IberiaNature A guide to the natural history of Spain
By Nick Lloyd - Home - Contact

State of the Spanish Coast

July 2004

Following on from yesterday's report by WWF/Adena on the state of Mediterranean wetlands (see article below), Greenpeace today added their piece in a comprehensive and damming study of the Spanish coast. Not one autonomous community is saved from criticism, though the report notes improvements in the protection plans and anti-pollution policies of Catalonia, the Basque Country and Asturias, while at the other end of the scale lambastes (surprise, surprise) the Balearics, the Canaries, Murcia, Valencia and Galicia. Timid reforms are noted in Cantabria and Andalucia. The most striking example is Marbella, where the constant modifications to its planning law have led the Andalusian government to consider suspending the town's powers over such matters. 58% of towns and villages on the Spanish coast lack 'adequate' treatment facilities for waste waters, which are dumped as raw sewage straight into the sea in direct contravention of EU law, as is the case of Valencia (782,000 inhabitants). The already scarce natural areas along the coast are under sustained attack from speculators often with the thumbs-up from regional governments. A fragrant case is that of Murcia, which is attempting to reduce the size of Calblanque Natural Park, or that other Partido Popular fiefdom, the Balearics, where ex-Spanish minister for the environment, Jaume Matas, is in the process of changing the law to allow developers to build on unspoilt stretches of Ibiza and Formentera. In total, 50 blackspots are highlighted as the worse blights. Some of the last unspoilt stretches of the Med are disappearing fast: El Delta del Ebro in Tarragona, southern Murcia and Cabo de Gata in Almería are cited as examples. In total, 50 blackspots are highlighted as the worse blights. 

Catalonia is not left off the hook either. The report points out that urbanisation is almost continuous along its entire 672km of coastline. Saturation point has evidently been reached: there are now 75 municipalities where practically 100% of the land is urbanised. In a further 30, the figure is 75%. Catalonia has one yachting marina every 10 km - surely a world record. The proliferation of barriers along the coast is resulting in the loss of huge amounts of sand at an incredible speed and is interrupting coastal currents.

The study slates the decision by Vilanova i la Geltrú council, governed by the tripartite of PSC, ICV-EUiA and ERC, to modify its planning law to allow a new 5 storey hotel to be built right in front of Playa Larga, and the project by the outgoing CiU-PP council to develop Les Madrigueres, the last unspoilt beach in El Vendrell. It notes that 96% of all all the homes built in Baix Ebre in 2003 were along the coast. Barcelona's Forum site and the proposed marine zoo are both criticised as being seriously environmentally unsound.
On a positive note, the Generalitat's new Coastal Protection Plan, aimed at saving the last unspoilt 55km of coast by preventing new construction within 500m of the shoreline, is praised with reservations. The new policy has already put a stop to the construction of 60 seafront homes in L'Escala. 

Click here for report in Spanish

Costas in Literature

Following on from ' the State of the Coast' (see below) here's a few literary references I've come across on the condition of the costas.

J.G. Ballard wrote some fine landscape piece on the architype of all Costas:

The mountains had withdrawn from the sea, keeping their distance a mile inland, Near Sotogrande the golf courses began to multiply like the symptoms of a hypertrophied grassland cancer. White-walled Andalusian pueblos presided over the greens and fairways, fortified villages guarding their pastures, but in fact these miniature townships were purpose-built villa complexes financed by Swiss and German property speculators, the winter homes not of local shepherds but of Düsseldorf ad-men and Zürich television executives.

And later

The retirement pueblos lay by the motorway, embalmed in a dream of the sun from which they would never awake. As always when I drove along the coast to Marbella I seemed to be moving through a zone that was fully accessible only to a neuroscientist and scarcely at all to a travel writer. The white facades of the villas and the apartment houses were like blocks of time that had crystallised by the side the road. Here on the Costa del Sol nothing would ever happen again and the people of the pueblos were already the ghosts of themselves.

J.G. Ballard 'Cocaine Nights' 1996

Though of course travels writers have dissected this world. Here's the Spanish author Manuel de Lope describing the Valencian coast in winter:

From Peñiscola to Vinaroz, all along the beaches, there is a continuous line of buildings with seven storeys, ten storeys, even twenty storeys. They are the hotels and apartment buildings of what one could call the tourism civilisation or the hotel civilisation, which has utterly colonised the strip of land closest to the coastline. Its broad appearance is that of an artificial cliff perforated with countless dwellings. It is difficult to imagine the reasons why people flock here, because undoubtedly their reasons are deeper or more inexplicable than the mere need for sun and sea. At that time of the year everything was deserted. It seemed as if radiation had killed off its inhabitants, leaving the few survivors aged. It showed the fragility of these seasonal human structures that without the slightest doubt will have disappeared without a trace within just a few generations.

Manuel de Lope "La Puerta Iluminada" 2003

Paul Theroux travelled all the way up the Spanish coast on his trip around the Mediterranean in "The Pillars of Hercules".

.the debased urbanisation on this coast seemed entirely foreign, as though the whole holiday business had been foisted on Spain by outside investors hoping to cash in. .The Spaniards did not mock it, and they were grateful for the paying guests, for many years this was the chief source of Spanish prosperity. It was also remarkably ugly, and this was especially true in these out-of-season months. In full sunshine it might have had a cheap and cheerful carnival atmosphere, but under grey skies it hovered, a grotesque malignancy, sad and horrible, that was somewhere between tragedy and farce. And Spain seemed distant.
I felt intensely that the Spanish coast, especially here on the Costa del Sol, had undergone a powerful colonisation - of a modern kind, but just as pernicious and permanent as the classic wog-bashing sort. It had robbed the shore of its natural features, displaced headlines and gullies and harbours with futile badly-made structures. ..

The landscape was obliterated, and from the edge of the Mediterranean to the arid gravely inland slopes there were off-white stucco villas. There were no hills to speak of, only sequences of stucco rising in a hill shape, like a collapsing wedding cake.