Can it happen on the Alicante coast what is happening in the Mar Menor? Experts rule out establishing analogies since the situation of anoxia -Lack of oxygen- that is killing the fish has been produced by excess fertilization in a salty coastal lagoon from where the fauna cannot flee while the Mediterranean is an open sea, which would allow the fish to swim elsewhere, apart from the fact that a similar situation would mean the end of the fishery, tourism, the economy and a population exodus. But the coastal waters of the province also have their problems: poor conservation status, overfishing, scarcity of marine reserves, and environmental pollution by microplásticos.
The main setback is reflected in the Júcar basin hydrological plan until 2021, which establishes the coastal areas in a poor state of conservation and one of them is the bay of Alicante, between El Campello and Cape Santa Pola.
The ecological status of these coastal waters is deficient, according to the map of the basin organization, and moderate from the salt flats of Santa Pola to the limit with the waters of Murcia. This biological precariousness affects 20% of the coastal waters of the province.
The cause is in the nitrogen and phosphorus discharges that end up in the bay through the treatment plants from human contributions and their organic matter, since agricultural discharges in this area are much lower, as he explains. Carlos Arribas, waste coordinator at Ecologistas en Acción and spokesperson.
“Agricultural activity can also affect because there are irrigation areas whose discharges and fertilizers end up in groundwater or the sea, but it is mainly due to the remains of the treatment plants, which do not remove nitrogen or phosphorus.” Despite a situation of eutrophication (increase of nutritive substances in the water), we do not reach situations of anoxia or lack of oxygen in the sea, ecologists emphasize.
The solution to prevent the poor state of the waters from worsening would be, according to the group, to reuse these discharges in agriculture instead of throwing them into the sea, as they understand that can be achieved with a joint project of several administrations (Ministry of Ecological Transition, Ministry of Agriculture, Alicante City Council and Public Wastewater Sanitation Company) to treat 100% of the wastewater, “which would end the rennet problem.” This initiative aims to take advantage of 13 cubic hectometres of treated water in the Rincón de León treatment plant that now ends up in the sea for agricultural use and irrigation. The budget is 100 million euros to build various infrastructures with which to divide the treatment effort between this treatment plant and that of Monte Orgegia, and to enable water storage basins for use by irrigators, a project that is intended to be developed with funds Europeans from recovery after the pandemic.
A disaster like that of the Mar Menor would mean the end of the tourist and economic model, and of the fishing activity
Currently, the Rincón de León station treats waste liquids from the southern area of Alicante, its industrial estates and the municipality of San Vicente del Raspeig, with a capacity of 75,000 cubic meters per day. All of this, as explained by the EPSAR manager, Jose Angel Conca, generates about 18 cubic hectometres of sanitized water per year, although currently only a third is used and the rest is lost at sea.
However, the residents of the southern neighborhoods of Alicante denounce that sanitary water is not dumped into the sea but “tremendously polluted both by the outfall and by the network of spillways of the pumping stations and collectors that discharge raw untreated water into huge quantities. The environmental degradation and loss of habitat and marine spaces has been demonstrated by the reports of the Port Authority, the Institute of Coastal Ecology and the University of Alicante “, they affirm from the Gran Vía Sur association. In 2020, a video recorded by a biologist from Alicante showed marine litter in Alicante, in the Alí cove, in front of the Palmeral, in the southern area of the capital. There were thousands of remains of wipes, tissues, microplastics, leads or hooks.
When talking about the disaster in the Mar Menor, the Institute of Coastal Ecology of the province prefers not to establish similarities. «If what happens there happens in the Mediterranean it would be very serious. Most likely it would mean the end of the fisheries, the death of tourism, the economy and the population that lives around it, which would be reduced to very small towns. It is very difficult for it to happen, the level of contamination would have to be very high, and fortunately measures are being taken. There are more and more purification systems and less nitrogen is introduced into the marine environment “, points out the researcher from the Institute of Coastal Ecology, Juan Guillen. It even considers the situation of the Mar Menor reversible. “It is possible that in 10 or 15 years we will stop seeing these episodes of fish kills if measures are started, but the ball is in the court of politicians.”
