Spain’s Environment Minister, Teresa Ribera, this week unveiled a roadmap for the environmental regeneration of the stricken lagoon in the region of Murcia, known as Mar Menor, one of Europe’s largest saltwater lagoons that is slowly dying from agricultural pollution.
The plan also aims to put an end to some harmful agricultural practices blamed for pushing the lagoon to what ecologists have described as ‘the brink of ecological collapse’.
‘The environmental crisis of the Mar Menor is unsustainable, the damage must be stopped immediately,’ Environment Minister Teresa Ribera said as she unveiled the 382 million euro investment plan on a visit to the area. The €382m will be spent in different phases from now until 2026. Of the total, €149m will be used during the 2022 and 2023 budget years, Ribera said.
Ribera added that the damage to the lagoon must be rectified with an integrated strategy based ‘on respect for the law, listening to science, public participation and inter-administrative cooperation’.
During August, millions of dead fish and crustaceans were washed up on the lagoon’s shores, scenes that experts blamed on agricultural pollution. ALSO READ: Spain to tighten fertiliser rules after ‘paradise lagoon’ clogged with dead fish
They claimed that the sea creatures died due to a lack of oxygen caused by hundreds of tonnes of fertiliser nitrates leaking into the water, triggering a phenomenon called eutrophication which collapses aquatic ecosystems.
The ministry’s plan for 2022-26 includes short and medium-term steps to slash the contaminants entering the lagoon, ending illegal irrigation practices and revitalising the Mar Menor’s shoreline.
The roadmap details several environmental regeneration projects to support biodiversity in and around the lagoon, including the creation of a 1.5 km buffer zone along the Mar Menor’s shores.
In August, Ribera accused the Murcia regional authorities of turning a blind eye to farming irregularities in the Campo de Cartagena, an intensively farmed area surrounding the lagoon.
‘There is no room for complacency,’ Ribera said in August, indicating that 8,000 hectares of land lacked ‘adequate irrigation rights’ and were ‘illegally extracting water or using a quantity far above their allocation’.
The new roadmap now involves cracking down on the illegal irrigation and cutting off supplies to farms without irrigation rights, reviewing permits for wastewater disposal and monitoring livestock farms.
Earlier this month, ecologists submitted a formal complaint to the European Commission over Spain’s ‘continued failure’ to protect the Mar Menor, urging the EU to take ‘immediate action’.
Although the lagoon is protected under various EU directives and the UN environment programme, the ecologists said that Spain had failed to comply with its legal obligations, taking ‘only superficial steps’ to safeguard the Mar Menor from damaging agricultural practices.