak is located on the edge of the National Park of Caldera de Taburiente (Taburiente Crater), and the Observatory of the Roque de los Muchachos, from Canarian Institute of Astrophysics is situated in its surroundings. It has the Gran Telescopio Canarias (Canaries Big Telescope), which provides one of the highest resolution optical telescopes around the world, with 10.4 m. Thanks to its pretty exuberant vegetation, La Palma is also known as "la Isla Bonita" (the pretty Island). Its capital city is Santa Cruz, La Palma, where the Office of the Public Defender has its seat.
  • La Gomera is the second least populated Island, with 22.259 inhabitants. One of the geologically older Islands of the archipelago, its capital city is San Sebastián, La Gomera. La Gomera has the Garajonay National Park which has been declared by the UNESCO as a common heritage of mankind in 1986. The Island was the last territory Christopher Columbus set foot on before departing for America on his journey of discovery. For this reason it is also known as "la Isla Colombina".
  • Tenerife is, with 2.034,38 km², the largest of the Canary Islands. Its 865.071 inhabitants make this island the most populated in Spain. It has two of the main cities of the archipelago, Santa Cruz de Tenerife and San Cristóbal, La Laguna. The first one is the seat of the Parliament of the Canary Islands and the Cabildo of Tenerife. It is the most populated city of the Province and Capital of the Island and the Province. With Las Palmas, Gran Canaria it is the joint capital of the Community. San Cristobal, La Laguna has been declared a common heritage of mankind by UNESCO. From a tourist point of view, three cities are also important; Puerto de la Cruz in the North, Arona and Adeje in the South. Also important is the Villa Mariana de Candelaria, where the sculpture of the Virgen de Candelaria, patron of the Island and Patron Saint of the Canary Islands. Thanks to its climante its is known as "The Island of the everlasting Spring". Among other natural protected areas, its has the National Park of Teide, the highest peak of Spain at 3,718m high.
  • Gran Canaria is the most populated Island in Las Palmas Province, with 815.000 inhabitants. Las Palmas de Gran Canaria (377.000 inhabitants) is the joint capital city of the Community together with Santa Cruz, Tenerife. Las Palmas, Gran Canaria is the largest city in the archipelago, and the ninth largest in Spain. Other important cities are Telde, Vecindario, Arucas and Gáldar. In Teror there is a preserved the image of 'la Virgen del Pino', Patron of the Canariensis Diocese. The island is circular in shape, very mountainous, and is known as the "Tiny Continent" because of the extreme diversity of landscapes and climates it contains. On its central massif the Roque Nublo (1.813 m) and the Pico de las Nieves (1.949 m), the highest peaks of the Island, stand out. Approximately a third part of the interior territory has been catalogued as a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO. It has several beaches of fine white sand, e.g. Maspalomas Beach and the Playa de Las Canteras. In Pozo Izquierdo the Windsurf World Championship event takes place.
  • Fuerteventura is the second largest Island of the archipelago, and the second furthest east. Being the oldest, is also the most eroded; the highest peak is the Pico de la Zarza, at 807 m. The isthmus that connects the Jaindía peninsula with the rest of the Island turns its shape into a boot. At the north of the Island the Natural Park of Dunas de Corralejo is located. In the last ten years, thanks to an increased level of tourism, Fuerteventura has experienced an important population growth, especially Northern Corralejo and Southern Punta de Jandía. As of today, the population is 94.000. The capital city is Puerto del Rosario, 32,000. Other important towns are Corralejo, Gran Tarajal, Morro Jable and Jandía. The islet of Lobos is located 2 km north east of Fuerteventura, with a surface area of 4,5 km2.
  • Lanzarote is the most oriental Island, and one of the oldest of the archipelago, although it has had recent volcanic activity. Its surface is 845,94 km2, and its population 132.000. The capital city is Arrecife, which has a population of 57,000. Timanfaya volcanoes stand out, and they gave the name to the National Park of Timanfaya, a consequence of the eruptions that occurred in the period 1730-1736. The highest point is Peñas del Chache, in the Macizo de Famara, at 670 m. The whole Island has been declared a natural Biosphere Reserve in 1993. The main economic activity is tourism, which started developing in the 1960s and 1970s. The artist and architect César Manrique was born in the Island. Among his works the most admired are Jameos del Agua, the Jardín de Cactus and el Mirador del Río. From the site of the subject of the last painting, the Islands of Chinijo archipelago can be seen. They are part of the Municipality of Tegise. La Graciosa is the largest and yet is only populated by approximately 700 people.


