The ULPGC studies the positive impact on the environment of rodoliths, the famous 'popcorn' of some Canarian beaches

The capacity to form carbonate deposits and their extension within the archipelago make rodolith communities, algae popularly known in the Canary Islands as confites or cotufas, one of the main natural carbon sinks in our islands.
Its importance for the conservation of our ecosystem, as well as the scarce existing knowledge, have motivated the launch of specific research by the BIOCON group of the University Institute of Aquaculture and Marine Ecosystems (IU-ECOAQUA) of the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria (ULPGC), which has been developed since 2016 through several research projects funded by the Campus of International Excellence (CEI) of the ULPGC.
Rhodolites are red algae that are not attached to the bottom of the sea and are capable of synthesising a carbonate skeleton, which usually cover large areas, appearing in shallow or shallow areas, up to the limit of the area where a fainter light arrives. In our Archipelago they develop mainly between 15 and 100 metres deep.
The presence of these algae is frequent in the bottoms that surround the eight islands and in many of their beaches, although it is usually more notable in the oriental islands, which are the ones that have greater insular platform and hoard more geological age. When they are alive, their colour is pink or violet and once their life cycle is over they lose this colouring and turn white.
Although in the seabed their size is usually considerable, the fruit of the action of waves and currents makes it possible to collect simple fragments of the skeleton of the original seaweed on the coast. Once on the coast they are easily identified because they resemble the popular "roscas, cotufas or popcorn". In fact, their original shape has encouraged some beaches in Fuerteventura that have large deposits, such as Majanicho or El Bristol, have become a tourist attraction and a phenomenon in social networks, a trend that is often highlighted with the hashtag of #popcornbeach to identify their images.
Believe it or not, the growth of these rhodoliths is extremely slow, around 1 millimeter per year, which makes it a perfect "climate recorder", since the growth bands that appear in their skeleton can correlate to periods of warming, especially in the summer season, or even with periods of cloudiness. In addition, their bottoms constitute breeding areas and refuge for a multitude of marine species.
Combating climate change
The fight against climate change addresses many different fronts and one of them is the maintenance of natural carbon dioxide sinks, such as forests, jungles, on land, or coral reefs and seaweed meadows.
The rodolith bottoms are an important part of this struggle, as they absorb carbon from the atmosphere through photosynthesis. The accumulation of their deposits is therefore an important source of blue carbon, as the organic carbon captured by marine ecosystems is called, especially through seagrasses, marshes and mangroves, which, being close to the coastal strip, can be subject to interaction with various human activities.
In the Canary Islands, except for a few publications in the 1980s on floristic aspects, knowledge of their extent, ecosystem services and state of conservation is really scarce.
The work being carried out by IU-ECOAQUA researchers Francisco Otero-Ferrer, Fernando Tuya and Ricardo Haroun, which is beginning to be reflected in scientific publications, has focused not only on the morphological analysis of these algae, but also on the fine-tuning of acoustic techniques such as lateral scan sonar, which makes it possible to delimit the extent and monitoring of the marine habitats that make up the rodolith bottoms.
IU-ECOAQUA researchers have accompanied this process with the recording of underwater images to validate the results, and thus establish an approximate proportion of their existence in our seabed. This first exploratory phase has focused on the Bay of Gando, in the municipality of Gran Canario de Telde, although results have also been obtained in other areas close to the capital such as Las Canteras or El Confital, a beach that rightly owes its name to the existence of these algae.
The results of the research carried out by the members of ECOAQUA promise to provide more useful information for the management and conservation of these marine ecosystems, as well as for how long they will last.