For such an arid area, Cabo de Gata has a surprising array of plants, with some 1,000 species recorded here. Xerophytic plants, some of them endemic, characterise much of this semi-desert area.
One of the most significant plants found here, the dwarf fan palm, is used for the park's symbol. Europe's only native palm, it grows among esparto grass, shrubby thyme and rosemary, which are adapted to the arid climate, surviving on moisture in the air such as dew to supplement the scant rainfall.
Cabo de Gata has many native species that are unique to the park, its most emblematic being the pink snapdragon antirrhinum charidemi, known locally as the dragoncillo del Cabo, which flowers all year round. It is found on south-facing volcanic rocks, like the Barranco del Sabinal and the Collado de la Vela Blanca. The pale pink dianthus charidemi used to be exclusively found in the Cabo de Gata but has now been discovered in the mountain range near Įguilas, in neighbouring Murcia province. In the Cabo de Gata it grows on south-facing rocky ground like the Barranco del Negro.
On the coastal steppe is the Iberian peninsula's largest population of jujube trees, an autocthonous thorny shrub that colonises sandy coastal habitats.
Mediterranean scrubland is composed of wild olive trees, lentisc and Kermes oaks. Wetland areas like those around the Salinas are colonised by saltworts, phragmites reeds and the glasswort sarcocornia fruticosa.
In the park's waters are extensive beds of posidonia oceanica, endemic to the Mediterranean Sea, and 260 species of seaweed, which are home to many species of crustaceans, molluscs and fish, like bream and grouper.
Designated a special protected zone for birds in 2000, the park's most noteworthy 1,100 species of fauna are its wetland birds found on the salinas; flamingos in their thousands flock here, alongside grey and purple herons, storks, cranes and many species of waders like avocets, curlews, oystercatchers and black-winged stilts.
In spring and autumn thousands of migrating birds stop here on their journeys between Europe and Africa, while in the winter there are numerous ducks. You can view the salinas from the bird hide on its shore.
The best place to see them seabirds offshore is the viewpoint on the Cabo de Gata headland, where you can see gulls, terns and Cory's and Balaeric shearwaters. Other seabirds are yellow-legged gulls, razorbills, shags and the occasional puffin.
The park is rich in reptilian life, with around 15 species such as Italian wall lizards (the only place they are found in Spain), ocellated lizards, grass snakes and Latastes' viper, which lives under dwarf fan palms.