Farmers in Murcia protest against overregulation around Mar Menor

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farmers near Mar Menor

As the Mar Menor becomes the first ecosystem in Europe to be legally recognised as a legal entity, the regulations for protecting this inland sea in Murcia have tightened. Consequently, local farmers are now protesting against these changes. They are demanding a review of the rules surrounding Mar Menor, seeking fewer sanctions for the agricultural sector and more investments to restore the lagoon.

The Mar Menor, Spain’s largest saltwater lagoon, faces severe pollution and degradation, partly due to nearby agricultural operations. Irrigation leads to many agricultural chemicals, such as nitrate, phosphorus, potassium, and pesticides, entering the lagoon, increasingly polluting its waters. This pollution also threatens tourism around Mar Menor, as visitors are deterred by sights like the thousands of dead fish in August 2021 and water resembling dirty green soup. Then, in September 2022, a historic law was passed. This made Mar Menor the first lagoon in Europe to be recognised as a legal entity. This law grants the lagoon the right to protect its species and habitats from harmful activities.

Farmers’ concerns about overregulation and sanctions

Mariano Zapata, president of the Proexport farmers’ association, believes the law should be revised to allow the production of healthy and sustainable products. According to Zapata, the current law makes it very difficult for agriculture to continue. He signed a document with other farmers’ associations, such as Fecoam, COAG, UPA, and Asaja. This document calls for the law to be amended by various political parties.

Zapata argues for a legal reform that reconciles the protection of Mar Menor with the sustainable development of agricultural activities. Furthermore, he criticised the overregulation of the agricultural sector in the region, claiming it makes the area the most challenging place in Spain for farming.

Need for infrastructure investments

Manuel Martínez, president of the Community of Irrigators of Campo de Cartagena, advocated for investments in infrastructure to capture and reuse water. He emphasised that without the necessary infrastructure, the restoration of Mar Menor would only be temporary or partial. He also criticised the imposed vegetation barriers, arguing they are ineffective during heavy rainfall.

Lack of consensus

Santiago Martínez, president of Fecoam, criticised the current law for not being created in consultation with the sector. He pointed out that compliance with the current law is costly and that farmers can be sanctioned at any time. Martínez noted that for three years, there was a chair at the Technical University of Cartagena focused on reducing nitrate pollution with wood chips. However, the Segura Hydrographic Confederation never recognised the results.

The political party Vox supports the farmers’ and producers’ call to revise the Mar Menor law. They want to replace the law granting the lagoon legal status with one they believe will genuinely protect the lagoon. Moreover, this new law would enable integrated management of the aquifer in collaboration with irrigators and users.

Legal status of Mar Menor and environmental protection

With the approval of the law granting Mar Menor legal status, the lagoon gained the right to protect its species and habitats from harmful activities. Teresa Vicente, a lawyer and activist, led the campaign for Mar Menor’s legal status and won the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize in April 2024. Environmental lawyer Eduardo Salazar Ortuño highlights that there are currently three active lawsuits under Mar Menor’s new legal status, stressing that the rights of Mar Menor now take precedence over the rights of property owners around the lagoon.

Restoration projects

Despite the ongoing pollution, some positive changes are visible in the lagoon. Companies discharging brine from desalination plants have been fined, and the Spanish government has increased its budget for cleaning efforts. Local environmental activists are working on restoration projects, such as reintroducing bats to the Blanca region to restore ecological balance.

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