Future of Europe’s biggest salt water lagoon at stake | WWF

Future of Europe’s biggest salt water lagoon at stake

Posted on
01 December 2019

The saltwater Mar Menor lagoon, in the southeastern region of Murcia, Spain, is a biodiversity hotspot, an international Ramsar Site, as well as a Special Protected Area of Mediterrean Interest (SPAMI) and is included in the Natura 2000 Network.

Thousands of dead fish, including European eels, one of the most endangered species, recently washed up on the coast of the lagoon due to lack of oxygen. Local authorities removed more than 3 tonnes of dead fish and crustaceans on 14 October. Years of mismanagement, unsustainable urban development, farming and pollution are destroying Europe’s largest salt water lagoon. 


Despite the recognition of pollution problems in the area, the evaluation process for the SPAMI label considered the eutrophication threat as overcome and the Barcelona Convention that met last December in Naples agreed to renew the SPAMI status of the Mar Menor. 


It is the chronicle of a death foretold. WWF, with the local NGO Anse, has been denouncing the critical situation of the Mar Menor for more than two decades. In 2016, both organizations revealed impressive images showing a large green lagoon affected by severe water eutrophication, yet local authorities have still not taken action to prevent further degradation


The Minister for the Ecological Transition, Teresa Ribera, visited the area and held a meeting with a coalition of organizations, including WWF. These organizations called for urgent and effective measures such as the closure of all illegal wells or the restructuring of the intensive agriculture model in the area, which are the cause of overexploitation of water resources and the massive pollution affecting both the aquifers and the surface influents of the lagoon.


The coalition states that this ecological crisis is the result of an unsustainable growth model, which has prioritized intensive agriculture and uncontrolled urban development, and the systematic breach of European Directives regulating the protection of biodiversity.


“The Mar Menor is suffering from one of the worst episodes of pollution and biodiversity loss of our recent history. We have witnessed the collapse of an ecosystem,” said Óscar Esparza, MPA Officer at WWF Spain.


“Spain's government and the authorities cannot keep turning a blind eye to this destruction. They must take urgent action to restore this aquatic ecosystem to its former glory and protect all of our country's freshwater bodies, as required under the EU Water Framework Directive”, according to Rafael Seiz, freshwater expert at WWF Spain.


The situation has caused widespread outrage and protests. On 30 October more than 50,000 thousand people marched in Cartagena (Murcia) urging authorities to take measures to restore the Mar Menor. After this protest, the Government of Murcia announced an investment of 8.25 million euros in measures to stop the degradation. However, environmental organizations pointed out that such measures are ineffective and do not effectively address the roots of the problem.