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Cíes Islands–Atlantic Islands of Galicia National Park

Date of Submission: 05/02/2018
Criteria: (vii)(viii)(ix)(x)
Category: Natural
Submitted by:
Ministry of Education, Culture and Sports of Spain
State, Province or Region:
Region of Galicia
Coordinates: N42 10 49 W08 54 13
Ref.: 6286

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The Cíes Islands–Atlantic Islands of Galicia National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage candidate, comprises an exceptional area of land and sea formed by four archipelagos (Cíes, Ons, Sálvora and Cortegada) which are located on the Atlantic coast of the NW of the Iberian Peninsula (Galicia, Spain). This area is made up mainly of marine waters, a significant fraction of which are shallow. The coastal environments, such as beaches, dunes, cliffs and marine caves, make up an a significant proportion of its land surface, hosting a unique representation of species and habitats of several species that are of conservation importance, among them numerous reproductive colonies of aquatic birds. The value of the historical and cultural heritage, which includes important artisanal fisheries and historical and prehistorical settlements associated with the sea, should also be highlighted. This natural and cultural heritage endows this area with an Outstanding Universal Value.

The surface area amounts to 8,480 ha, of which 86% (7,285 ha) are occupied by marine waters, while the 14% remaining (1,195 ha) corresponds to land above sea level.





Archipelago of Cíes

2,658 ha

433 ha

3,091 ha

Archipelago of Ons

2,171 ha

470 ha

2,641 ha

Archipelago of Sálvora

2,309 ha

248 ha

2,557 ha

Archipelago of Cortegada

147,2 ha

43,8 ha

191 ha


7,285 ha

1,195 ha

8,480 ha

The geological history of the proposed area dates back to the Palaeozoic era, when the geological materials which currently form the land and marine areas of the proposed territory were formed. The geological composition of the Archipelagos of Cíes, Ons and Sálvora is of a granitic nature, although in the first two the predominant parent rock is two-mica gneiss-granite, while in Sálvora the predominant material is coarse-grained amphibole-biotite late granodiorite. Cortegada, meanwhile, presents a composition that is predominantly of metamorphic rock ofshale and paragneiss, with migmatic granite (Nonn, 1966).

Regarding the types of soil that can be found, there are predominantly leptosols along with regosols in areas of scree and hillside deposits, and arenosols on dune deposits. The most evolved soils correspond to cambisols of distic or generally humic types (Vilas et al., 2005).

Among the geomorphological formations of conservation interest are marine and land caves, as well as dune systems formed by wind action, in which the accumulation of sand is colonised by different species of sandbank and dune flora, the most noteworthy being the Cíes and Ons systems.

The area is highly influenced by the masses of marine water that cause a buffering effect on the climate, in such a way that the different Archipelagos are under a bio-climate of a hyper-oceanicnature, with average monthly temperatures that suffer barely noticeable variations. The macrobioclimate is temperate, characterised by the absence or low incidence of drought in summer. Nevertheless, a tendency can be noted of a short period of summer drought. Thanks to the humidity provided by the dominant marine winds in autumn and winter, the proposed territory can be included in the type of subhumid ombrotype, a parameter which concerns the temperature regime and rainfall throughout the whole year, while the low relevance of the summits enables the dominant thermotype to be defined as thermotemperate.

The marine area is characterised by the clarity of the waters and the averagely cold temperatures, with a slight warm influence provided by the warm gulf stream, and with a vertical homogeneity in winter (13-16º) and a stratification in summer (12-18º) due to the thermal gradient produced by the heating of upper layers. The salinity oscillates between 33 and 36 %, values that vary depending on the riverine input, the upwelling of nutrients and the temperature. The range of the tide reaches 4 m, alternating a high tide with a low tide every 6 hours and 12 minutes. In general they are cold waters, although they have a light warm contribution from the Atlantic Gulf Stream (Peña & Bárbara, 2006; Vicente Varela et al., 1999).

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

The Cíes Islands – Atlantic Islands of Galicia National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage candidate, is an exceptional area of land and sea formed by four archipelagos: Cíes, Ons, Sálvora and Cortegada. It includes three main types of ecological environments (marine, adlittoral and land), as well as unique examples of various types of habitats and species of interest for the conservation of biodiversity. All of this means that this area is of Outstanding Universal Value. The marine environment is the most extensive and includes the most representative types of habitats. The marine watersof this territory present a high productivity thanks to a phenomenon linked to the circulation of marine currents known as upwelling. The productivity of themarine watersof this territory results in a high diversity of taxa, mammals, turtles, fish, bivalves, cephalopods and other molluscs, crustaceans, echinoderms and other groups of invertebrates. On the sedimentary seafloors the communities of maërlmade up of corallinaceae algae, and on the rocky sea floors the Gorgonian and Laminaria forests should be emphasised; these three communities have a great ecological importance determined by the high diversity of flora and fauna they host and the great number of ecological niches their tridimensional structures generate.