The Canary Islands are a very recent volcanic archipelago, hardly 30 million years old. Its huge volcanic building stones lean on large blocks of Oceanic plates, and it is in the contact zone with the continental African plate. The Islands' arrangement reveals the fault sitting on the seabed. The geological history of the Canary Islands is very complex. Several stages of lava flows can be found that shape a typical volcanic relief. During the great glaciations, the Canary Islands suffered from a dry climate which caused erosion and rocky ground on slopes and ravines.

Because of sea activity, the shores are the parts most exposed to erosion. There are few accumulation areas, and so natural beaches are not so common, and deep cliffs are predominate. The Canary Island is the Spanish region with the greatest length of coastline at 1.583 km. Ravines are a highly characteristic feature of the Canary Islands. The downslope channel length is typically short, and they usually have a straight shape with a watercourse stream full of rocks.


The climate is humid subtropical. Temperatures are moderated thanks to the sea and Trade Winds. Important variations are found in precipitation levels. In some regions of the Island of La Palma, for example, annual precipitations may exceed 1,200 lt. In the Eastern Islands, precipitations are less common than in the Western ones; therefore Fuerteventura and Lanzarote have an almost desert dry climate. Because of the lack of rain, desalation plants exist to provide fresh water for human use in urban zones as Las Palmas, Gran Canaria and Santa Cruz, Tenerife. In fact, the first desalination plant in Spain was installed in Lanzarote in 1964. Nowadays this Island and Fuerteventura obtain 100% of their water for human use from desalation plants. Terrain porosity, given its volcanic nature, makes it difficult to keep water in reservoirs and dams, but nethertheless they do have some importance in Gran Canaria and La Gomera. In the Eastern Islands underground aquifiers are exploited trough caves, except for El Hierro, where rainwater tanks and are more important. A feature of some places in the Islands is the presence of mountains near the shore, which causes hot wind to condensate, a climatic phenomenon known as temperature inversion and condensation of cumulus clouds. As a consequence, the plants benefit from the resulting humidity. Nevertheless, the same Island can have several micro climates, so we can find temperate rainforest and dry zones.

Winds are usually from the north east, not causing too much rain, but providing instead a lot of humidity in slopes facing that direction. As a result, in middle and high regions the known condensation of clouds appears. Levanter and Sirocco winds often bring Saharan air layer, that is, is an intensely dry, warm and sometimes dust-laden layer of the atmosphere, being very dense sometimes. The Canary Islands lack rivers, although ravines are frequent and some of them have active waterstreams which bring water from higher regions to the shore. Some perennial watercourses can be found in the Islands of La Palma, La Gomera and Tenerife.


Political and Administrative Organization

After the establishment of a democratic constitutional monarchy in Spain, autonomy was granted to the Canaries, by a law passed in 1982 (organic law 10/1982, August 10th, for Canary Islands Autonomy. It states that Autonomous power is exercised through a regional Parliament (one chamber with legislature power), the Goverment (executive power) and its President.

The Canary Islands Parliament, having its seat in Santa Cruz, Tenerife, is composed of 60 members of the regional parliament, elected by universal suffrage; Tenerife and Gran Canaria having 15 members each; La Palma y Lanzarote with 8 members each; Fuerteventura with 7 members; La Gomera withy 4 members and El Hierro with 3 members. The Parliament is the originator of legislation for the Autonomous Region, passing the Governmet budget, regional government control, electing Senators (in addition to those elected by universal suffrage), etc. After the most recent autonomous elections (2007), the composition of the Parliament is as follows:

  • PSC-PSOE: 26 members
  • CC: 17 members
  • PP: 15 members
  • AHI-CC: 2 membes

The Canary Islands goverment, which has its seat in Tenerife and Gran Canaria, holds the executive power and is composed of the President (highest political authority of the Community), and the Secretaries or Ministers which hold the different public offices. Secretaries are appointed by the President. Since 2007, the President of the Regional Goverment is Paulino Rivero. In the most recent autonomous elections (2007), the PSOE gained a plurality of seats, but the nationalist Canarian Coalition and the conservative Partido Popular (PP) formed a ruling coalition government.


