Code red for wetland Doñana: biodiversity in free fall

by Lorraine Williamson
Doñana wetland

On the occasion of World Wetlands Day on Friday 2 February, the WWF presented a “comprehensive” report of “scientific evidence” on the current deterioration of wetland Doñana, the unique wetland in Andalucia. 

The WWF carried out research together with 30 scientists from major research organisations and various universities. It is now demanding “real solutions” for the National Park. 

The current pressure on the national park has caused a “domino effect” of biodiversity loss. There seems to be no going back. All the scientific evidence points to the overexploitation of water by agriculture and unsustainable urban planning. In addition, legal and illegal irrigation is on the rise. They are the main reasons for the decline of this unique wetland in the world. As a result, there are fewer and fewer animal and plant species.  

WWF has indicated that the river network around Doñana, with the exception of the upper basin of the Guadiamar, is “in poor ecological condition”. Alarming “the decrease of more than 60% of the flows around the Rocina stream”, which flows directly into the swamp. That’s partly due to a lack of rainfall from climate change, but also “due to the lack of natural underground contributions from the overexploited aquifer.” 

Little water is polluted  

“There is very little water and that is heavily polluted by fertilisers, herbicides, pharmaceutical compounds and urban discharges. Urban-industrial discharges and fertilisers and other chemicals used in industrial agriculture pollute Doñana’s surface and groundwater. That causes a bad chemical condition of 14 lagoons. Also, the concentration of pharmaceutical compounds in tributaries and marshes has “accelerated in recent decades.” In many cases, this is bad news for biodiversity.” 

Problems known for years, but not solved 

Although these problems should have been solved decades ago, and despite the construction of the treatment plants for the discharges since 2002 and the declaration of the zone vulnerable to nitrates that took place in 2008, the data so far show that these pollution problems have increased and affect species and now all ecosystems. 

The treatment plants are not well maintained and have not been modernised. Nor have ambitious programmes against pollution of agricultural origin been implemented, despite the fact that since 2010 there has been a budget of around one billion euros in actions for the entire Guadalquivir river basin. 

More water extracted than replenished 

According to the WWF, it is still unknown how much water is actually taken from the aquifer. All the existing scientific evidence shows that more water is being extracted than replenished. The growth of the tourist area  of Matalascañas has also contributed to the deterioration of the dune ecosystem.  

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