Red List habitat classification > RLB - Coastal habitats > RLB3.1c Macaronesian rocky sea cliff and shore

Macaronesian rocky sea cliff and shore

Quick facts

Red List habitat type code RLB3.1c
Threat status
Europe Least Concern
EU Least Concern
Relation to
Source European Red List habitat factsheet
European Red List of habitats reports
European Red List of habitats (Excel table)


This habitat comprises the rocky sea cliffs of the Macaronesian islands, which are formed by a narrow strip of lava bedrock (basalt) that is influenced by salt spray from the sea. Some of the Macaronesian coastal cliffs are among the highest sea cliffs in Europe and the world, like the Cliffs of the Giants along the western coast of Tenerife, with vertical walls reaching 500 meters above sea level, and the cliffs of Gabo Girao in Madeira, reaching a height of 540 m above sea level. The habitat refers to the area that is still under influence of the sea (waves, salt spray and strong wind), but above the mean high tide (supralittoral). The sea cliffs of the Macaronesian islands differ from those of the temperate Atlantic coast and the Mediterranean coast due to the dominance of a set of Macaronesian endemic species. The cliffs of the different island groups also show a diversity in species composition, which is expressed in three alliances of the class Crithmo-Limonietea: Frankenio-Astydamion of the Canary island, Helichrysion obconico-devium of the Madeiran archipelago and Euphorbio azoricae-Festucion petraeae on the Azores. In the Canary islands, the most characteristic species of sea cliffs are Astydamia latifolia and several endemic species of Limonium. Species that are also found at Atlantic and/or Mediterranean sea cliffs are Crithmum maritimum, Plantago coronopus, Frankenia laevis, Frankenia pulverulenta, and Asplenium marinum. Additional characteristic species which are restricted to the Canary islands are Plantago aschersonii, Lotus glaucus, Argyranthemum frutescens, Frankenia ericifolia, Atractylis preauxiana, Reichardia crystallina and Reichardia ligulata. The characteristic Limonium species are often restricted to only one or two islands, like Limonium imbricatum (La Palma, Tenerife), Limonium fruticans (Tenerife), Limonium macrophyllum (Tenerife, Gran Canaria) and Limonium brassicifolium (El Hierro, La Gomera). Limonium pectinatum (including L. humboldtii) is a more widespread species of coastal cliffs, found on most of the Canary Islands and also on Selvagens. Limonium papillatum is found on coastal cliffs of Lanzarote and Fuertaventura, but also on the smaller islands Alegranza, La Graciosa, Lobos and Selvagens. On Madeira the endemic shrubs Helichrysum  obconium and Helichrysum devium form different plant communities of coastal cliffs. Other characteristic species are Lotus glaucus, the endemic Limonium pyramidatum, Crithmum maritimum, Lotus loweanus, Frankenia laevis and Plantago coronopus. In the Azores, the most characteristic species are the endemics Azorina vidali, Daucus carota subsp. azorica, Euphorbia azorica, Festuca petraea, Myosotis maritima, Solidago sempervirens subsp. azorica and Spergularia azorica. Juncus acutus grows on littoral lava bed depressions that are temporarily submerged in sea water, but also on rocky shores. Like in other coastal regions in the Macaronesian archipelagos, an altitudinal gradient with different zones may be distinguished within the cliff habitat, from the supralittoral belt to the cliff top, with algae and lichens on the lowest parts and transitions towards succulent vegetation and thicket on the higher cliffs. Additionally, in the Macaronesian archipelagos coastal cliffs and small islands form important nesting sites to pelagic and coastal seabirds, especially where these are inaccessible to predators and undisturbed by human or animals (e.g. no grazing). Important birds of the Macaronesian coastal cliffs are several species of Petrels and Shearwaters.

Indicators of good quality:

• No human or animal disturbance (e.g. no grazing)

• Presence of sea bird colonies

• Presence of characteristic zonation belts

• Absence of alien plant species (like Mesembryanthemum sp., Carpobrotus sp.)

Characteristic species
For full habitat description, please download the habitat factsheet.

Threat status

Synthesis of Red List assessment

This habitat is assessed as Least Concern as, within Macaronesia, it is widespread and declining trends are small. The low degree of degradation is a result of its intrinsic steepness and, therefore, inaccessibility.
Red List Category Red List Criteria
Least Concern -
Red List Category Red List Criteria
Least Concern -

Confidence in the assessment

Red List of habitat categories and criteria descriptions

Pressures and threats

  • Transportation and service corridors
    • Paths, tracks, cycling tracks
  • Urbanisation, residential and commercial development
    • Dispersed habitation
  • Human intrusions and disturbances
    • Mountaineering & rock climbing
    • Circuit, track
  • Pollution
    • Garbage and solid waste
  • Invasive, other problematic species and genes
    • Invasive non-native species

Habitat restoration potential

If the disturbance is trampling, the recovery of this habitat is quick and can be done naturally, but in the cases of buildings it would take much longer and intervention would probably be needed.

Trends in extent

Average current trend in quantity

Decreasing Decreasing
EU28 EU28+

Trends in quality

Average current trend in quality

Decreasing Decreasing
EU28 EU28+

Conservation and management needs

Supression of residential building activity in the border of the cliffs, climbing and use of paths for fishing and trekking would be sufficient for effective conservation of this habitat type.

List of conservation and management needs

  • Measures related to spatial planning
    • Establish protected areas/sites


For each habitat a distribution map was produced from a wide variety of sources indicating known and potential occurrences of the habitat in 10x10 km grids within Europe. Occurrences in grid cells were given in two classes: actual distribution from relatively reliable sources (surveys, expert knowledge), and potential distribution based on models or less reliable indicators. Please download the fact sheet to see the map.

Geographic occurrence and trends

EU28 Present or presence uncertain Current area of habitat (Km2) Recent trend in quantity (last 50 years) Recent trend in quality (last 50 years)
Portugal Azores Present 6 Decreasing Decreasing
Madeira Present 6 Decreasing Decreasing
Savage Islands Present 6 Decreasing Decreasing
Canary Islands Present 2.27 Stable Stable
EU28 + Present or presence uncertain Current area of habitat (Km2) Recent trend in quantity (last 50 years) Recent trend in quality (last 50 years)

Extent of Occurrence, Area of Occupancy and habitat area

Extent of Occurrence (EOO) (Km2) Area of Occupancy (AOO) Current estimated Total Area Comment
EU28 693950 183 8.3
EU28+ 183 8.3
AOO = the area occupied by a habitat measured in number of 10x10 km grid cells.
EOO = the area (km2) of the envelope around all occurrences of a habitat (calculated by a minimum convex polygon).

Characteristic species

Not available

Vegetation types

Relation to vegetation types (syntaxa)

Not available

Other classifications

Not available
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