Strait of Gibraltar

The Strait of Gibraltar is a narrow strait connecting the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea. It also separates Spain and Gibraltar (a British overseas territory on the Iberian Peninsula) on the European side to the north from Morocco on the African side to the south. Since the two continents are separated by just under 9 miles of ocean at the narrowest point, ferries can cross between them in as little as 35 minutes. Consequently, it has also commonly been used for illegal immigration from Africa to Europe.

The name of the strait comes from the Rock of Gibraltar (above), which in turn originates from the Arabic for “Tariq’s Mount” (Jabal Ṭāriq), named after Tariq ibn Ziyad, a Berber Umayyad commander who initiated the Muslim conquest of Visigothic Hispania (present-day Spain and Portugal) beginning in 711 AD. It is also known as the STROG (for STRait Of Gibraltar) in naval usage, as well as either the “Gate of Morocco” or “Gate of the West” in Arabic (Bāb al-Maghrib). In the ancient world, it was known as the “Pillars of Hercules”, while during the Middle Ages, Muslims referred to it as “The Passage” (Az-Zuqāq) and the Romans called it the “Strait of Cadiz” (Fretum Gaditanum).

The Rock of Gibraltar, or northern “Pillar”, was known to the ancients as Calpe Mons, while the corresponding southern “Pillar”, in North Africa, was known as Abila Mons (below). Since this pillar was not as predominant, its identity has been disputed throughout history, with the two most likely candidates being either Jebel Musa in Morocco or Monte Hacho in Ceuta (a Spanish enclave located within northern Morocco).

In terms of nature:

  • The Strait is an important area for birds, since hundreds of thousands of seabirds use it every year to migrate between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic.
  • A small resident killer whale pod, one of the few left in Western European waters, also resides around the Strait.
  • The Rock of Gibraltar is home to the famous Barbary macaque population, the only wild monkey population on the European continent.
  • There is even evidence of Neanderthal habitation in the area, dating back 125,000 years to as recently as 24,000 years ago. It is now believed that the Rock of Gibraltar may have also been one of their last outposts in the world.

Over the years, some studies have raised the possibility of erecting tidal power stations within the Strait, to be powered from its predictable current. In fact, dating back to the 1920s and 1930s, the “Atlantropa Project” proposed not only damming the Strait in order to generate large amounts of electricity, it also envisioned lowering the sea level of the Mediterranean by several hundred meters, creating large new areas of land for settlement in the process. However, as this proposal would have had devastating effects on the local climate and ecology, including dramatically changing the strength of the West African Monsoon, it has never gained enough traction to be implemented.

  • Cruised: Oct 2018

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