The adlittoral domain constitutes a highly complex ecosystem, in which the interaction between land and marine elements enables the establishment of different types of habitats: cliffs, sandy and pebble beaches (coídos), dunes, tidal flats, marshes, coastal lagoons and marine caves. All these environments have an extraordinary biodiversity of animal and plant species, with the notable presence of a large quantity of marine caves that make up a setting that is unique on a European or even worldwide level. Among the plant taxa, it is possible to identify species of land flora—adapted to living in the sand of the dunes or in narrow cracks in the cliffs—which constitute one of the most significant values of the proposed site. Regarding the animal species of the coastal environment, it is worth emphasising the importance the colonies of marine birds that nest in the ledges of the cliffs and fish in the marine waters of the area have regarding global conservation. On the other hand, it is worth highlighting the beach-dune-lagoon complexes as Paleoclimatic and Paleoenvironmental registers in which the changes that occurred during the Holocene and the Anthropocene at climate and ecosystem levels are represented.

The land area is of high geomorphologic interest, which endows it with great scenic beauty, encouraging spiritual values and contemplation. Furthermore, it hosts several wetlands characterised by humid Atlantic scrub and grasslands which, along with a scarcity of fresh water sources present in a maritime-land area, are considered to be habitats of conservation interest for the flora and fauna of the Archipelagos, with the notable presence of different species of herpetofauna of European interest.

The current configuration of the landscape in the territory proposed presents a great diversity, arising from the existence of concrete areas with very specific conditions due to the insularity of a large part of the lands included. The four Archipelagos share specific common characteristics and are connected by an intricate network of ecological interactions. Additionally, they constitute a single management unit with a protection mechanism that guarantees its long term preservation.

The relevance of the values hosted in this territory, along with the coordination of the management of the four Archipelagos, has enabled its inclusion in the networks of protected areas at a Galician level (Natural Park, Special Protection Zone of Natural Values), Spanish (National Park), European (Special Area of Conservation, Special Protection Area for Birds) and worldwide (Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic, the ‘OSPAR’ Convention). Currently, this area has even been proposed to the International Ramsar Convention (Iran) for its inclusion in the Wetlands of International Importance, due to its relevance for global conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, hosting important functions of regulation as well as biological and cultural values owing to the presence of exceptional and outstanding wetlandson a worldwide level.

Criterion (vii): The territory proposed presents a series of natural values and landscape components that are superlative and contrasting, bestowing it with a special natural beauty and high aesthetic importance, and making it an unparalleled setting for the contemplation and enjoyment of the natural environment.

The Archipelagos of Cíes, Ons and Sálvora form the partial closure of the rias in which they are enclaved (Vigo, Pontevedra and Arousa, respectively), forming an area of outstanding natural beauty and of high aesthetic importance. The presence of these three Archipelagos favours a special situation which means the waters of the rias are protected from the Atlantic storms, with the state of the sea on the east and west being very different from that of the strings of islands, and thus conditioning the contrasted aspect of both sides of these. This dissymmetry awards a special scenic value to these Archipelagos, being possible to verify the contrast between the coast of the open sea and the area of the rias.

The Archipelagos of Cíes and Ons present a more abrupt relief, with several heights of more than 100 metres above sea level, forming exceptional vantage points from which the coastal scenery can be seen, with the rias as the main natural superlative phenomenon to be enjoyed. The coasts of these Archipelagos are cliff-lined, interspersed with sand deposits which form the beaches and dunes that dot and enrich the landscape. In the case of Cíes, the presence of a coastal lagoon such as the Lagoa dos Nenos increases even more the environmental richness as it introduces a new element, water (and the hygrophilous environment associated with it), as a contrast to the steep rocky crags and the arid dune landscapes, one of the reasons for which the Archipelago of Cíes is the most complex and outstanding setting of the Park, protected since 1980.

The Archipelago of Sálvora, meanwhile, presents a shape that is typical of coastal areas, with the appearance of smoother surfaces, differentiating between forms that are more or less flat, presenting whale back formations, and other upright tabular forms or ball-shaped, the result of fractures. This string of islands presents numerous small-sized islets, formed from granite boulders that appear dispersed in the cove formed by the Ria of Arousa, awarding it with a spectacular appearance, forming an unparalleled scenic frame.

Furthermore, Cortegada presents a special configuration as an Archipelago located within an estuary environment, sheltered from the action of the sea waves. The pronounced reliefs of the other Archipelagos contrast steeply with the maximum height of Cortegada, 19 metres. This Archipelago is flatter due to its proximity to the mainland and thus sheltered from marine erosion. The flattened relief of this Archipelago, together with the tranquillity of the estuary waters, form a landscape of exceptional beauty, dominated by horizontal forms, soft forms and the stillness of the large coastal inlets.

Likewise, the underwater environment of this proposed territory, which is its most extensive environment, constitutes a superlative natural phenomenon of exceptional beauty, ideal for carrying out observation activities of the underwater ecosystems and enjoying the subaquatic plant and animal communities. Sponges, corrals, gorgonians, macroalgae, marine reptiles or mammals make this areaa scientific and recreational scuba diving destination, being considered as one of the most important on both national and international levels.

Criterion (viii): The geomorphology of the proposed area is of a great scenic importance, it is formed due to the action of the wind, the waves and the salt on the rocks. The coast is generally low and not rugged, the coastal cliffs do not exceed 10 metres and they develop areas of beaches from which strings of dunes are formed, partially stabilised by the vegetation and, if the wind action on the sand overcomes the smaller sizes, they produce sand mantles which partially cover the substrate materials (Yepes Temiño, 2004).

