The National Park of Garajonay occupies the central peaks of the island of La Gomera, covering about 10% of the insular territory. This evergreen mantle has historically been key to the Gomeran society as a large pool of resources. The water, firewood or grass for livestock have been essential to the survival of the island’s inhabitants. The significance of Garajonay was recognized in 1981 with its declaration as a National Park with an area of 3984 hectares. It is the newest of four National Parks of the Canary Islands.
In 1986 UNESCO recognized the importance of conservation of Garajonay’s forests. The National Park was included this year on the list of World Heritage assets. The declaration of Garajonay as a National Park reflects its good state of conservation compared to other areas of laurel forest in the Canary Islands. The people of La Gomera always knew to make a restrained and reasonable use of forest resources, aware that the permanence of laurel forest was fundamental for the balance of the island.
Laurel forests are one of the most rare and threatened ecosystems in the world. Globally there are two types of laurel forest, so called cloud forests and warm temperate rain forests. Cloud forests are mountain ecosystems with very characteristic climatic conditions that favor the formation of fog almost throughout the entire year. The Canarian laurel forest is a typical example of these montane cloud forests.
Laurel forests are particularly important because of their enormous biodiversity. These forests have an enormous wealth of endemic species, ie species unique to a particular area. They are also important regulators of the water cycle at a local or regional level, so that they can be referred to as ‘spring forests’, for their ability to generate water. Laurel forests have also great value as a protective cover on steep slopes and as regulators of water flows.
The Garajonay forest acts like a big green sponge as it captures from the mists more water than it consumes. This ability to trap water, coupled with favorable geology, allows the formation of a large aquifer from which life pours on La Gomera. Garajonay is the area in the Canaries with the highest number of springs, 74 in the whole park, which enables the existence of numerous permanent water courses.
Garajonay hosts a vegetation full of unique species, some of them seriously endangered. The richness of plant species is remarkable – in its almost 4000 hectares lives around 2000 species of the plant kingdom. In total there are 248 endemic species of flora in Garajonay, which can be Macaronesian, Canarian or Gomeran. The largest number of endemisms corresponds to vascular flora with 197 unique species. There are 21 species that are endangered, so their survival depends largely on the conservation initiatives which are taken.
Lauraceous forests existed before the Canary Islands emerged from the bottom of the Atlantic. These forests were one of the dominant forest formations on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea in the Tertiary period. The process of climate change forced humid subtropical forests to retreat southward to the Atlantic archipelagos of Macaronesia: Azores, Madeira and the Canary Islands. The confinement of laurel forests on the Macaronesian Islands has made this ecosystem one of the most relevant for the European conservation.
Nowadays the Canarian laurel forests have been reduced to 18% of their potential area. In addition, many of these forests are very fragmented and altered by human action. La Gomera preserves more than half of its potential area for the Canarian cloud forests. The central peaks of La Gomera conserve the best representation of the Canarian monteverde in a single unfragmented forest, which makes it unique in the archipelago. It is a mature forest with little intervention in which we can see the natural evolution of this lush grove.
Garajonay National Park offers its visitors remarkable examples of geological formations, unique and exclusive flora and fauna, the contrast of a lush vegetation against an arid environment, mature and ancient forests that evolve naturally and the presence of water, among other values. The system of public use with its facilities and services makes possible the enjoyment of the Park to hundreds of thousands of people each year, more than 800,000 in 2005, making Garajonay the most important attraction for visitors to La Gomera.