Sunday, May 9

The underwater meadow that gives oxygen to Ibiza

Mountains of dry leaves cover the Es Cavallets beach line, one of the most popular in Ibiza. A handful of bathers rush the end of the season, undeterred by a scene that used to cause complaints among tourists. Those ugly heaps of fodder are remains of posidonia and in reality they represent life insurance for the sandy areas, as they protect them against winter storms. Beneath the waters they offer a spectacular image of underwater meadows that this fall, for the first time in years, have returned to bloom.

Posidonia is an Attic plant -not an alga- that grows throughout the Mediterranean, but it is especially exuberant in the Pitiusas, in fact it is responsible for Ibiza and Formentera to show off those crystalline waters. In addition to being a powerful carbon dioxide sink, it acts as a great natural nursery for the fingerlings of a myriad of native species that find protection or food among its leaves. The inhabitants of pre-touristic Ibiza used it as an insulator in the construction of country houses, in that dynamic of subsistence that governed their economy almost until the construction of the airport.

But with the boom in tourism, posidonia became a hindrance, a stain on that photo of white sand more typical of the Caribbean that travelers expect. Those leaves began to be collected in garbage trucks to be deposited in landfills, while the anchors of pleasure boats razed entire meadows with impunity. Fortunately, the island’s environmental awareness has awakened in recent years and is finding an echo in the institutions. “The mentality of the tourism sector in Ibiza, not only the administration but also among businessmen, has been changing attitudes and has understood that the future of the city depends on sustainability and respect for the environment”, says the mayor, Rafael Ruiz, who also chairs the Group of World Heritage Cities.

Under this new gaze, the posidonia has gone from being managed as garbage to receiving monument honors, at the height of the historical complex of Dalt Vila, but the most important thing is that it has been endowed with the necessary protection to survive. For a couple of years, coastal patrols have made sure that pleasure boats do not drop anchor over seagrass beds – “they can destroy in hours what has taken years to grow” – and marine reserves have been created to help regenerate it.

The efforts are bearing fruit, which have become especially visible after this summer, the one with the least tourist pressure that the island remembers. The Posidonia Ibicenca has flourished in an exceptional way, a phenomenon that does not occur every year, only when the plant finds the ideal conditions in the sea to make the most of sexual reproduction. “The energy expenditure it involves is only compensated by the increase in genetic variability, which makes it more resistant and adapted to the environment,” explains marine biologist and photographer Xavier Mas, who has been observing posidonia for more than 30 years.

A few days ago, Mas and another ten divers participated in a dive organized by the Scuba diving center in collaboration with the Ibiza Town Hall to document the flowering. Thanks to the ‘Vive la Posidonia’ program, which received the Alimara award for sustainable tourism, “it is going from being a nuisance to being considered one more attraction of the island”, points out the biologist Marisol Torres, determined to educate schoolchildren to the which gives class of the value of this underwater treasure.

The fishermen’s bread

But the reasons for protecting the posidonia are not only conservationist, but also economic and even culinary, since reserves such as Tagomago or Es Freus, full of underwater meadows, help to regenerate fishing populations. In fact, after the initial resistance, now it is the Cofradía de Pescadores de Ibiza which defends the creation of new protected areas “because our bread is going to be there.” In a disastrous year for the island due to the drop in tourism, they have billed 80,000 euros more than the previous year. Their commitment to artisanal and sustainable fishing has led them to go in search of larger pieces with more commercial value. «Why are we going to fish anchovies? We prefer that they eat them you serve them and that they become big », illustrates its spokesman, Pere Varela.

With the authorities, fishermen and the tourism sector convinced to preserve the posidonia, the next step is to extend the underwater meadows through degraded areas to act as foci of life. Oscar Caro, director of Sustainable Ibiza, is working on this, exploring innovative methods for restoring the marine environment. One of them is based on transplanting captive-bred posidonia to natural environments with the bio-rock method, which allows rapid growth and accelerated regeneration. At the moment it has European funds and the firm support of the Ibizan administration. “If we want to continue selling a wonderful island with turquoise waters, we have to regenerate the coast, and for that the posidonia is vital.”

Guide to savoring posidonia

Ca N’Alfredo. Undisputed reference of Ibiza thanks to the good work in the kitchens of Catalina Riera, famous for her ‘bullit de peix’, her ‘pá amb oli’ or her grilled fish.

Ibiza Nautical Club. Location in the Port of Ibiza and with a terrace overlooking Dalt Vila. The kitchen is in the hands of Pepe Racó. Their lobster with fried eggs is pure gluttony.

Boat. A classic of Ibizan seafood cuisine with a terrace next to the Talamanca beach. The local and national public attracted by their ‘bullit de peix’ with arroz a banda continues to fill their tables.

Sushiya Aoyama. An extremely interesting exercise in Japanese cuisine by Hideki Aoyama, capable of slicing a servia or dethinning a mullet with surgeon precision.

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