The sandy deposits take on a special importance in this territory. The larger-sized ones are located in the Archipelagos of Cíes (Rodas, Figueiras, A Cantareira, As Margaritas, Nosa Señora, San Martiño) and Ons (As Dornas, Area dos Cans, Canexol, Melide). The beaches are less developed in the Archipelago of Sálvora, with a larger cliff surface and the beaches of Zafra, dos Lagos, dos Bois and do Almacén, as well as the one on the Island of Vionta. In the case of the Island of Cortegada, due to being located inside the Ria of Arousa, its beaches are shaped mainly by the action of the tides and the riverine contribution, forming the typical sandy lowlands known as lombos de area.

It is worth mentioning the beach-barrier-lagoon system constituted between the islands of Monteagudo and Faro in the Archipelago of Cíes. This barrier is approximately 1 km long, where the beach of Rodas is located and on which there is a stable dune complex. Behind the barrier the “Lagoa dos Nenos” can be found, a coastal lagoon of great importance for the diversity of both plant and animal species, and their habitats (Costas, 2008; Costas et al., 2009). The relevant role that this beach-barrier-lagoon system plays should be highlighted, as an outstanding example that represents the main stages of the history of the earth, constituting an important reservoir of Paleoclimatic and Paleoenvironmental information on the Holocene and the Anthropocene eras which enables the reconstruction of social, environmental, climatic and ecosystem dynamics through the appropriate scientific work carried out to this effect (Muñoz Sobrino et al. 2012, 2016).

In the main sandy systems strings of dunes are formed which are of great conservation interest. Formed by the action of the wind, sand is accumulated and it becomes colonised by different sandbank and dune plant species, the most oustanding being the systems of Rodas, Muxieiro-Figueiras in Cíes, Melide in Ons and the central part of the small island of Vionta. This type of habitat of dynamic physiognomy is extremely fragile, being particularly affected by human activity and the changes this brings about in the hydrodynamics of the coast.

The cliffs, of undoubtable scenic value in the Islands of Ons and Cíes, have been shaped throughout history by the marine influence; despite the majority of the Archipelagos having granitic material, in areas of fracture thewater manages to erode the rocky surface, creating what are known as “furnas” or marine caves. The morphology of the furnas depends on the geological material, orientation of the fractures, and the degree of erosion that affects it (MMA, 2004).

The marine erosion also has its effect on the horizontal coastal areas, where the action of the waves shapes the rocks, giving them rounded shapes, forming the boulder beaches. Other forms present in the different territories in the area are the balls (coídos), great blocks of rock in round shapes due to the action of the wind and the water; the “whale backs”, with soft elongated forms; or the tafoniandpotholes, cavities more or less round in a vertical or horizontal surface, formed by the granular decomposition, flaking, due to physical chemical or biological processes on account of the action of the water on the rock.

Criterion (ix): The condition of maritime-land area of the area proposed makes it an outstanding and representative example of the continuous significant ecological and biological processes for the development of the marine, coastal and land ecosystems, and by extension of the plant and animal communities that live in them.

Marine area

The marine area includes shallow areas near to the coast with a depth below 10m, in addition to surrounding waters that occasionally exceed 80m in depth. Apart from the depth, among the main factors that determine the oceanographic conditions of the marine area, physical and chemical parameters such as temperature and salinity stand out,and above all the hydrodynamics that generate tides, currents and upwelling. These parameters are regulated in the Atlantic Islands of Galicia by the phenomenon known as “upwelling”, which causes conditions characterised by mild temperatures and a high rate of water productivity. The phenomenon consists of a rise in the surface of the deep waters charged with nutrients during the summer season due to the dominant winds on the coast that make the superficial layers of the water be dragged out to sea. The water of the upwelling comes from the North Atlantic Central Water (NACW) which circulates in a northern direction at a depth that oscillates between 70 and 400 metres.

In the rias that have contact with the Archipelagos of Cíes, Ons, Sálvora and Cortegada a so-called positive estuary circulation is produced, which consists of a flow of superficial water towards the exterior, being less dense, coming from rivers, and progressively mixing with the sea water. This makes the deep water rich in nutrients to rise up to the surface. This phenomenon is reinforced by the winds of a NE component and by the Coriolis effect. The force caused by the Coriolis effect makes the water of the upwelling (NACW) enter the ria from the south bank and exit via the northwest bank, a phenomenon which in addition is favoured by the fact that the southern banks are deeper than the northern ones. For this reason the water masses rich in nutrients, influenced by the tidal currents, enter the ria from the southern side, while the waterspoorer in nutrients exit via the north.

Permanent marine waters with rocky sea floors are noted for hosting the communities typical of protected, semi exposed and exposed environments, the most outstanding being the populations Photophilous and Sciophilous algae, and the vast forests of the great brown algae: Saccorhiza polyschides, Laminaria hyperborea-Laminaria ochroleuca. They constitute a very complex habitat, with a marked stratification of the different species that live here and with a multitude of ecological niches due to the extraordinary richness of animal and plant species. The Saccorhiza lives preferably in the upper zone of the lower shore, while the species of the genus Laminaria penetrates more in the depths, normally reaching good depths of up to -20 m. The productivity of these waters also enables the existence of a high diversity of molluscs (Calliostoma zizyphinum, Patella pellucidaandCharonia lampas), crustaceans (Necora puber, Inachus dorsettensisand Maja brachydactyla), echinoderms (Echinus esculentus andHolothuria forskali), fish (Labrus bergylta, Symphodus cinereus, Gobius niger, G. cruentatus, Pomatoschistus minutus), gorgonians (Leptogorgia lusitanica andEunicella verrucosa) which form extensive forests of great density, yellow corrals (Dendrophyllia cornigera) and a variety of sponges (Haliclona cinerea, Hymeniacidon perlevis, Pleraplysilla spinifera, Phorbas fictitius, Antho involvens).

