El Estrecho Natural Park (official website and maps) is located at the southern most tip of Spain, just 14 kilometres from the coast of Morocco. At this point the Atlantic Ocean meets the Mediterranean Sea, each with differing temperatures and salinity (the Atlantic is less dense in salt), creating a unique zone of wide diversity. Research on the marine environment has found more than 1,900 species of plant and animal life, some of which are new discoveries.
The park is at the shortest point for migrating birds between Europe and Africa causing more than a million birds of over 200 species to converge, mainly in spring and autumn, on the area each year.
Trees include Cork and Kermes oaks, Lentisc, Wild Olive, Pine and Eucalyptus. Undergrowth and scrubland include Dwarf Fan Palms, Prickly and Phoenician Junipers and Scarlet Pimpernel. Away from the coast more open scrubland includes of Mastic Trees, Rockroses and Portuguese Crowberry while cliff faces contain Rock Samphire, Marigold and Yellow Sea Aster.
Mammals include Fox, Otter and Egyptian Mongoose.
Birds of prey include include Griffon Vultures, Spanish Imperial Eagles, Bonelli’s Eagles, Booted Eagles, Black Kites and Short-toed Eagles. Other birdlife includes White Storks, Audouin’s, Mediterranean, Slender-billed, Lesser Black-backed and Yellow-legged Gulls, Grey, Ringed, Little Ringed and Kentish Plovers.
The marine reserve aims to protect various species, some of which are rare and endemic to the Mediterranean. Jellyfish include Merona Ibera, Cervera Atlantica and Scleranthelia Microsclera. Sponges include Elephant Ear. Molluscs and crustaceans include the giant Mediterranean Limpet, which is one of the most threatened marine species in the Mediterranean Sea, Mediterranean Fan Mussel and Date Mussel.
Status: Natural Park – 2003
Size: 10,000 hectares land, 9,500 hectares marine
In rocky areas Mediterranean Red Coral grows, a protected species found on rock walls and shipwrecks.
Turtles recorded in the area include the Leather Back, the critically endangered Hawksbill Turtle and the vulnerable Loggerhead.
Resident species of Dolphins are Common, Bottlenose and Striped Dolphins, the latter being in danger of extinction. Also resident are several groups of Long-finned Pilot whales and regular sightings of Fin Whales. Other species such as Sperm Whale and Orca regularly occur in the area. Minke and Humpback Whales are rarer visitors.
Fish of special interest include the Golden Grouper, Mediterranean Rainbow Wrasse, Scorpion Fish, Senegalese and Common Sole, Thornback and Undulate Ray, Angler fish, White Bream, Gilthead Seabream and the huge Ocean Sunfish.