Dhe largest saltwater lagoon in the western Mediterranean is threatened with ecological collapse. Intensive agriculture is poisoning the "Mar Menor" in the Spanish province of Murcia, and the "lesser sea" is about to suffocate: only a narrow sandy strip of land separates the once very popular holiday area from the open sea, but the unique ecosystem has been developing for four years again and again a foul-smelling "green soup" that takes the last air to breathe for the fish and other sea creatures.
Now the Mar Menor has at least become a legal entity with enforceable rights. After the House of Representatives, the Senate in Madrid has now also agreed to this; only the right-wing populist Vox party was against it again.
The lagoon is the first European ecosystem to receive this status. In 2017, the Whanganui River in New Zealand was declared the first such entity in the world. 640,000 Spaniards had started the corresponding legislative process with a signature campaign. Now any citizen, even if they are not themselves affected, can turn to the judiciary if they see the Lagoon's rights violated. Anyone who harms him can be taken to court to pay damages.
The "green soup"
The law gives the lagoon the right “to exist and develop naturally as an ecosystem. A committee made up of representatives from the authorities and civil society will oversee the protection and regeneration of the Mar Menor. The comparison was made with the ascent of Mount Everest by the professor of legal philosophy at the University of Murcia, Teresa Vicente, who was one of the driving forces behind the legislative initiative.
But time is running out. Most recently, the previously crystal-clear waters, in which seahorses swam, tipped over in August 2021. The “green soup” formed for the first time four years ago when plankton and algae multiplied rapidly. Experts sounded the alarm, but the authorities did nothing at the time - just like in autumn 2019, when apocalyptic scenes took place: fish and crabs appeared and tried to escape to the shore, where they finally died. A carpet of tons of dead sea creatures spread out on the beaches. After a bad storm, masses of water had flown into the Mar Menor and had whirled everything upside down. They showed that 80 percent of the deeper layers of the lagoon are dead because there is no oxygen left.
Nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphates and nitrates have been coming into the lagoon from the huge fruit and vegetable plantations for decades. There they stimulate the growth of phytoplankton. The unicellular algae spread until they can no longer get enough sunlight for photosynthesis. Then they die. Bacteria break down their remains and use up the last of the oxygen. Fish and crustaceans save themselves in the upper water layers.
At first it was blamed on the storm, but it soon became clear that the constant supply of nutrients from the fertilizers and a heat wave were enough to encourage the growth of algae and other microorganisms that use up oxygen and block out the light.
But the farmers in the "Garden of Europe", which stretches over more than 60,000 hectares north of the Mar Menor, are resisting a tougher crackdown. Intensively irrigated and with tons of artificial fertilizer, it also supplies the German supermarkets. According to environmentalists, 10,000 hectares are illegal. Environmentalists filed a formal complaint with the EU in October 2021 over Spain's "continued failure" to protect the Mar Menor.
At the same time, the central government presented a plan worth several hundred million euros to help save the lagoon by 2026. At the same time, certain fertilizers were banned in a first step and action against illegal plantations was tightened.