The communities of maërl, made up of coralline algae (Lithotamnion corallioidesandPhymatholithon calcareum),branched and strongly calcified, are noteworthy features of the rocky sea floors; they are of great ecological importance due to the specific richness that they host and their fragility. In general, they are located below the isobaths of -10 m, reaching depths of over -30 metres. In many much shallower waters, and on sandy silt substrates the presence of meadows of marine phanerogams (Zostera marina) which host an ample diversity of invertebrates among their leaves or on them, are particularly important.

The sandy sea floors are areas with a varied hydro-dynamism in which both sedimentation and erosion depend on the energy with which the water moves. These sedimentary sea floors, due to being unprotected, are colonised by species with digging habits that live buried in the sediment. They host a good representation of marina fauna, echinoderms (Astropecten irregularis, Ophiura and Echinocardium cordatum), molluscs (Euspira catena, Glycymeris and Ensis ensis), crustaceans (Atelecyclus undecimdentatus and Goneplax rhomboides), polychaetes (Lagis koreni, Chaetopterus variopedatus and Lanice conchilega) and fish (Raja microocellata, Callionymus lyra and Mullus surmuletus).

The productivity of the waters of this territory results in a high diversity of marine taxa, especially mammals, birds, turtles, fish and a multitude of invertebrates. Among the fish the most noteworthy that have been identified are a total of 398 species which are grouped in  2 super classes, 3 classes, 35 orders, 139 families and 288 genus (Bañón et al. 2010). The levels of diversity identified imply that in these waters 42% of the total of the species of marine ictiofauna listed in Europe are present (Quéro et al. 2003). Among these it is possible to identify a large bio-disparity as elements that belong to the four biogeographical groups are included (Bañón et al. 2010): Lusitanic, Atlantic, Boreal, and African. That is to say, it is possible to cite simultaneously in these waters the presence of fish typical of very cold water and also fish typical of tropical waters, as they all have one of their main migratory marine routes passing through these waters to more shallow water where they reproduce (Bañón et al. 2008), so the environment proposed is an important area for feeding, spawning, developing, and migration, of which fish within and outside these territories rely on.

This high level of productivity makes this marine territory of the Park be an area of high importance for the wintering and migratory passing of marine birds and waders. Some of the most abundant are the Northern Gannet (Morus bassanus), the Razorbill (Alca torda), the Balearic Shearwater (Puffinus mauretanicus), the Eurasian Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus) or the Ruddy Turnstone (Arenaria interpres).

The marine environment proposed hosts an assemblage of species of herpetofauna, highlighting the regular presence of marine turtles. Among them, the most frequent species is the Loggerhead Sea Turtle (Caretta caretta) (Galán, 2007), along with the Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia mydas), Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtle (Lepidochelys kempii), the Hawksbill Sea Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) or the Leatherback Sea Turtle (Dermochelys coriacea). The presence of these taxa, although not continuous, is relatively frequent inside the National Park, and is of great interest, as it makes this territory an essential area for migration, geographical distribution and the genetic exchange of these such vulnerable taxa.

Regarding the mammals that inhabit the marine environments, a noteworthy fact is the presence of up to 27 species of cetaceans and pinnipeds. The most frequent species are the Common Bottlenose Dolphin (Tursiops truncatus), the Harbour Porpoise (Phocoena phocoena), the Long-finned Pilot Whale (Globicephala melas) and the Short-beaked Common Dolphin (Delphinus delphis).

The marine invertebrates also present a wealth of species (Rolán & Otero-Schmitt 1996, Besteiro & Urgorri 1988, Míguez 2002, Otero & Reboreda 2002), some of which have a high economic interest. The molluscs are very important, with more than 340 species present, the most noteworthy being Lepidopleurus cajetanus, Patella rustica, Tritia pfeifferi, Doris verrucosa and Atrina fragilis, among many others. Also the group of the crustaceans hosts a numerous group of taxa, the most noteworthy being Dromia personata and Eriphia verrucosa. The group of the echinoderms hosts species that have a growing economic interest, among which Echinus esculentus, Luidia ciliaris and Echinaster sepositus should be noted. Also the group of thecnidariansis especially relevant, with the presence of Balanophyllia regia, Eunicella verrucosa and Leptogorgia lusitanica, this last principal component of the characteristic forests of gorgonians that colonise the rocky sea floors of this area. The polychaetes form a special group, as they live in the sediments of silt and sand, so that their presence is a very important bio-indicatorof the excellent quality of the water and of the minimum level of contamination of the substrate in this territory, the most noteworthy being the species Sabellaria alveolata, Eunice roussaei, Bispira volutacornis and Salmacina dysteri. Nevertheless, the group of invertebrates includes a rich assemblage of taxa from other groups, among which the following are noteworthy: Spongia officinalis, Neobisium maritimum, Reteporella beaniana, Pentapora fascialis, Protostyela longicauda and Branchiostoma lanceolatum, among many others.

