Devastating Volcanic Eruption Obliterates Canary Islands Reefbreak

Jason Lock

by on

Updated 16d ago

For a little over eight weeks, a volcano on the Spanish island of La Palma has been erupting, with lava streaking through the countryside, steam rolling everything in its path and only stopping when it reached the ocean -- where it proceeded to obliterate the island's top reef break.

La Palma sits to the west of Tenerife, and forms up part of the Canary Islands, which are home to some of Europe's fiercest reefbreaks including a draining, Pipeline equivalent.

© 2021 - Manu Miguelez

But the situation on the island is looking bleak right now, with the volcano into its second month of eruptions after the initial explosion on September 19. Initially, the eruption started at a single outlet, but given the amount of activity over the past few months, it's now estimated seven new vents have opened, but the flow of lava remains the same. It has caused widespread devastation, ploughing through two villages and displacing thousands of people, a natural disaster that's not been seen in Europe in years.

MSW dispatched photographer Manu Miguelez over to La Palma to document the impact the lava flow has had on the ocean and the local community. Manu is originally from Cabo Peñas, the most northerly part of Asturias in mainland Spain and has spent a load time documenting the Canaries in the past, as well as cover swells over there.

Where lava meets ocean. The trail is 600 metres wide in some places.

Where lava meets ocean. The trail is 600 metres wide in some places.

© 2021 - Manu Miguelez

“Hundreds of properties have been destroyed and thousands of people have fled their homes,” said Manu.

“Around 6,000 people who have been evacuated, including 400 tourists who were sent to the neighbouring island of Tenerife. Many have lost everything they own.”

The lava flow passed through the villages of El Paraiso and Todoque and reached the Atlantic Ocean on the west coast. Experts reckon the lava flow (which reached up to 600 metres wide in some parts) burned its way through more than 268 hectares (662 acres) of land and destroyed 656 homes, before making contact with the water in the Playa Nueva area.

View from an eye up high, the lava flow in the foreground and the main path in the distance, creating a new peninsula that has impacted the surfing reef.

View from an eye up high, the lava flow in the foreground and the main path in the distance, creating a new peninsula that has impacted the surfing reef.

© 2021 - Manu Miguelez

Close up of the new 'island'.

Close up of the new 'island'.

© 2021 - Manu Miguelez

“The lava that reached the sea has now created a "low island" over half a kilometre wide,” says Manu.“It destroyed the island's most famous break, Los Guirres and two other surf spots. The eruption is not over yet. One of the eight active volcanic flows, is 200 metres from reaching the richest wave area on the Island.

What's been lost.

What's been lost.

© 2021 - Manu Miguelez

“Luckily, the surf community is pretty small and there is not a lot of businesses compared to other islands. Regardless, the community exists and the eruption has taken its best wave. The future is also uncertain as the lava keeps flowing.

“On the bright side, the local community is helping them and camaraderie between islanders is well known. People are staying close to each other, taking it day by day and focusing on helping the most needed. Squads are cleaning tons of ash, evacuating houses and animals.

Smoke plumes over the island of La Palma.

Smoke plumes over the island of La Palma.

© 2021 - Manu Miguelez

“Basically, people have been told to leave their homes and take only what they can. At the moment, surfing is totally secondary to surviving amongst the local community.”

As for how it is being amidst an eruption: “It is pretty tough to be there,” says Manu. “It rains ash, you breathe it, and it covers all your belongings, including your own body.

Gone.

Gone.

© 2021 - Manu Miguelez

“The earth constantly shakes, and the ongoing sound of the volcano is terrifying and threatening.”

What can be done to help? “People definitely need help. Locals are most likely not coming back to their land and there is a long political process ahead. Any help is needed and welcomed. Here is the official place to send it.”

We'll keep you posted on the situation as it unfolds in La Palma.

© 2021 - Manu Miguelez

© 2021 - Manu Miguelez