Mar Menor Ecological Catastrophe – Fertilisers Banned

Following a massive environmental catastrophe in Mar Menor, the logical question is whether the agriculture on the lake’s shores is worth such a tragedy.

After five tonnes of dead fish washed up on the shores of one of Europe’s largest saltwater lagoons, Spanish officials banned the use of fertilisers near it.

Last week, thousands of small fish and shrimp washed up on the beaches of the Mar Menor lagoon, raising concerns in Murcia’s south-eastern region.

Residents complained that the lagoon’s waters, which were once popular with tourists, were cloudy, green, and emitted a foul odour, prompting regional officials to close eight beaches.

Dead fish are still being found more than a week later, albeit in smaller numbers, according to Angel Sallent, a biologist with Anse, a conservation organisation focused on south-east Spain.

According to him, the regional government’s five-ton figure is likely an underestimate. “We went on dives and saw dead fish on the seafloor.” “We will almost certainly never be able to count the number of animals that have died,” he said.

For years, ecologists have warned that decades of nitrate-laden runoffs, primarily from agriculture, are suffocating life in the lagoon by causing massive algae blooms – a condition known as extreme eutrophication – that deplete the water of oxygen.

The lagoon is located next to the Campo de Cartagena, a vast area of intensive agriculture that has grown tenfold in the last four decades. The area, which covers approximately 60,000 hectares, has contributed to the region’s transformation into one of Spain’s leading producers of fruits and vegetables. Much of its produce is sold in supermarkets throughout Northern Europe.

The lagoon has also been impacted by poor sewage systems in nearby towns, which have grown in recent decades as tourism has grown, as well as discharge from mining activities.

Concerns among ecologists grew in 2016 after algal blooms turned the waters of Mar Menor green and killed 85 percent of the marine vegetation on its seabed, and again in 2019 after thousands of dead fish and crustacea washed up in the same area.

Teresa Ribera, Spain’s environment minister, accused regional officials on Wednesday of turning a blind eye to irregularities in agricultural fields near the lagoon.

She cited 8,000 hectares of land that lacked “adequate irrigation rights,” which meant that some were “illegally extracting water or using a quantity far in excess of their allocation.”

Agricultural groups have long denied such claims, asserting that they comply with all environmental laws.

Ecologists applauded the ban on the use of inorganic nitrogen fertilisers within 1.5 kilometres of the lagoon, which they had been calling for for years. “We think it’s a good step, but it comes too late,” Sallent said.

He urged the regional and national governments to take immediate action, such as reducing the area’s intensive agricultural practises and creating wetlands around the lagoon that could act as “green filters.” Failure to do so increases the likelihood of incidents like the one that occurred last week becoming more common.

“It’s a pity. This was a gem, a one-of-a-kind location that could have been a national park at one point,” he said. “But, instead, in the 1970s and 1980s, it bet on aggressive urban development and, later, aggressive intensive agriculture. They prioritised these economic sectors while neglecting the environment.”

Source: The Guardian

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