Coastal area

The coastal area is subjected to intense dynamics which significantly condition the development of the ecosystems. This is due to the action of different dynamic factors such as waves, currents, the wind or changes in the sea level on account of tides. The coastal environment is represented by horizontal sections characterised by sand bars which extend towards the interior through the dune systems, or by vertical coastlines formed by beaches of pebbles or blocks and small or large cliffs.

The sand bars are very dynamic environments, constituting the interface between the action of the waves and the coastal sediments, and can be divided into three basic sedimentary environments: the beach, inside the bar and the area behind it. The beaches constitute the most dynamic area of the system, presenting a wide range of possible morphologies, while inside the bar the strings of dunes are formed, which in the Archipelagos of Cíes (Rodas, Muxieiro), Ons (Melide) and Sálvora (Bois, Zafra) are better represented. In the bank on the land side, the bar shows a gradual topographical descent which can end in an intertidal sand area, a mud flat or a marsh: this occurs in Cíes, with the formation of the Lake dos Nenos, a coastal lagoon of great importance for the conservation of the natural heritage.

The contact areas between the beaches and the dune systems in which the formation of mobile dunes is produced are characterised by the presence of sand banks covered by a scarcely dense vegetation dominated by graminoids and crassas or covered by a dense pilosity adapted to grow on mobile substrates. Communities of graminoid species, such as Ammophila arenaria and Agropyron junceum, are found in contact with the aforementioned; they colonise the elevations and depressions caused by the marine breezes and that change configuration over time. As the dune system gains in stability, other kinds of plant communities—which show a scarce or null mobility of the sandy substrate, due to a greater presence of lichens, moss and vascular herbaceous plants—, which as a group present a higher cover, become installed. Increasing the distance to the sea, the posterior parts of the dune systems and shifting dune systems produce a strong decarbonation due to rain wash and the acidifying effect of the organic material, being taken over by more or less dense shrubs dominated by helio-xerophytic shrubs, such as Calluna vulgaris, Ulex europaeus, Corema album, Cistus psilosepalus or Cistus salvifolius. Enclaved in the interior or behind the dune systems, small depressions can originate which present a temporary or permanent waterlogging if the depth of the water table permits it, characterised by communities of hydrophytes and/or hygrophytes which form ribbons that are more or less concentric and, in some cases, the presence of tree species (Salix atrocinerea).

Likewise, the coastal lagoon of Cíes (Lagoa dos Nenos) forms a complex aquatic ecosystem which sustains a varied assemblage of plant and animal communities, whose characteristics vary with the fluctuations of the water and their chemical composition.

The cliffs constitute a narrow strip of territory that serves as an abrupt transition between the mesolittoral areas to the adlittoral land area where raised coastal deposits dominate. In those areas of fracture, the water manages to erode the rocky surface, creating the so-called “furnas” or marine caves. The marine erosion also has its effect on the horizontal coastal areas, at the foot of the cliffs, where the action of the waves shapes the rocks giving them rounded shapes, forming the beaches of boulders. Other interesting and unusual shapes are the coídos, large blocks of round-shaped rocks due to the action of the wind and the rain; the “whale backs”, with gentle elongated forms; or the tafoni and potholes, cavities that are more or less round in a vertical or horizontal surface, formed by granular decomposition, flaking, due to physical, chemical or biological processes or due to the action of water on the rock.

Among the most frequent plants that support the harsh conditions of the cliffs, the following can be found: Crithmum maritimum, Armeria pubigera, Silene uniflora, Calendula algarbiensis, Spergularia marina, Festuca rubra subsp. pruinosa, Juncus maritimus, and Trifolium occidentale. In the upper limit of the cliffs, where the soil begins to accumulate certain depth, herbaceous formations develop which completely cover the ground, with the most frequent species being Calendula algarbiensis, Parietaria judaica, Umbilicus rupestres, Angelica pachycarpa, Dactylis maritima, Anthyllis vulneraria, Holcus lanatus, and Plantago lanceolata, among others.

The National Park also hosts very interesting herpetofauna (Galán 2003, Velo-Antón et al 2011) which present some unique genetic and ecological characteristics that are a result of the insular character of the territory. The presence of communities of the Iberian Painted Frog (Discoglossus galganoi), the Fire Salamander (Salamandra salamandra) and the Ocellated Lizard (Timon lepidus) is an important feature. 
The cliffs and dune systems of Atlantic Islands of Galicia serve as a refuge for large breeding colonies of marine birds, reaching figures of 20,000 individuals, essentially theEuropean Shag (Phalacrocorax aristotelis), and theYellow-legged Gull(Larus michahellis). This figure is even more relevant if it is taken into account that this territory, in agreement with the census of overwinterers, it regularly maintains 7-15% of the world population of the Yellow-legged Gull (Larus michahellis) and 1-3% of the European Shag (Phalacrocorax aristotelis). It is equally noteworthy that said population figures, in just over 8,000 ha, represent approximately a third part of the Spanish population of L. cachinnans michahellis and 78% of the Spanish Atlantic population of P. aristotelis.