Other institutions

The "Diputado del Común", having its seat in Santa Cruz de La Palma, is the ombudsman for the Canarian people. He is a commisioner of Canarian Parliament to defend constitutional rights and liberties of Canarian citizens. The Economic and Social council, which has its seat in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, is a a consultative institution to the Parliament and the Canarian Government in the socio economical and labour fields. The Audit Office is responsible for auditing government departments and non-departamental public bodies. The High Court of the Canary Islands is the most important judiciary body, save for the Spanish High Court.



Economy is based on tertiary sector of economic activity, mainly tourism, which has lead to the growth of construction. Tourism started in the sixties with Scandinavian people. Later German and English people came, which form the largest group of tourists, mainly in the winter season.

Industry is relatively unimportant, consisting mainly of the food industry, tobacco (already disappeared) and refining oil (oil refinery in Santa Cruz, Tenerife is the largest in Spain). After the occupation of Western Sahara by Morocco, the canning and dry salt fish industries disappeared.

Only 10% of the surface is farmed, to a large extent dry land farming (barley, wheat, vines and potatoes) and a minority of irrigation farming (bananas, tomatoes), targeted at the Spanish and European markets. Although at first the Canaries were outside the Customs Union of the European Economic Community at first, this regime of free trade made it impossible to subsidize agricultural production of tomatoes and bananas because the CAP (Common Agricultural Policy) was not applicable, thereby the Islands requested and switched to a model of full integration with the establishment of a Tax on the import of goods and a reduced VAT (called IGIC).

Among the specific Canary taxes we can find the Reserve for Investment in the Canary Islands (RIC), which reduces the tax base of the Corporation Tax (IS) by up to 90% of undistributed profits, 80% for professionals to be taxed by income tax (IRPF) by the amount of strength in reserve, which must be reversed within three years from the endowment. Likewise, there is a free zone, called the Canarian Special Zone (ZEC), where established companies are taxed at 1% of IS.

Export of tropical fruits has been also initiated (avocados, pineapples, mangoes and other crops under glass) and flowers. The livestock industry, primarily goats and cattle, is weak, having suffered a major setback in recent decades. It was the second fishing region of Spain but the fishing industry has disappeared after the abandonment of the Sahara to Morocco and the harsh conditions for fishing in Moroccan waters now.

The construction sector is the fastest growing sector in the past decade, but it is currently facing a cycle recession.


Institutions or agencies associated with R & D

Technological Institute of the Canary Islands

The Technological Institute of the Canary Islands S.A. (ITC) is a publicly held company, created by the Canary Islands Government through Decree 139/1992 of July 30, whose activities fall within the fields of research, development and innovation, always supporting businesses in the Canaries. It is attached to the Secretary of Employment, Industry and Commerce of the Canary Islands Government.

The mission of the Technological Institute of the Canary Islands, approved by the Governing Council, is "to contribute decisively to promote innovation and technological development, as well as building a knowledge-based economy in the Canary Islands"

The Technological Institute of the Canary Islands has 192 workers, mostly University graduates with high qualifications, and has initiated over 180 projects and services distributed among the different areas that make up its structure, consisting of three functional divisions: Division of Research and Technological Development, Division of technological innovation and Central Services Division, thus responding to the needs identified in various key sectors for development of the Canary Islands, e.g. energy, entrepreneurs, training and new technologies, among others.

The Technological Institute of the Canary Islands operates from its headquarters, located in the capital cities of both islands. In Las Palmas de Gran Canaria and Pozo Izquierdo (St. Lucia), where over 120 people work, and in Santa Cruz de Tenerife where it occupies the old building of Lithographs Romero, rehabilitated in 1996. In these facilites more than 60 people work.

