Alborán Natural Area

Alborán Natural Area

The Isla de Alborán is situated in the Mediterranean sea 48km from the port of Adra on the Almeria coast and 39km from the Spanish enclave of Melilla on the African coast. The protected area covers the island itself and a band of sea around it. It is noteworthy for its rich marine life, which includes one of the most threatened marine species in the Mediterranean, the limpet patella ferrunginea, as well as bottle-nose dolphins and several species of coral.

Along with the cliffs of Cabo de Gata, it is one of the most significant breeding sites for seabirds in southeastern Spain and is an important stopping place for migrating birds on their journey between Europe and Africa.

Made of volcanic rock, the island is 600m long and 265m wide. It has 2km of shoreline made up of vertical cliffs and caves, apart from two beaches on its southern side. Its highest point is 15m above sea level.

The island is the largest area of the Alborán ridge protruding out of the sea. The ridge is a mainly underwater mountainous volcanic rock formation that separates the two massive basins of the Mediterranean sea. The Alborán basin is the closest to the Spanish coastline, between the Strait of Gibraltar and Cabo de Gata in Almeria province. The island administration is part of Almeria. 

Its most recent human inhabitants were lighthouse-keepers, who lived here from the late 19th century until 1966. The un-maned lighthouse is maintained by Almeria Port Authority. Before this, it was used by smugglers and, most famously, the Berber pirate Al Borani, who gave the island its name. The Island was won by Spain in the Battle of Albaran in 1540 as one of the first victories of the newly formed Spanish Armada.  One of the first scientists to visit the island was the archduke Luis Salvador, at the end of the 19th century.   Alboranita is an igneous mineral rock descovered on the island in 1899, by the Austrian geology professor Friedrich Becke.

Given the island's strategic importance, located midway between the African and European continents and close to the Strait of Gibraltar, the government set up a military base on Alborán in 1968 and it is used for surveillance operations of the Mediterranean. A permanent garison of about 20 Spanish marines occupy the island.  

There is a small walled graveyard on the north tip with three tombs. The wife and sister of a lighthouse keeper, and a German mariner swept ashore during the second world war. 


The island is difficult to visit since it is nearly 50km offshore and a permit is needed from the Ministry of Defence. The Motril to Melilla ferry passes close by. There is a small harbour at the southeern point. 

Endemic plant species include two from the daisy/aster family (compositae/asteraceae): senecio alboranicus and anacyclus alboranensis, which are both strictly protected under EU legislation. A third endemic plant species, diplotaxis siettiana, was first recorded in 1932 but by 1986 was already extinct. Conservationists hope to reintroduce the plant to the island using seeds stored in a seed bank.

In the sea southeast of the island is the endangered red coral (corallium rubrum). There are also extensive meadows of the seagrass posidonia oceanica, which provide a habitat and important nutrients for underwater fauna and is protected by EU legislation.

The island has many seabirds, like Audouin's and black headed gulls and European storm petrels. Gannets, razorbills, comorants and puffins are common during migration periods. Endemic species include the coleopterous insect zofosis alborana, which is related to similar species in North Africa, and the snail helix alboranensis.

In the sea are dolphins, whales and sea turtles, as well as a rich variety of fish and shellfish such as prawns, bream and hake.


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