Criterion (x): 
The proposed area includes 32 types of  habitat of community interest included in  Annex I of the CD 92/43/CEE (Ramil Rego et al. 2008a,b), that either are in danger of disappearing from their area of natural distribution, or present an area of reduced natural distribution due to regression or due to the area being intrinsically restricted; or rather, they constitute representative examples of characteristics typical of one or several of the biogeographical regions established in the European Union. These 32 types of habitats cover a wide spectrum of biological biodiversity, with wide representations of the kinds of habitats which are characteristic of marine waters and tidal areas, maritime cliffs and beaches, marshes, dunes of the Atlantic coasts, shrubs of temperate zones, natural and semi-natural herbaceous formations and rocky areas, also being possible to cite examples of forest habitats.

Among the types of habitats identified, the types considered as priority should be mentioned, as it is believed that their conservation is of special responsibility by the member States of the European Union. Among those can be found the coastal lagoons (1150*), represented by the Lake dos Nenos in the Archipelago of Cíes; the fixed dunes with herbaceous vegetation (2130*) and the decalcified fixed dunes (2150*), whose best representations are found in the sand banks of Rodas and Muxieiro (Cíes), Melide (Ons), Bois, Zafra and Vionta (Sálvora). On the top part of the cliffs there are areas in which the wet Atlantic heaths of Erica ciliaris (4020*) predominate, essentially present in Ons and Sálvora, while in the herbaceous facies the pre-steppe areas of gramineous and annual vegetation Thero-Brachypodietea (6220*) are identified. In the last place it is noteworthy mentioning the presence of the type 91E0* alluvial forests of Alnus glutinosa and Fraxinus excelsior, characterised by the formation of hygrophilous forests present in Cíes, Ons and Cortegada.

Among the types of habitat of community interest the presence of the type of submerged or semi-submerged marine caves is an important feature (8330), identifying through the inventory 49 marine caves (Higinio, 2009) in Cíes and Ons, whose 1,700 metres of galleries entail a good representation of marine and coastal wetlands formed in underground hydric systems. Both at a worldwide level and at a European one this type of natural underground wetlands are considered to be rare ecosystems. In fact, none of the wetlands of international importance declared in Europe have been included in these types of habitat. Furthermore, these hydric underground marine systems constitute ecosystems of significant importance for the bat colonies, with the noteworthy presence of Eptesicus serotinus, a species included in the Annex IV of the CD92/43/CCE and in the National Catalogue of Threatened Species as a species in need of special protection.

The types of habitats of interest for conservation identified play an important role in the conservation of biological diversity, as they host protected and endangered species of flora and fauna, which have been protected by the different applicable regulations (CD 92/43/EEC, Cd 2009/147/EC, Royal Decree 139/2011; Regional Decree 88/2007), including a total of 8 mammals, 123 species of birds, 13 of reptiles and amphibians, 5 species of salt or brackish water fish, 11 of  invertebrates and 12 species of flora (Guitián & Guitián, 1990; SGHN, 1995; Bermúdez & Silanes, 1998, Bermúdez, 2000; Palomo & Gisbert, 2002; Pleguezuelos et al., 2002; Martí & Del Moral, 2002; Bañares et al., 2003; Galán, 2003; Domínguez et al., 2003; Martí & Del Moral, 2003; Carbajal et al., 2005; Castiñeira, 2005; Peña & Bárbara, 2006, 2007; Bernárdez, 2006; Pereira, 2006; MMA, 2007; Blanco-Dios, 2008; CEMMA, 2000, 2003, 2004, 2005; Mouriño, 2005). Among all of these the presence of 3 priority species in accordance with the CD 92/43/EEC is particularly noteworthy: one plant species, Omphalodes littoralis subsp. gallaecica*, and two marine turtle species, Caretta caretta* andChelonia mydas*. The conservation of the priorityspeciesis considered to be a special responsibility of the member states given their importance for the conservation of biodiversity and their special fragility or vulnerability.

Nevertheless, apart from the priority species it is worth highlighting the presence of other protected species, giving special attention to the marine fauna. This way, among the marine turtles, other species included in the Annexes of the CD 92/43/EEC, such as Dermochelys coriacea (catalogued as Endangered), Lepidochelys kempii or Eretmochelys imbricata should be considered. Likewise, the wide range of marine mammals is made up of mainly protected species, with the species included in the Annex II of the CD 92/43/EEC such as Halichoerus grypus, Phocoena and Tursiops truncatus being noteworthy, while the rest are mainly included in the Annex IV(Balaenoptera borealis, B. physalus, Globicephala macrorhynchus, Megaptera novaeangliae or Physeter macrocephalus, among others). Among the marine invertebrates the most noteworthy are themolluscsPatella ulyssiponensis, Bolma rugosa, Charonia lampas subsp. lampas and Nucella lapillus, the echinodermEchinus esculentus,and the cnidario Eunicella verrucosa, this last one being a main component of the characteristicgorgonian forests which colonise the rocky sea floors of this area.

Among the protected flora in the marine environment the presence of important populations of marine algae established on the maërl beds (Lithothamnion corallioides and Phymatolithon calcareum) (Peña & Barbara, 2006) should be noted, as well as different birdspecies of very restricted areas of dune, beach and cliff environments (Linaria arenaria, Rumex rupestris). Nevertheless, this field has been the subject of discovery and the description of endemisms (for exampleCytisus insularis), which has given rise to new protected taxa.

