Environmental abuses lead to 48 ‘black flags’ on Spanish beaches this summer

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48 black flags awarded to Spain's beaches for pollution

Wastewater discharges and poor water treatment have led environmental organisation Ecologistas en Acción to award 48 black flags to Spanish beaches. Two for each coastal province, plus another respectively in the autonomous cities of Ceuta and Melilla.

The organisation awarded two flags to each coastal province, plus another to both autonomous cities of Ceuta and Melilla.  Ecologistas en Acción’s report, ‘Black Flags 2021’, notes “the main problem of the coasts, as in recent years, is concentrated on sewage discharges and poor treatment”.  Examples are Pontevedra due to industrial pollution from a biomass power station and El Carmen beach in Barbate due to the water treatment plant.

4 main causes of the black flags

The environmental organisation analysed 8,000 kilometres of the Spanish coast. The ecologists found 75% of the 332 flags awarded in the last five years were due to four causes. These causes were: discharge and lack of sanitation, urban planning, industrial activities, and ports/cruise ships.

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Report coordinator,  Clara Megías, pointed out the number of black flags “could be much higher, since only the most serious cases have been selected, two per province”. Sewage discharges and poor treatment, meant Spain paid a multi-million fine to Europe for non-compliance with the water directive.


Specifically, the organisation awarded black flags for the following reasons. 15 black flags for discharges of untreated water, eight for urban planning and seven for polluting industrial activities. There were six black flags for the impact of ports and cruise ships. A further three for coastal erosion and defences, three for impacts on biodiversity and invasive species and three for various reasons. Finally, there are two for waste accumulation and a black flag for the impact of aquaculture.

Little progress

Megías also warns of the deterioration of coastlines through human activity. This can have “serious consequences” resulting in pollution and mismanagement of the environment. “The years go by and we see little progress, especially in the areas of sanitation and purification. We therefore urge all government departments to take urgent action to reverse the situation. It is in their hands, and it must be taken seriously”.

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