Together with these facilities, the Innovation Centres and Technology Update Centres (CIATEC's) located in Tegueste (Tenerife) and Agüimes (Gran Canaria) also stand out; there, ITC training activities are carried out. Industrial Goods and Products Official Test and Verification Laboratories are located in Lomo Blanco-Las Torres (Las Palmas de Gran Canaria) and Güimar (Tenerife).

The Universidad de Las Palmas de Gran Canaria ULPGC (Las Palmas University)

The ULPGC was created in 1989 after many years of petitions from the people of Gran Canaria. The university was incorporated through the University Reorganization Act of 1989. It is in spite of its youth, one of the most important Spanish Universities. The university has a Moodle-based virtual campus providing a service to all traditional classroom-based teaching and specially to 5 fully on-line grade titles and 4 post-graduate programs, strategies of international mobility and usage of ITC. It is closely involved in local society, with sound financing and high scientific productivity.

The geographical location of the Canaries allows the University of Las Palmas, Gran Canaria to share scientific projects, to interact and to collaborate with universities and research centers around the world.

The ULPGC has nine Universitry Institutes and Research Centres, as well as 150 research groups spread across all areas of knowledge, bringing together about 1000 researchers and doctoral students. In addition, it has a Science and Technology Park.

The most prominent research areas are cybernetics, telecommunications, medical technology, oceanography, marine crops, renewable energy and environmental conservation. According to existing data in 2004, ULPGC has managed 102 R&D projects won under competitive tenders, amounting to 5.3 million €. In the six years from 1999 to 2004, researching production yielded 5,679 conferences, 746 books and 1,721 publications in magazines with impact (JCR + DURSI).

The Office of the Vice-Rector of Research, Development and Innovation (Vidi) is responsible for providing institutional support for research and for defining policies related to R&D.

The Unit for promoting innovation is responsible for publicising the expertise of the ULPGC in research matters, for advising companies and researchers on research funding, and for supporting them in submitting projects.

Amongst the resources available to research projects are:

  • Vicerrectorado de Investigación, Desarrollo e Innovación
  • Grupos de investigación
  • Centros de investigación
  • Institutos universitarios
  • Parque Científico y Tecnológico
  • Catálogo de servicios y documentación para investigadores

For promoting research there are:

  • UPI - Unidad de Promoción de la Innovación
  • Una variada oferta tecnológica ofrecida por sus grupos de investigación en áreas científicas y tecnológicas

Ha participado en la realización de, entre otros, los siguientes congresos científicos:

It has participated in the conduct of the following scientific conferences, among others:

  • XIII Congreso Nacional de Tecnologías de la Información Geográfica
  • Competition and Regulatory Policy Workshop
  • Jornadas de Introducción a la Gestión Costera
  • XV Jornadas de Investigación en las Universidades Españolas
  • VI Seminario de Economía Canaria
  • Encuentro de Economia Laboral y de la Educación

Universidad de La Laguna ULL (La Laguna University)

The Universidad de La Laguna (ULL) is on the island of Tenerife, where the main campus (split into Central, Anchieta, Ofra and Guajara parts) is situated in the town of La Laguna, along with some centres scattered throughout the city of Santa Cruz, Tenerife. Between 2005 and 2006 (the last period for which complete data is available), there were 23,506 students, 1839 teachers and 819 members of administrative staff.

Its degree catalog consists of 56 official three year and four year degrees, divided into 28 bachelor's degrees, 16 three year degrees, 6 engineering three year degrees, 5 engineering degrees and 1 three year degree in architecture, plus 43 master's degrees and 33 postgraduate degrees, five of them given a 'Quality Mention' from the Secretary of Education.

Research actiivity is carried out in the following Institutes:

  • Instituto de Lingüística Andrés Bello
  • Instituto Universitario de Astrofísica
  • Instituto Universitario de Biorgánica Antonio González
  • Instituto Universitario de Ciencias Políticas y Sociales
  • Instituto Universitario de Desarrollo Regional
  • Instituto Universitario de Estudios de las Mujeres
  • Instituto Universitario de la Empresa
  • Instituto Universitario de Enfermedades Tropicales y Salud Pública de Canarias
  • Instituto de Tecnologías Biomédicas

And apart from these, there are numerous other research groups.

