Strait of Gibraltar

The Strait of Gibraltar is a point of natural separation in two senses; it divides two seas, the Mediterranean from the East and the Atlantic Ocean from the West. It also separates two continents, Europe and Africa. Geologically, the Strait represents the encounter of two tectonic plates: the Eurasian plate and the African plate.


The Strait stretches from Gibraltar to Ceute from the east until to the Cape of Trafalgar from the west. It has a longitude of 14.4km at its narrowest point between Punta de Olivares in Spain and Punta Cires in Morocco. Its depth varies between 280m around the area of Punta Camarinal and just below 1000m at the heights of the Gibraltar Bay.

The Straight of Gibraltar is the only entrance of fresh sea water for the Mediterranean and it takes approximately 100 years to renew itself.


Since the age of the Phoenicians and the Greeks the Straight of Gibraltar was known as the Columns of Melkart (Phoenician) or the Columns of Hercules (Greek). The Columns of Hercules was the "end" of the known world and the last frontier for the ancient navigators of the Mediterranean. From there, with their thousand year old knowledge, they went with relative security. But they were incapable of knowing the vastness of what lie ahead with the never ending seas. Then arose the names, "Sea of Outside", "Exterior Sea", "Big Sea", etc, given by the most bravest sailors, who left the coasts and the Columns to sail the unknown waters.

Its current name proceeds the Moslem invasion of the Iberian Peninsula and means "Mountain of Tarik (Djebel Tarik = Gibraltar). By being the leader, Tarik was the one that initiated this invasion.

Environmental Conditions

Because of its geographical characteristics, the Strait has its own unique weather conditions. The two continents channel the wind between its two land masses. It adopts two main directions: east and west. These are known as the winds of levante and poniente. Often these winds accelerate powerfully, reaching speeds of 40 to 50 knots.

The Strait of Gibraltar produces a slow exchange of water from the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean. The Atlantic is the only fresh water resource of the Mediterranean, which takes approximately 100 years to renew itself completely. The Med is a saltier body of water on account of evaporation and high density; it flows as an undercurrent as it leaves, while the Atlantic, a more substantial body of water with less salt and density, enters on the surface.

This phenomenon causes the ecosystem to be incredibly rich and able to sustain numerous species of cetaceans all year. Many of the cetaceans follow these currents. For this reason, the Strait of Gibraltar represents one of the most privileged places to observe and study cetaceans.

The current of the tides are strong and vary from day to day, causing indeterminate conditions for navigation.

Natural Resources


Because of the special characteristics of the Strait, the marine ecosystem of these waters possesses great biodiversity, which sustains upto 7 species of cetaceans during the entire year or the largest part of it.

Due to the strong currents created by entrance and exit of water between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, outcropping of organic matter from the bottom is produced, which is utilized by the living organisms, mainly algae and phytoplankton. This creates great development for the plankton, the first link of the trophic chain, which gives great diversity in species of fish, squids and crustaceans. The cetaceans feed mainly on these species and it is food sufficient enough to raise their families during the entire year. In spite of the intense maritime traffic that travels these waters, the Straits of Gibraltar is one of the 4 best places in the world where they can be observed in great numbers. With 97% success, we can guarantee the sight of at least one of the 4 resident species.

The resident species (that inhabit all year) are:
  - Bottlenose Dolphin (Tursiops truncatus)
  - Striped Dolphin (Stenella coeruleoalba)
  - Common Dolphin (Delphinus delphis)
  - Pilot Whale (Globicephala melas)
The semi-resident species (which pass during the greater part of the year) are:
  - Sperm whale (Physeter macrocephala)
  - Orca (Orcinus orca)
The migratory specie (which only passes these waters in its migratory route between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic) is:
  - Fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus)

More information


The Straits of Gibraltar is one of the most important areas of Europe for the migration of birds, especially for those that have young or hibernate in the Mediterranean, which together with its peculiar geographical characteristics; this area offers some exceptional possibilities for their study.

Auf der Gemarkung von Tarifa finden sich zahlreiche Beobachtungspunkte, die sich je nach Windrichtung und Jahreszeit hervorragend zu Vogelstudien eignen. Birds migrate simply to search of food and better weather conditions for their young.

In this area of the Strait, the migrations are determined greatly by the weather conditions, above all, the winds. Thus, with the wind of poniente or westerly, the birds will arrive at the area by the eastern coast to the Island of Tarifa or their outskirts. On the contrary, with the strong winds of levante or easterly, they will arrive for the west coast.

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Tarifa Tarifa is known as 'The Capital of the Wind' for many different reasons. The guarantee of wind emphasizes this. It is very difficult to have two consecutive days without wind. Nevertheless the conditions are not always constant.

Wind farms: The Experimental Aeolian Plant of Tarifa, was the first park installed in Spain, as a promotion of the Department of Industry and Energy. The Cerro del Cabrito was considered as the best place by the nature of the land, its accessibility and its proximity to the electric network. It is the height of the kilometer 87 of the interstate 340 of Tarifa to Algeciras. The area of Tarifa is a special location by its conditions of wind, for which has been elected for the installation of the park promoted by the Meeting of Andalusia, the IDAE and the business ECOT╚CNIA. The energy produced is sold to the Sevillian Company of Electricity.

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