GIRONA – Costa Brava, once the refuge for those looking for pure Mediterranean character, has reached its limits. With overcrowded beaches and depleted local amenities, the question now is: when does tourism become a burden?
A recent article by Infobae puts its finger on a sore spot. The province of Girona received 8.4 million tourists last year. Of these, 7.3 million visited a place on the 214-kilometre-long and very attractive coast for a few days. Only what seems like an economic blessing is now starting to look like an ecological and social curse.
The effects of overtourism are palpable, especially in popular coastal towns such as Lloret de Mar, Blanes, Tossa de Mar and Calella de Palafrugell. These areas, once known for their serene beaches and authentic culture, are now overrun by tourists looking for sun, sea, sand and nightlife culture.
The massive presence of tourists not only disrupts local life but also causes serious environmental problems. Waste mountains are growing, and the ecological balance in marine areas is under threat. Furthermore, the delicate balance of local ecosystems is at stake.
Social tensions and local consequences
For residents, the hordes of tourists affect their daily lives. The consequences are the same in all places in Spain that are subject to mass tourism. Housing prices are skyrocketing, meaning many can no longer afford the rents. Residents also complain about the erosion of local culture and traditions. Authentic shops and markets make way for souvenir shops and fast food restaurants.
Beaches become busier every year and sometimes, due to lack of space, boats exceed the designated area for swimmers, posing a potential hazard. In turn, soft drinks cans, beer or cigarette butts flood the sand due to the lack of awareness (and education) about preserving this natural beauty. These are aspects that directly and seriously affect the biodiversity of the environment.
SOS Costa Brava
The entity SOS Costa Brava emerges as the main defender of the precious destination which is the Costa Brava. The association, which unites around twenty associations and groups all fighting to defend this area, has been trying to warn against overtourism on the Costa Brava since 2018.
The president of SOS Costa Brava, Irene Gisbert, told Infobae: “The main goal is to stop urban speculation on the Costa Brava. We have enough tourism, there is no more water, there are no more beaches, nothing needs to be built anymore,” she says.
Positive: Seasonality offers room for recovery
“Natural resources, and in particular marine life, are suffering greatly from human influences. Take for example the seagrass Posidonia, which is crucial to the ecosystem. This is damaged when boats drop anchor haphazardly or when the sea is overpopulated,” says Irene. On the plus side, she notes that tourism in the area is seasonal, which provides some room for recovery.”
The continued influx of holidaymakers encourages unrestrained construction directly on the coast. This affects both the natural landscape and the coast itself. For example, the Castell-Cap Roig Natural Park is the only place on the Costa Brava where construction is taboo. This park is home to a handful of centuries-old farmhouses. These used to be the domain of fishermen and villagers, but now they mainly function as luxurious holiday homes for the wealthy class who only spend time there sporadically.
Construction of second homes must stop
“Gisbert emphasises that the construction of second homes must stop, especially as the region already suffers from limited water resources and overcrowded beaches. Instead, there could be better hotels where people can stay as they wish. However, opinions in the community are divided.
“Some people like the current model and want high-quality tourism that remains small-scale. Others, such as service or restaurant owners, want their businesses to be as full of tourists as possible,” says Irene. She also points out the negligence of local authorities who show little concern for the area.
According to SOS Costa Brava, stopping construction is an obvious solution. They even propose to start demolishing existing structures. Municipalities play a key role in this process and should be more active in purchasing land to ‘renaturalise’.
Set a limit on the number of tourists
“Right now, most municipalities are doing little to protect their territory, despite claims to the contrary. They should start by repurposing areas that are now seen as building land, but which are nature reserves, such as mountainous areas or pine forests,” says Gisbert. She also advocates a qualitative model, which, for example, sets a limit on the number of tourists who can visit a village.
“Mass tourism on this scale does not make sense”
“In summer, the villages are overcrowded. People sit in traffic jams that stretch for miles and need one or two hours to cover three kilometres. The municipalities must therefore decide which tourism model they want to adopt. Mass tourism on this scale simply does not make sense,” concludes the Chairman.”