Instituto Canario de Ciencias Marinas (Canarian Institute of Marine Sciences)

The Canarian Institute of Marine Sciences (ICCM),  depends on the Canarian Government through the Director General of Universities and Research within the department overseeing education, culture, universities and sports. It was created in the mid 1970s as a research centre to support the flourishing fishing industry in the Canary Islands. It was hoped that the Institute's work would inspire students, and encourage take up of the University's bachelor's degree in Sea Sciences.

Nowadays, the ICCM performs and promotes research projects and technological development projects in the field of marine sciences. It cooperates through a 'horizontal approach' to R&D projects and contributes to environmental education. All these actions are developed and promoted in a cooperative context, which is a sensible way to interact given that the regional, national and international institutions can have common interests.

Its role can be summed up in the form of these priorities:

  • To extend th expertise in the Canary Islands area via research related to sea resources, tackling every subject in the fields of aquaculture, fishing biology, the littoral zone, oceanography and fishing resources.
  • To tackle projects in the fields of R&D, environmental and regional development and international coooperation, identifying sources of available finance at a regional, national and European level to keep the Institution's financial budget balanced.
  • To act as a horizontal platform of research, development and innovation, helping to strengthen the priorities related to the sea which can be carried out by the different institutions involved. Trying to reinforce relationships with the companies in the sector, as a means of achieving the implementation of the research goals of the Institute and to obtain revenue.
  • To help to improve environmental education and consciousness about the prevervation of the environment, spreading and promoting the achievements of the different research groups through a communication strategy that guarantees a better presence for ICCM in the important media.
  • To promote cooperation between the ICCM and other institutions in the local, national and international scopes, through collaboration agreements, participation and leadership of research projects, as well as organization of events (conferences, seminars, etc.) in order to facilitate the interaction with other research groups or with experts in related interest areas.

In the future, the ICCM will encourage efforts which are focused on sustainable development of the marine sector, based on a solid scientific and technological grounding. To achieve that, it will face problems thanks to the multi disciplinary nature of the workteams, which need to have a critical mass that is enough to guarantee the breadth of skills and leadership ability. In this way flagship R&D projects will be carried out that can serve as a models and demonstrations, with the aim of providing the maximum visibility, widest dissemination and takeup of the results.

Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias (Canaries Astrophysics Institute)

The 'Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias (IAC)' (Canaries Astrophysics Institute) is a Spanish research centre with an international staff. The Astrophysics Institue, the administrative and research center of IAC, is located in the town of San Cristóbal de La Laguna on the island of Tenerife. The Observatorio del Roque de Los Muchachos is located in the Garafía municipality on the island of La Palma, at the edge of the Parque Nacional de la Caldera de Taburiente. The Observatory is at an altitude of 2,400m. It was inaugurated in 1985, and is the largest concentration of telescopes in the northern hemisphere. The Observatorio del Teide is located in the Izaña region, on the island of Tenerife at an altitude of 2,400m. It was founded in 1959 by the University of La Laguna. The two observatories, together with the Instituto de Astrofísica, constitute the European Northern Observatory.(ENO).

Its central site is located at La Laguna, the city where the most part of the staff usually work. There several astrophysical research projects and along with technological development projects being carried out, as well as a posgtgraduate Institute.

In the course of its history, people from the Institute have attended many conferences and scientific meetings, among them:

  • XIX Canary Islands Winter School of Astrophysics "The Cosmic Microwave | Background: from quantum fluctuations to the present Universe"
  • Encuentros Astrofísicos Blas Cabrera - Workshop on Using the GTC and its Day | One Instruments
  • HELAS NA3-2 Workshop: Low degree and low frequency modes
  • Encuentros Relativistas Españoles - Spanish Relativity Meeting
  • Asymmetrical Planetary Nebulae IV
  • “Workshop on the Herschel Space Observatory"

Additional links

Link with another details form Gran Canaria island.