Overfishing is another problem of the coastal seabed of the province, hence the experts advocate for a balance between what is fished and what the sea is capable of producing naturally. Both the researcher from the Institute of Coastal Ecology and the professor from the Ecology department and researcher at the Ramón Margalef Institute of the University of Alicante agree on this. Caesar Bordehore. The latter thinks that marine reserves are lacking to recover fishing potential. “Alicante has Tabarca, where when diving you can see an awful lot of fish, a lot of life,” he points out. Hence his conviction that this model should be extended with new marine reserves to between 20 and 30% of the coastal territory of the province and in general of the Valencian Community, considering the existing ones insufficient: in addition to the one that surrounds the island of Alicante. , there is the Cabo de San Antonio between Xàbia and Dénia and the Columbretes, “something tiny compared to the territory we have.”
With this protection, he understands that biodiversity and fishing capacity would be improved. «It is the opposite of what fishermen think; it would increase fishing capacity outside these reserve areas, ”says the UA professor. Guillén is committed to a compatibility of uses (fishing, tourism) to reach sustainable development, with agreements that allow limiting some and favoring others, such as putting into practice, coincides, more marine reserves. “Soon we will have a regulation that will say how far an anchor can be cast and where not to avoid depletion of posidonia meadows and other habitats. But people must be convinced to put it into practice and be able to take that sociological leap. He believes that we must bet on the conservation of landscapes and recover others that in recent decades have been altered, which would be possible, he said, in about 70/80 years, such as some reef habitats and posidonia meadows.
Another type of serious pollution is generated by microplastics. Bordehore says that half of these remains come from textile fibers that the sewage plants dump into the sea. They come from synthetic garments, which remain in the filter of washers and dryers, synthetic hairs and pieces of fibers that separate from the fabrics and go down the drain. “The treatment plants are only capable of eliminating a part of these microplastics and the rest can end up in the sea, by the water that is thrown into a ravine or directly through submarine outfalls. The sludge from the treatment plants is used to fertilize the field, and after a flood many of them appear in the sea.
As for the excess fertilization that may reach the Mediterranean, Bordehore affirms that it is not as large as in the Mar Menor, “the worst example in the world of hyperfertilization of a salty coastal lagoon.” In this sense, he insisted that the intensity of cultivation in the Cartagena field does not exist in the province of Alicante. «It would be almost impossible for a specific area of the Mediterranean to have problems of total lack of oxygen in the water column. If at some point the fish detect that they cannot breathe well, they go somewhere else. On the other hand, organisms could die in sediment that cannot move. Although it does not occur on this side of the planet, the so-called “dead zones” have already been described, as occurs at the mouth of the Mississippi River, where the seabed is dead due to lack of oxygen caused by human activities such as excessive fertilization. and wastewater discharges. It has already been published in the journal Science.
In the Mediterranean, it would be convenient to reduce the contributions due to various factors, starting by changing the color of the water: it turns dark where it should be transparent. “Nutrients make the water more greenish and opaque, and this happens on all the coasts of the Mediterranean associated with large rivers. There are areas of this sea much more polluted than Alicante by fertilizers, such as the mouth of the Ebro, the Danube or the Nile, rivers of great flow that are collecting discharges throughout their basins.
Between 3 and 20 microplastics per m3 of water
In the Mediterranean Sea, between Alicante and Valencia, there are on the order of between 3 and 20 microplastics per cubic meter in coastal waters, which “is outrageous,” says the UA professor. «They are millions of pieces of plastic. And that the main sources are the rivers and here we do not have permanent basins ». For this reason, compared to other parts of the Mediterranean, “the water is quite clean due to the influence of the Atlantic. The ocean water rises through Almería and Murcia, reaches the corner of Dénia and is diverted to Ibiza ». Worse from the Gulf of Valencia to Catalonia, “old Mediterranean water that goes around to Turkey.”
150 MILLION tons of plastic in the oceans
80% come from land. Each year 8 million tons of plastics end up in the sea. In the EU 85% of marine litter is plastic waste.
2,400 MILLION of masks used in Spain in 2020
Also 140 million packs of wipes. Its withdrawal from the sanitation networks generates an expense of 120 million euros.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.