Among the bird species, those that are particularly significant due to their threat level are the European Storm Petrel (Hydrobates pelagicus), whose nesting colony could make up 1% of the Spanish Atlantic population (Mínguez, 2004) or the overwintering Balearic Shearwater (Puffinus mauretanicus) and the Eurasian curlew (Numenius arquata) included in the Spanish Catalogue of Endangered Species as Endangered. The presence of the Yellow-legged Gull (Larus cachinnans michahellis) is especially noteworthy; it is a migratory species under the protection of the CD 2009/147/EC, whose populational estimates in the Atlantic Islands of  Galicia make up 7-15% of the population worldwide of the taxa, and a third of the Spanish population; or the presence of the European Shag (Phalacrocorax aristotelis), included in the category of Vulnerable in the Spanish Catalogue of Endangered Species and in the Galician Catalogue of Endangered Species, which in this territory has 1-3% of its worldwide population and 78% of its Spanish population.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity


The Cíes Islands–Atlantic Islands of Galicia National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage candidate, hosts one of the most genuine representations of the fundamental ecological and biophysical processes, as well as basic vital systems, supporting the ecosystems which are essential for human well-being, and conserving the biodiversity and geodiversity of the territory. This has been achieved through the traditional sustainable use of the natural resources (fishing, shellfishing, agriculture, livestock-farming) by the communities established in these Archipelagos. Accordingly, until today a series of elements of biodiversityand geodiversity representing an Outstanding Universal Value have been conserved.

Owing to the high natural values hosted, the Archipelagos of Cíes, Ons, Sálvora and Cortegada have been included in different types of protected areas at a Galician level (Natural Park, Special Protection Zone of Natural Values), Spanish level (National Park), European level (Natura 2000 Network: Special Area of Conservation, Special Protection Area for Birds) and globally (Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic, ‘OSPAR’ Convention). Conservation goals take precedence, as they are inherent in the very condition of the aforementioned protected areas.

In order to reach the proposed conservation goals, the corresponding instruments of natural resource planning are available, which in this territory are the Natural Resources Ordinance Plan of the National Park (Decree 274/1999, Decree 88/2002), as well as the provision of the Master Plan of the Natura 2000 Network of Galicia (Decree 37/2014). These ordinance instruments establish the appropriate measures for sustainable conservation and management, accompanied by an appropriate regulation on use and activities in the interest of achieving the maintenance or reestablishment of a positive state of conservation of the key elements of biodiversity and geodiversity that express an Outstanding Universal Value. Furthermore, the appropriate conservation of environmental values is carried out from within the National Parkof Atlantic Islands in Galicia, which has surveillance and management staff who watch over the regulatory compliance on the conservation of biodiversity, continuously regulate the influx of visitors to its area, carry out a control of the conservation state of the key components of biodiversity and geodiversity, and have the installations and equipment needed for the dissemination and interpretation of the environmental values included. The maximum levels of the influx of visitors has been established by developing a capacity study of the National Park, carried out using the best scientific and technical knowledge regarding the conservation of the natural values included.

Accordingly, the integrity of the natural heritage of the whole area of the Cíes Islands – Atlantic Islands of Galicia National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage candidate, will be secured long term in view of its inclusion in the protected areas shown, and its provision with the corresponding planning instruments and management tools. This enables it, in turn, to satisfy in particular the condition of integrity in accordance with the different criteria:

  • The conservation of the natural landscapes includes areas that are essential for the maintenance of sites of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance in the Atlantic Islands of Galicia. The landscapes of the rias, the islands that close the large coves, the contrast of vertical and horizontal forms on the coast, or the presence of coastal wetlands, are a good indication of this. Likewise, the underwater ecosystems are in a good state of conservation, which makes them an ideal destination for carrying out scientific underwater activities, as well as sightseeing and leisure activities.
  • The land forms of the proposed area have been kept intact, hence it hosts exceptional examples of ongoing geological processes that are relevant to the development of the relief forms and that show significant geomorphological or physiographic characteristics: sandy deposits which form strings of dunes stabilised by vegetation, beach-barrier-coastal lagoon systems which host a valuable Paleoenvironmental register of the Anthropocene era, marine erosion which shapes cliffs, granite boulders and pebble beaches.
  • The condition of maritime-land area of the proposed site makes it an exceptional and representative example of the continuous ecological and biological processes significant for long term conservation and the development of the marine, coastal and land ecosystems, and by extension of the plant and animal communities that live in them. Thus, the marine area has high productivity because of a series of specific phenomena that increase the richness of nutrients in the waters due to the circulation of the marine currents, which enable an extraordinary biodiversityof all kinds of life forms. The coastal area, likewise, shows intense activity of biodynamic processes, which in turn condition the development of ecosystems, which show an exceptional biodiversity that in the bird group includes a significant proportion of the world populations of some species.
  • The area of the Atlantic Islands of Galicia is, without doubt, the territorial portion of Galicia that has the most biological diversity conservation value. The overlapping of different conservation mechanisms (National Park, Natural Park, ZEPVN, RN2000, ZEC, ZEPA, OSPAR, Ramsar Wetland; in the pipeline) and the provision of two natural resource planning instruments confirm this. The variety of habitat types of EU interest (Annex I of the CD 92/43/EEC) is exceptional, with the noteworthy presence of 6priority types. Equally, the diversity of species of conservation interest is significant; it is possible to cite 3 priority taxa in accordance with the CD 92/43/EEC, which is extremely exceptional, and therefore, hugely endorses the Outstanding Universal Value of the proposed territory.

