Home News Rising sea levels threaten Spain’s coastline

Rising sea levels threaten Spain’s coastline

Published on 06/11/2007

6 November 2007

MADRID – The tourism mecca La Manga is at risk. The expected rise in the sea level (15 centimeters by 2050, according to the Environment Ministry) makes it unadvisable to continue slapping cement on the sliver of land separating the Mar Menor lagoon from the Mediterranean.

This is why the government’s newly announced Strategy for Coastal Sustainability wants to “promote a moratorium on development” with the relevant authorities, due to “the risk of flooding brought about by global warming.”

Ever since the 1960s, when developer Tomás Maestre bought the inlet that separates the largest saltwater lagoon on the Mediterranean, construction companies and city halls have not stopped building, covering almost every last inch of these 36 kilometers.

According to the Strategy, there are many buildings on the beach, boardwalks, terraces and gardens that have encroached on the strip of land along the coast which, according to the 1988 Coastal Act, is for public use.

There is so much cement that the Murcia regional government, controlled by the Popular Party (PP), proposed the building of a tunnel so that vehicles could exit to the north and authorized a new marina, Puerto Mayor, and a complex on land reclaimed from the sea.

The moratorium would mainly affect an area north of La Manga, where construction has already begun on a huge development with an artificial lake and three 24-story high rises.

Pedro García, president of the Naturalists of the Southeast Association, recalls how a decade ago, Fernando Marín, the former general-director of coasts under the PP-run central administration, sent a letter to the regional government warning it of the consequences that a rising sea level would have for La Manga.

The letter recommended moving certain buildings. Since then, although the Murcian government officially does not allow construction within 500 meters of the coast, over 50 buildings between eight and 10 stories tall have been erected.

The Environment Ministry now wants Murcia’s authorities to expropriate buildings and homes that occupy public land and to demarcate public and private shore property. It will also consider “revoking the contract for Puerto Mayor,” currently frozen by the courts as a cautionary measure following appeals from the government and environmentalists.

The plan also envisages the purchase of the few remaining “developable plots in El Vivero,” to “protect them from real-estate excesses in La Manga.”

Without such measures, “it makes no sense to try to recover the beaches” – a project the regional government is currently completing. Another controversial point raised by the plan is the “elimination of the port of San Pedro del Pinatar, which is causing the erosion of San Pedro dunes,” a protected area.

The Strategy – the fruit of two years of work by independent consultants – also insists on limiting the construction of ports. Breakwaters alter the natural flow of sand, making it dwindle on one side and accumulate on the other. As explains the Ministry’s secretary-general for lands and biodiversity, Antonio Serrano, “there are little-used ports, with small boats that could go to inland docks instead of building new ones.”

The Strategy, with which the Socialist government aims to recover Spain’s 8,000 kilometers of shoreline for public use, represents, according to Serrano, a radical change in coastal policy and will take years to execute. The Environment Ministry wants the entire coast to be walkable by 2012, and the Balearic Islands, the Canary Islands, Cádiz and Huelva are the first targets. The plan includes a diagnosis, already complete, as well as proposals, such as the moratorium on development in La Manga.

Though construction is the main threat, the strategy also deals with pollution. On the Mar Menor, where there is not enough treated water for the two million people who go there in summer, the plan recommends reducing the use of fertilizers in surrounding greenhouses. Pollution from sewage and nitrates has caused, in the last 20 years, an unprecedented proliferation of jellyfish.

This is just one example of how mass development is bad for tourism in the long term.

Another of the more controversial measures affecting Murcia is the attempt to halt the Marina de Cope development – 11,000 homes, hotel capacity for 22,000, five golf courses, an inland marina and a total investment of €3.8 billion – which the regional government is promoting inside a natural park it left unprotected in a 2001 law.

The Socialist government is currently appealing that law in the Constitutional Court. Although its legal council asked it to wait for the sentence, the Murcian government has continued to move forward with its plan to develop 11,000 hectares of virgin coast.

Serrano insists that while the diagnosis part of the Strategy is not open to discussion, the part including recommendations to improve the situation is open to negotiation with regional governments. Asked about cases such as this, in which agreement is highly unlikely, he warns: “The government wants to reach a compromise but, if not, it will act accordingly, taking the necessary legal measures.” By law, the government can expand the strip of public domain by buying or expropriating land to protect the shore.

Murcia is particularly important in the plan, as it has one of the best-conserved coastlines (with the exception of La Manga).

The Environment Ministry also aims to stop construction on “a new port for container traffic” in the protected area of El Gorguel in Cartagena, one of the projects that has most irked environmentalists, at least until “the management of existing ports has been optimized.”

In Cabo de Palos or Mazarrón, where there are hundreds of low-level homes right on the beach, many built before the Coastal Act, the Ministry intends to demolish them, but “in the long-term.”

In Mazarrón, the plan’s authors have detected “dubiously located” boundary markers, presumably moved by promoters to make their developments look legal. Along much of the Murcian coast, the Strategy recommends purchasing a 500-meter strip inland from the sea, as it did with the former military base of Cabo Tiñoso, one of the last long undeveloped stretches on the Mediterranean.

[Copyright EL PAÍS, SL./ RAFAEL MÉNDEZ 2007]

Subject: Spanish news