Fuente de Piedra Lagoon has turned into a salt desert

by Lorraine Williamson
Fuente de Piedra Lagoon

ANTEQUERA – Because there’s no water left, thousands of flamingos are bypassing the largest saltwater lagoon in Andalucia this year. The drought has led to a worrying situation for the local fauna in the Fuente de Piedra nature reserve. 

The area is usually visited daily by nature lovers drawn to its unique biodiversity. Therefore, bird watchers are now disappointed. The big stars of the reserve, the pink flamingos, are notably absent. 

Bone Dry 

The lagoon, located in the north of the province of Malaga, is the largest in Andalucia and one of the largest in Spain, measuring six kilometres in length and covering an area of 1,400 hectares. At one time, up to 20,000 pairs of flamingos have been counted here. Fuente de Piedra is regularly home to the largest colony on the Iberian Peninsula and the second largest in Europe, according to the Andalucian government. However, this year it is bone dry due to a lack of rain. 

No bird ringing activities for chicks this year 

The drought problem is so severe that the traditional bird ringing activities for chicks, conducted for scientific purposes since 1984, have been cancelled this year. Furthermore, it was also suspended in 2021 due to a lack of water and in 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Current drought is “abnormal” 

Eduardo Baca, a 63-year-old nature manager who has been working in the reserve for two years, stressed that the current drought is abnormal. “It’s unusual for the lagoon to be so dry this season,” he says. The lagoon evaporates each summer, but the rainy season usually replenishes it. But that hasn’t happened this year. 

Cogesa Expats

Blow to the local economy 

Aside from the environmental impact, the absence of the unique bird colony also represents a significant blow to the local economy. The mayor of Fuente de Piedra, Siro Pachón, explained to El País that the number of visitors to the visitor centre is declining, having a clear impact. 

Not only the fauna is suffering from the drought. Olive groves and other crops in the area are also being affected. According to the mayor, the drought is devastating. Therefore, he does not rule out measures or restrictions if the situation worsens in the coming months. 

The conservation of the Fuente de Piedra nature reserve is an urgent issue. The inhabitants were hoping for rain in April. Last year, there were still 300 litres. However, this year the month was dry and it has remained too dry since. 

Consequently, the municipal government has issued an ordinance to prohibit the use of the water supply network for filling swimming pools, irrigating gardens, rinsing facades, or washing vehicles. “We’re trying to prevent the situation from worsening,” the mayor warned. 

Illegal wells in the area 

As is the case with another significant water area in Andalucia, Doñana, the Fuente de Piedra area also has the problem of illegal wells. Ecologistas en Acción filed a complaint in February about the existence of “numerous” illegal wells in the Antequera area. These wells are presumably used for intensive cultivation of asparagus, olive trees, almond trees, and vegetables. 

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