Comparison with other similar properties

A comparison has been made with other areas declared on the World Heritage List that have similar characteristics, highlighting those aspects that reinforce the proposal for inclusion of the candidacy Cíes Islands– Atlantic Islands of Galicia National Park on the aforementioned list. Following an exhaustive search on the UNESCO data base, the following areas have been identified to carry out appropriate comparisons. Their differences and similarities with the Atlantic Islands of Galicia are the following:

Doñana National Park (Spain)

Located in Andalusia, the Doñana Park occupies the right bank of the Guadalquivir river estuary, near its mouth in the Atlantic. It is noteworthy due to the large variety of its biotopes: lagoons, marshes, shrubs, Mediterranean low brush and mobile and fixed dunes. It is the habitat of five species of endangered birds, it has one of the largest populations of herons in the Mediterranean region and is a winter refuge for more than half a million aquatic birds.

  • Both have been declared National Parks. In Spain, this concept only covers a total of 17 areas spread out over the whole country.
  • It is an estuarine area, while the Atlantic Islands of Galicia is an insular area.
  • It lacks a representativeness of its marine waters at a level as high as that of the Atlantic Islands of Galicia, and thus, of the marine diversity associated with it.
  • Both have a great diversity of ecosystems of interest for the conservation of biological diversity: coastal lagoons, marshes, dunes, shrub, etc.
  • Both include a significant sample of biological and ecological processes that are essential for the evolution and development of marine and land species.
  • Both host important values for the conservation of the diversity of birds.
  • It lacks ecosystems of high importance as registers of the different stages of life on earth, neither does it have representations of the ongoing geological processes of landforms, while the Atlantic Islands of Galicia hosts good representations of the aforementioned.

Rock Islands Southern Lagoon(Palau)

This Micronesian area of 100,200 hectares is made up of 445 calcareous islets of volcanic origin, completely uninhabited, which in many cases have mushroom shapes, and are surrounded by lagoons of turquoise water and coral reefs. The beauty of the area is highlighted by the existence of a complex reef system with 385 different species of corals and different types of habitat, which host a great variety of plants, birds and marine animals such as dugongs and at least 13 species of sharks. Its differences and similarities with the Atlantic Islands of Galicia are the following:

  • It has exceptional cultural values.
  • Both are insular areas, and have high importance for marine and land biodiversity.
  • It does not have any superlative natural phenomena that endows it with exceptional beauty, as is the case of the Atlantic Islands of Galicia.
  • Both include a significant sample of biological and ecological processes that are essential for the evolution and development of marine and land species.
  • Both show the relevance of the stages of the earth and/or the ongoing geological processes in the development of landforms.
  • Both host important values for the conservation of biological diversity.

Galapagos Islands (Ecuador)

Located in the Pacific, at about a thousand kilometres from the South American subcontinent, these nineteen islands of volcanic origin and their surrounding marine reserve are a living museum and laboratory of Evolution, unique in the world. The Galapagos Islands are located in the confluence of the three ocean currents and concentrate a great variety of marine species. Its seismic and volcanic activity illustrates the processes of geological formation. These processes, added to the extreme isolation of the Archipelago, have given rise to the development of a unique fauna, with species such as the land iguana, the giant tortoise and numerous species of finches, whose study inspired Darwin’s theory of evolution through natural selection after his journey to these islands in 1835. Its differences and similarities with the Atlantic Islands of Galicia are the following:

  • Both are insular areas.
  • They have areas of spectacular underwater beauty.
  • They are a sample of the essential ecological and biodynamic processes.
  • Both show the relevance of the stages of the earth and/or the ongoing geological processes in the development of the landforms.
  • Both include a significant sample of biological and ecological processes that are essential for the evolution and development of marine and land species.
  • Both host important values for the conservation of the biological diversity.

Saint Kilda (United Kingdom)

This volcanicArchipelagoof spectacular landscapes, formed by the Islands of Hirta, Dun, Soay and Boreray, is found opposite the coasts of the Hebrides and has some of the highest cliffs in Europe, where immense colonies of uncommon speciesof endangered marine birds live, in particular puffins and gannets. Uninhabited since 1930, theArchipelagoof Saint Kilda has vestiges that bear witness to a constant presence of man in these remote and inhospitable landscapes of the Hebrides region for more than 2,000 years. Among these vestiges, agrarian systems known as cleits and traditional stone houses of the Highlands are noteworthy, as fragile traces of a human settlement with a subsistence economy based on produce from birds, agriculture and sheep farming. Its differences and similarities with the Atlantic Islands of Galicia are the following:

  • It has exceptional cultural values.
  • Bothare insular areas and have high importance for biodiversity.
  • It lacks a high underwater diversity as found in the Atlantic Islands of Galicia.
  • Both include a significant simple of biological and ecological processes that are essential for the evolution and development of marine and land species.
  • Bothhost important values for the conservation of the diversity of birds.
  • It does not have an example of the stages of the earth nor the relevance of geological processes in the development of landforms, as is the case of the Atlantic Islands of Galicia.
  • It does not have areas of exceptional marine or land beauty, as is the case of the Atlantic Islands of Galicia.