Vessel Exclusion Zone Readied as Lava Heads for La Palma's Shores

Image courtesy Guardia Civil

Published Sep 21, 2021 4:53 PM by The Maritime Executive

Maritime authorities in the Canary Islands have set up a vessel exclusion zone south of the port town of Tarajal, La Palma in anticipation that lava flows from the Cumbre Vieja volcano may make it as far as the shore. 

The lava flow has already gone right through a residential area in the south of the vacation town of Llanos de Aridane, a tourist destination known for its fine beaches. About 6,000 people were evacuated in advance, and with ample reason. One small public school has been destroyed, along with about 160 other houses and buildings. 

As of Tuesday, the end of the flow was located about 2.7 km from the coast and advancing at a speed of about 700 meters per hour. If the flow reaches the sea, according to volcanologists, it will react with saltwater to form a noxious mixture of steam and gas known as "laze," shorthand for "lava haze." Laze is an unhealthy phenomenon: it contains toxic components like hydrochloric acid and volcanic ash, which are hazardous to human health. 

As the hot rock hits water and solidifies, it will also send up geysers of steam and flying chunks of rock. This is a known hazard to navigation, particularly for sightseers who attempt to get too close, and Spanish maritime authorities have set out a two-nm exclusion zone around the area in order to ensure safety. 

Drone video footage from Llanos de Aridane captured a preview of this phenomenon as lava flowed into a spacious swimming pool behind a villa. As palm trees around the structure burned, chunks of lava fell into the water, turning it black and sending up plumes of steam.