Ecologists branded the plan by the regional government of the Spanish Atlantic islands a "crime" and called on the central government in Madrid to intervene.
The unique biodiversity of the Canary Islands has long been recognised as a haven for wildlife and is home to about 4,000 species and sub-species that do not exist anywhere else in the world.
The unusual evolutionary habitats of the volcanic archipelago off the north-west coast of Africa fascinated Charles Darwin two centuries ago and continue to attract nature lovers to its shores.
But the Canary Islands government approved a bill that will see the removal of the more than half of the named species from the protected list.
The proposed alterations to the Catalogue of Protected Species envisage 226 species removed from the list, 131 reclassified with lesser protection and a further 94 given limited preservation status.
It will mean that vast areas previously protected from urban development could now receive planning permission.
The existence of protected birds such as the hoopoe (Upupa epops), pale rock sparrow (Petronia Petronia), and the osprey (Pandion haliaetus), have previously prevented development in areas where they are known to breed.
But under the new bill, those species will be removed from the protected list despite the fact that their numbers have declined since they were given special status.
Even the blue chaffinch (Fringilla Teydea), which evolved in isolated pockets of Gran Canaria and Tenerife, will see its protected status downgraded under the new law.
The bird, which nests in pine forests, is listed as "near threatened" on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List and is thought to number less than 300.
The Houbara Bustard (chlamydotis undulata), which serves as the symbol for the island of Fuertaventura, will no longer appear as a bird in "endanger of extinction" on the new catalogue but has been downgraded to "vulnerable" even though loss of its desert-like habitat has resulted in a decline in numbers.
A rare snail, giant grasshopper and species of sea-grass native to the Canary Islands could also be removed from the protected list.
Opponents claim the proposal aims to remove obstacles that have impeded the development of tourist resorts across the islands.
"The Canarian coalition is brazenly removing 'nuisance species', such as the extremely endangered grasshopper (Acrostira euphobiae), which lives in an area of La Palma where they want to build a golf course," said Professor Juan Jose Bacallado, director of the islands' Natural Science Museum.
Alberto Brito, professor of marine biology at the University of La Laguna on Tenerife, told the newspaper El Pais: "We are talking about a crime, an attack on biodiversity and natural resources."
The scientific community of the islands have joined conservation groups to lobby against the new proposal and have complained to the central government in Madrid.
They have threatened to take their case to the European Parliament claiming the new bill is in violation of European Laws on the protection of endangered species.
Wednesday, December 09, 2009
Exceptionally-rare, and special animal and plant species often develop on isolated islands. Habitat destruction is hard to prevent once people move in, however, and the rare species often decline. Thus, it is disturbing to read that the government of the Canary Islands wants to essentially wipe out numerous species just for new homes and golf courses: