The pressure on its natural resources, the loss of biodiversity and the growing impact of the climate crisis are leading to a deterioration without turning back the Mediterranean, according to the latest report on its state, made public this Wednesday by the United Nations Organization.
The UN Environment Program, after reviewing the evolution of this region over the last decade, now warns that, “if the current trend is not stopped, degradation could have serious and lasting consequences for the health and livelihoods of the humans”. After all, the Mediterranean is in a situation of serious ecological deficit: it consumes, on average, 40% more natural renewable resources and other ecosystem services than it is capable of producing. ”
Spain is especially concerned by this alarm: 3,640 kilometers of coastline open to this sea. Some 18 million people live there, according to government estimates. It is the country with the most endangered coastal and marine species, with aquifers contaminated with salt water due to the rise in sea level, at the forefront of plastic garbage dumps and overexploited fishing grounds. Ecosystems such as the Mar Menor, the Ebro delta or l ‘Albufera of Valencia they suffer a continuous regression.
In Mediterranean countries, up to 15% of deaths are linked to preventable environmental factors, recalls the UN, either due to air pollution or heat waves. It is the area of the world most desired by tourists and it concentrates the busiest maritime routes. “Little has changed since the first evaluation in 2005,” complains program director François Guerquin. “We must adopt drastic changes in our relationship with nature if we want a Mediterranean for the present and future generations.” Among those changes are the ecological transition of the European fund for the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. He green new deal to the rescue of the emergency situation in the Mediterranean. An emergency with many faces.
The climate crisis
The Mediterranean is warming faster. 20% more than the average of the planet. If the Earth has a temperature 1.1 ° C higher than the pre-industrial era, the Mediterranean is 1.5 degrees. In other words, climate change and its consequences are advancing rapidly in this area.
In the Mediterranean, the rise in sea level caused by climate change triggers a series of major impacts: it leads to salinization of groundwater, floods and soil erosion that cause enormous damage to health, to availability. freshwater, for agriculture and even for cultural heritage. The UN recalls that, in Spain alone, one million people live in areas less than five meters above sea level, as an illustration of the risk posed by the effects of the climate crisis. Latest Most Accurate Assessments They have shown that large areas are more threatened by floods than previously thought.
Climate change in Spain is already being felt with the multiplication of heat waves and coastal storms. Storms and marine strikes more frequently attack the coast than it lacks the natural defense barrier that beaches represent. Without this wall, both the replacement of sand and the construction of infrastructures regularly absorb millions of euros in coastal restoration works.
A sea full of trash and polluted
The Mediterranean is becoming a marine garbage dump. And besides, polluted. The countries in its basin generate about 180 million tons of urban waste per year. It is surrounded by garbage factories. The UN estimates that, directly, 730 tons of plastic garbage alone reach the sea every day. Spain is the second country in the ranking with 125 tons per day, behind Turkey and surpassing Italy, Egypt or France. They are about two kilos per person per day every year, calculated for the population grouped in the 50-kilometer strip along the coast. In 2016, a study on garbage associated with intensive tourism calculated that, in the month of July, an average of 450,000 objects per day per km2 of beach could be found in tourist areas and 200,000 in the most remote beaches. 38% are plastic and another 30% cigarette butts. Microplastics are around 9%.
Furthermore, the waters of the Mediterranean are polluted with discharges of all kinds: heavy metals, organic substances, hydrocarbons and nutrients. “80% of the pollution of the sea comes from inland: agriculture, industry and urban waste”, states this report. In Spain there is an already dramatic example of how the pollution that comes from land-based activities the ecosystem in the Mar Menor is taken ahead. There, the spills and leaks of water filled with the remains of agricultural fertilizers have the lagoon practically KO.
In general, Spain uses more than 1.7 million tons of fertilizers, an average of 144 kilos per cultivated hectare, the fourth behind Slovenia and Montenegro (which contribute very little in absolute terms) and France (the great agricultural power of Europe). While the farms in France and Italy are small, in Spain, 85% exceed five hectares.
