The rise of the sea on the Spanish coast is an increasingly palpable reality and will be even more so in the coming years. A study that has just been made public reveals that the case of the Balearic Islands is an example of what is happening in the Mediterranean: its beaches are really threatened and many will be drastically reduced and even disappear by the end of the century.
The beaches of the Balearic Islands could recede between seven and 50 meters by the end of the century after increasing the sea level between 57 and 75 centimeters, according to the latest ‘Balearic Sea Report’, presented last week by various entities and institutions of the islands. This means that many beaches that currently exist and are not much wider than 50 meters will end up disappearing within 80 years.
According to the study, sea level rise in the western Mediterranean has accelerated in recent years. After increasing 1.32 mm per year in the last 134 years, it has increased in the last 39 years to an increase of 3.00 mm per year. But in the last 26 the rise is already 3.29 mm per year, consistent with an acceleration in the rate of rise in recent years.
The report reveals that heThe most affected areas will be, according to official forecasts, Ibiza and the southwestern, southern and eastern parts of Mallorca.
The main marine research centers of the islands, the Balearic Government and the Marilles Foundation have published the 2021 version of the Balearic Sea Report (IMB), with 150 indicators and which has had the participation of 30 institutions, both public and private, as well as about 98 people, including researchers and administrative staff.
This situation highlights the delicate situation facing not only the coastal natural environment, but also the tourism industry, which in the islands depends largely on its excellent beaches.
But it is not only the rise in sea level that threatens the beaches of the Balearic Islands. The study points out that constructions (marinas, car parks and other infrastructures), as well as massive user traffic, modify the natural parameters of sedimentation and alter coastal drift and sea currents.
There are cases in which these factors come together to cause spectacular receding of the sand, as is the case of the beach of es Trenc, in Mallorca, where the beach has decreased by an average of 5.7 meters between 1956 and 2015although in some specific points of greatest impact almost 19 meters have been lost in the same period.
The “inadequate management in the withdrawal” of the dry posidonia from the beaches is another of the points criticized by the report, since these accumulations of organic material act as a barrier that protects the shore against storms. When they leave, almost always due to pressure from the tourist industry, they leave the beach defenseless against the waves.
Plastic pollution and downward fishing
The report also shows that The Balearic coast is one of the main areas of accumulation of plastics in the Mediterranean Sea. All surface trawls sampled plastic debris.
In this sense, in 66 percent of the sampled areas, plastics were found on the seabed (average abundances of 2.7 and 0.3 kg/km2). In particular, the Serra de Tramuntana area (Majorca) showed a high abundance of plastic debris on the seabed (between 30-40 kg/km2).
On the other hand, in 2020, 82 percent of the sampling points on Balearic beaches have shown “excellent quality”. However, the urban beaches of the islands are the ones that usually show a lower quality of bathing water.
For its part, according to the report, the professional fishing sector of the Islands is in recession. Since 1950, boats have been reduced by 78 percent and crews by 90 percent. Professional fishing catches decreased between 2002 and 2020, going from 3,900 to 2,400 tons, respectively.
The text also highlights that between 1993 and 2020 more than 1,000 turtles stranded in Balearic waters (1,058), 512 alive and 546 dead.
In 2020, the maximum number of stranded turtles (83) was located, 30 dead and 53 alive, of which 47 survived.
The Balearic Sea Report also highlights that in the depths of the sea there are dozens of different species of deep-sea corals that are in danger of extinction to almost threatened.
Among them are bamboo coral, sea feathers, red coral and black coral. They form habitats of great ecosystem importance, since they promote the biodiversity of areas of the seabed where light does not reach.
The pandemic cut short the human pressure on the islands
The impact of COVID-19 during 2020 is clearly reflected on indicators related to pressures, such as maritime transport, underwater noise, the use of beaches or the human pressure index.
Thus, In 2020, the maximum HPI was 1,609,033 people, comparable to 2002 levels. The maximum value that has been registered has been 2,071,124 people, in 2017.
If compared to the maximum value of the year 2019 (2,036,263), it has been reduced by 21 percent.
For its part, in 2020 it has gone from about 16.5 million tourists to three million due to the health crisis caused by COVID-19 (a reduction of more than 80 percent).
In 2020, there were less than a fifth of the tourists who visited the islands in 2019. Such low values had not been repeated since the mid-1970s. In addition, in 2020, the transport of tourist cruises decreased by 95 percent.
The advisory council of the Balearic Sea Report is made up of the following institutions: Balearic Oceanographic Center of the Spanish Institute of Oceanography (COB-IEO), Economic and Social Council of the Balearic Islands (CES), Marilles Foundation, Government of the Balearic Islands ( GOIB), Mediterranean Institute of Advanced Studies (IMEDEA, UIB-CSIC), Socio-environmental Observatory of Menorca (OBSAM-IME), Coastal Observation and Prediction System of the Balearic Islands (SOCIB) and the University of the Balearic Islands (UIB) .
The full report can be viewed at this link.
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