The deterioration of the oceans that the UN warns puts in check the beaches and fishing in Spain

Maritime Temporary
Maritime Temporary
  • With 10,000 km of coastline, Spain is one of the most vulnerable countries to disasters due to the alteration of the sea as a result of the climate crisis
  • At a higher sea level, flooding along the coast becomes more frequent and sand is lost on the beaches. It also introduces saltwater into coastal aquifers
  • “The Spanish economy depends largely on the coast and its seas,” according to executive risk analysis; Spain is the first fishing power of the EU
Maritime Temporary
Maritime Temporary

The UN report on the deterioration “unprecedented” of the oceans by CO 2 points directly to Spain, which has 10,000 kilometers of coastline and is the first fishing power of the European Union. Coastal flooding, loss of beaches and shrinking marine fisheries are linked to the climate crisis.

Almost all the alarms highlighted by the UN Panel of Experts on Wednesday on the oceans apply to Spain: “One of the most vulnerable countries in Europe where millions of people live and depend on a sea and healthy coastal areas”, says the person in charge of the campaign of Climate Change of Greenpeace, Tatiana Nuño.

A reality at all unknown: the analysis of coastal risks of the Spanish Government already said in 2014: “The Spanish economy depends largely on the coast and its seas, since they carry out numerous activities, from very traditional as the fishing, even others such as mass sun and beach tourism or maritime transport. ” All this is affected by the global warming of the planet.

Large sea flood zone

The rise in sea level, constant, accelerated and now irreversible, which describes the IPCC is directly related to flooding in the coastline. In fact, much of the Iberian Peninsula and the Canary Islands are marked in the UN report between areas where extreme episodes of sea-level rise threaten to become annual from 2040.

In its analysis of the impacts of climate change, the Spanish Government calculates that on the steepest and altered coasts by dikes or walks of the peninsula, the flood level for 2040 can grow up to 4.5 meters in the Cantabrian area and between 0, 5 and 1 meter in the Levante. However, the projections shuffled in the Ministry of Ecological Transition for the gently sloping beaches, indicate that this level goes to 8.5 meters in the north and Galicia and 5 meters in the Gulf of Cádiz. The Mediterranean would be in the 2.5 meters. The northern coasts of the Canary Islands are around 5 meters.

All these changes, on the rise, of the flood level, give rise “to changes in flood levels, or to more frequent flood situations, which are often catastrophic for the beach,” they explain in the Ministry.

Beach retreat

Unambiguously linked to the phenomenon of flooding is the loss of beaches. The sand disappears. The rise in sea level causes changes in the marine climate and sediment transport. Without those sediments that must arrive from the rivers, the outer beach decreases.

This rise in sea level will result in the withdrawal of the Spanish coastline. Each zone will have its own level of loss. Thus, setbacks around three meters in the Cantabrian coast, Galicia and the north of the Canary Islands and two meters in the Gulf of Cádiz and the Mediterranean are calculated.

To this is added, indicate the technicians, the increase in waves and the greatest erosion on these beaches: 20% more in the north and the Ebro Delta, between 5-10% in the Levant and 40% in the Canary Islands and the Costa Brava. All these variables related to climate change do not incorporate “excessive artificialization of the coast in recent decades” that prevent urbanization, breakwaters, dikes and raised walks on complex dunes that sediment circulates along the coast. Without sand, there is no beach. Spain already spends millions of euros a year to replenish material on the coasts.

Saline intrusion: wastewater inland

The balance between the masses of fresh and saltwater in deltas, estuaries, and aquifers is broken by rising sea levels. As marine water moves inland, saline intrusion contaminates river courses and underground deposits whose waters cannot be used. In addition, salinize land dedicated to agriculture.

In this sense, the Ebro Delta (Tarragona) is one of the hot spots of this advance of seawater towards freshwater areas. Also under the surface, the intrusion puts coastal aquifers at risks such as the deposits of Campo de Dalias and Níjar (Almería), the alluvial of the Verde River in Granada or the Ayamonte river in Huelva. In Spain, there are about 89 aquifers in coastal areas vulnerable to saline intrusion, according to the Geological and Mining Institute.

Fishery sector in danger

Spain is the first European power in fishing. With more than 900,000 tonnes in catches per year, it accounts for more than 17% of the total of the European Union. The fishing company Cepesca estimates that the sector has more than 31,000 direct jobs. The global seawater temperature rise and its acidification have an impact on the amount of fishing available for a country with a highly developed fishing sector.

Bluefin tuna fishing in Puerto de Mogán
Bluefin tuna fishing in Puerto de Mogán

Commercial species banks can yield up to 25% less, the IPCC said. If that is added to the continued overfishing that has taken place, for example, in the Mediterranean, resources decrease more rapidly. In fact, scientists have called for the European Atlantic sardine fishery to be stopped to allow the species to recover – a recommendation not addressed by the Spanish and Portuguese governments.

But not only the own fishing grounds are reduced (each year, the Spanish fishing resources are depleted in the first five months of the course). The fall of marine biomass extends across all latitudes and the Spanish fishing fleet is not limited to the waters of the peninsula or islands. In fact, the species most caught by Spanish vessels is yellowfin tuna that occurs mostly in tropical waters, according to Eurostat data. Other very fished species are mackerel, European anchovy or other tunas and bonitos.

Wetlands and Posidonia

The alteration of the sea takes ahead the whole ecosystem. Habitats with intrinsic natural value, but which, in addition, facilitate all kinds of services: water, food, temporary protection, and economic development.

In this sense, coastal wetlands are one of the most valuable habitats on the planet “because of their importance as life generators. They concentrate the largest biomass production capacity on the planet” (they exceed 10 times in tropical forests), describe the scientists. And they are extremely fragile. The IPCC has been resounding: by the end of the century, these ecosystems will suffer the disappearance of between 20 and 90%, depending on how much climate change is contained.

The wetlands that face the worst consequences in Spain, according to Transition Ecological, are those surrounded by urbanization. This group includes Galician estuaries with strong urban and industrial development such as Ferrol or Umia. Also the bay of Santander, the marshes of Santoña or the estuary of Avilés in the Cantabrian. In Andalusia, the mouth of the Guadalquivir could lose 11,000 hectares with a sea two meters higher.

But it is in the area of ​​Levante and Catalonia, where wetlands can run out of much of their extension although, they hope, “they could flood neighboring areas.” However, the high urbanization in many of its perimeters prevents them from adapting to the rise of the sea. For example, the Mar Menor has 60% of its perimeter occupied by buildings.

In addition, hot water kills Posidonia, one of the bases of marine life in the Mediterranean. Seawater has absorbed most of the heat caused by the greenhouse effect of massive emissions of CO 2, as insisted on the UN report. As the thermometer scales, this aquatic plant, crucial for maintaining ecosystems, decays. “If the temperature rises three degrees at the end of the century, the Posidonia meadows would decay 90%.” It is the prediction of Ecological Transition.


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