Site details

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5 stars - Fully protected as a national park or Natura 2000 site by national legislation
ATBI Reference Site

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Panorama of Cabrera’s harbour. Photo: Archivo PN de Cabrera

Synoptic description of site:

Archipelago composed of 19 islets, 9 km south off Majorca, on continental shelf defined by 200 m isobath. About 8.000 ha of marine bottoms. Calcareus. All islets placed inside 75 m isobath..

Extensive description of site:

The Archipelago was declared National Park on 1991. It consists of 19 islets (13,18 km2) situated some 9 km off the Southern tip of Mallorca (Balearic Islands), plus 87,03 km2 of surrounding sea. The maximum depth in the protected marine zone reaches 110 m. The islands do not support any agricultural practice and remain uninhabited except for a standing population of 12 (mostly Park officials) on the main island. The waters of the Archipelago are characterised by their oligotrophy, accentuated by the low continental influence (there are no rivers or industry in the Archipelago nor in the adjacent Mallorca), and in consequence by an elevated transparency comparable, in Summer, to those of tropical seas. The great heterogeneity of the bottoms, harbouring a large number of the more characteristic benthic communities of the central Mediterranean, and their good state of conservation, makes the Archipelago an ideal place for the study of marine biodiversity in the oligotrophic areas of the Western Mediterranean, and the factors that determine its community structure. In addition, the presence of undisturbed and continuous underwater cliffs between 0 and 65 m are of major interest for studies on benthic zonation and on environmental factors forcing it. Lowermost bathymetric limits for the infralittoral zone (-40 to -45 m) and algal growth (-110 m) have been determined in the Archipelago, and rank amongst the deepest in the W. Mediterranean. Due to the calcareous condition of the Archipelago, the number of marine caves and tunnels is considerable. Several anchialine caves harbouring endemic marine fauna are also known on the two main islands.

Habitats present:
Seagrass bedsX

Description of fauna and flora:

The censed marine biota consists thus far of 455 species of marine plants (Diatoms, Macroalgae and Seagrasses) and 951 metazoans. Comprehensive inventories of many of these groups have been published in a monograph dealing on the Natural History of the Archipelago (Alcover et al. (Eds), 1993): these include diatoms, macroalgae, seagrasses, cnidarians, Ctenophora, Plathelminthes, nemerteans, Polychaeta, sipunculids, echiurids, Crustacea, Mollusca, Phoronida, Bryozoa, Brachiopoda, Phoronidea, Chaetognata, Echinodermata, Ascidiacea, Thaliacea, Larvacea, fishes, marine mammals and reptiles. The Archipelago is outstanding for its extraordinarily diverse fish assemblage, surpassing in number of species any other BIOMARE site. The great abundance of the thermophilic decapod crustacean Scyllarides latus is also remarkable. The anchialine cave fauna is noteworthy, including Burrimysis palmeri, a monotypic genus of mysid shrimp endemic from the Archipelago (it is the single blind marine mysid known in European waters), and representatives of either the rare peracarid crustacean order Thermosbaenacea and the primitive copepod order Misophrioida.

Pristiness: High


Far from influence of cities, rivers, or industries. Islets human population reduced to less than 15 persons (all park staff). Restricted access; navigation and scuba-diving strictly controlled, fishery reduced to about 20 artisanal boats in delineated areas. No trawling allowed.

Human impact:

The potential human impacts on the site derive from the activity of a fishery fleet based on the nearby ports of Mallorca (59 licensed ships, but only a maximum of 20 permitted to operate per day), and from the high number of visitors. Only traditional artisanal selective fishing (gill nets, line) is allowed. The annual crop is unknown since the ships work also outside the Park, but the volume could be around 100 Tm. In 2001, the Park received 60.000 visitors. The regime of visits is very seasonal, 50% of total visitors concentrating on July-August. Landing is very restricted and only permitted around Cabrera’s harbour.


The Park is only accessible by boat or helicopter. There is a 30 minute crossing by inflatable boat from Colònia de Sant Jordi (the closest harbour to Cabrera on Mallorca’s south coast, about 50 km from Palma de Mallorca). During Spring and Summer, several touristic charter boats operate daily to the Archipelago from Colònia de Sant Jordi and Porto Petro; the cruise lasts about 1 h. Touristic charter boats do not operate daily during autumn and winter, but can be arranged for a precise date. In addition, access to charter boats is possible. The Park boats are not, in principle, accessible to researchers, and the facilities for SCUBA diving in the Park depend on the availability of a compressor. There is no laboratory on the islands purposely built or equipped for marine biological work, but some bench space is available in Cabrera’s main island harbour. Nevertheless, IMEDEA has a seashore lab on the Mallorcan south coast (Cap Salines), at 9 km from the Archipelago. IMEDEA’s main facilities (fully equipped marine research laboratories) lie about 60 km from Colònia de Sant Jordi (less than 1 h by car). These facilities are available only if guest researchers are associated to IMEDEA. Housing is available in the Park for up to 8 researchers depending on demand.

Available database and website:

So far there are no on-line databases available on the Archipelago’s Biota. Nevertheless, Alcover et al. (Eds, 1993) includes comprehensive chapters (and check-lists) on Zoo- and Phytoplankton, Macrozoobenthos and Macrophytobenthos. The Spanish Ministry for the Environment holds an institutional website ( cabrera/index.htm) including general information on the management and biotic riches of the Archipelago.


Commitment and ongoing research:

Cabrera is the ordinary research focus for the major biodiversity research laboratories of either the Balearic Islands (i.e., IMEDEA, IEO and the University of the Balearic Islands) and Catalonia (CEAB, ICM and University of Barcelona). Seven scientists spend a significant proportion of their time on this research. Several NGO’s carry out marine biological work on the Archipelago also. Apart from basic alpha-taxonomic work, the main projects focus on the effect of marine reserves on fish populations and Posidonia meadows. The Spanish Ministry for the Environment’ 2001 annual budget for the Park was scheduled as € 9,014.423, plus fixed running costs (personnel, etc.). The Spanish Scientific Research Council has an agreed science plan for biodiversity work on the Isles of Cabrera.