A sea depleted by fishing
The sea Mediterranean is the most depleted in the world. Some 800,000 tonnes of fish are landed (18% of the total volume is discarded after being caught). 78% of the commercial species in these waters are officially overfished, that is, the rate at which they are extracted prevents the populations from replenishing themselves naturally. It is a phenomenon that lasts over time since almost half of these target species of the industry have a low biomass level, which indicates that overfishing prevents them from being replenished, recalls the UN.
Spain is at the top of the list. The Spanish Government has been recognizing this when it has been forced to approve orders to order the captures due to “generalized over-exploitation”. This same year a plan has been published for the species of the seabed (demersal) such as the Mediterranean hake, which is precisely the species most racked, according to this UN report.
Overfishing is not only a problem for biodiversity. Pushing fishing grounds to the limit means that, over time, the species on which the industry relies will not perform: there will be no fish to fish. The sector represents one million direct and indirect jobs, the report explains. 250,000 serve on board fishing vessels in a sector that produces 10 billion euros a year.
The Mediterranean region in general is the most water-scarce area in the world. Without going any further, the southeast of the Iberian Peninsula faces an increasingly aridity. It is the border through which desertification advances favored by the erosion that eats the soil in Spain and the intensive consumption of water for agribusiness. The entire Mediterranean is moving towards a climate model “drier and with more violent rainfall,” the report advances.
In this situation, underground reserves are becoming more important. However, the extraction of liquid to feed intensive irrigated farms combined with the rise in sea level associated with climate change is pushing brackish water intrusion into these reservoirs. And once contaminated in this way it becomes useless for direct human consumption or through food irrigation.
The destruction of biodiversity
Human activities have multiplied the pressure and destruction of the natural wealth of the Mediterranean. About 14%, about 168, of coastal species are threatened with extinction. Spain leads the list with 63 varieties between animals and plants. In addition, throughout the Mediterranean, there are 78 endangered marine species (11% of the known total). Indeed, in Spain there are 72 of these varieties, the first country in the region. This condition makes the Spanish Mediterranean coast both a risk zone and a refuge for biodiversity under threat.
The report makes special mention of two reference species to illustrate the richness in ecosystems: red coral and posidonia meadows. Spain this year had to order a stop in the fishing of this animal that forms a complete habitat for many other species. The catches have pushed him to the limit in many areas. On the posidonia, this plant has suffered a regression of at least 30% in the last 50 years. In Spain it has been notable throughout the Levantine coast and the Balearic Islands. The main causes of destruction have been the restructuring of the coastline through infrastructures such as ports or breakwaters, spills and boating boom and tourist cruises.
In this sense, the United Nations study indicates that the waters have been filled with about 1,000 exotic species, of which at least 100 are invasive. Varieties of animals or plants that arrive artificially, settle and thrive. The rate of introduction of these species that damage ecosystems and displace native ones has grown a lot in recent decades due to the intensification of human activities such as maritime transport and the change in environmental conditions that global warming entails, points out this global work. .
Huge population density and tourism
The Mediterranean coastline is densely populated. More than 500 million people live by the sea. In Spain, some 18 million people live in what is considered a coastal strip, even if it is a few kilometers inland. “Population densities have grown at an unsustainable rate in the last decade,” calculates the report that indicates that the built-up areas have doubled or even more. In Spain, the coast is heavily urbanized. More than 40% of the southern coastline is built according to Greenpeace calculations. In the province of Malaga it reaches 75%, Alicante 64%, Valencia 66% and Murcia 33%. In Barcelona, 69% of its coastline is urbanized.
The resident population is added, each season, the pressure of tourist activity. The UN dedicates a special section to it. It is the number one destination in the world with 360 million annual arrivals. 139 million are in the countries of the north shore, among which is Spain. The attacks come in the form of “marine litter, occupation of coastal land, consumption of water and generation of waste,” the UN details. And he concludes: “It is indisputable that human pressures are seriously threatening both the environment and the sustainability of these tourist destinations as well as the viability of the sector.”