The lava spills into the ocean. / EFE

La Palma volcano creates a delta in the sea the size of 20 football pitches

For now the air quality on the island is good and there is no risk to the population from toxic gases, although 4,500 residents remain confined to their homes

JUAN CANO / ANTONIO PANIAGUA

The lava from the Cumbre Vieja volcano, on the Canary Island of La Palma, which reached the Atlantic just before midnight on Tuesday after erupting for ten days, has already created a new land mass the equivalent of 20 football fields at sea.

The lava flow, which hit the ocean at the Perdido beach area, has created a triangular-shaped delta with a front some 500 metres wide that has penetrated more than 100 metres into the Atlantic, with a height that, in some points, measures 50 metres.

The mass of water around the new formation has been heating up, reaching 26 degrees this Wednesday, when the normal in the area, at this time of year, is 22 or 23.

Dire consequences

Geologist Juan Tomás Vázquez said, “It has more gas content, CO2 and also sulfur, hence it has a turquoise colour. And its acidity has increased due to the presence of gases."

The water itself - the geologist clarifies - is not toxic, but the pH of the sea will vary which could affect many animals and organisms. “Those that are more mobile will have fled when they perceived the danger, but corals or lobsters can be seriously affected. We have not yet evaluated it, but it could have dire consequences with the loss of species, given that it is a special conservation area close to the Fuencaliente natural reserve," he added.

Toxic cloud

Meanwhile, the gases released by the lava when it comes into contact with the sea due to the sudden change in temperature and density have formed the dreaded toxic cloud, also called a plume. But it moved away from the population areas on Wednesday pushed by the trade wind.

Rubén Fernández of the Canary Islands Volcanic Emergency Plan (Pevolca) said that air measurements – that are constantly being carried out in the entire exclusion area of the volcano - indicate that the quality is good.

He said that, for now, they do not have clear evidence that hydrochloric acid is being released when the lava enters the sea, although he acknowledges that the nearby towns have perceived the smell of sulphur, which has led many residents to take precautions.

"There is nothing that tells us that right now it is dangerous to health," reassured the director of the emergency plan.

Despite this, Pevolca has maintained the lockdown of 4,500 residents of the four neighbourhoods of Tazacorte closest to the entry point of the lava into the sea.

Bananas

Technicians have decided that, if the conditions remain stable this Thursday, banana pickers will be allowed back to plantations in the Aridane valley, the main commercial activity of the area. Livestock farmers in the area will also be able to go to feed their animals.