The sea is eating the coastline of Málaga

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coastline of Malaga

The effects of climate change seem to be getting closer. The Spanish coastal authority, Demarcación de Costas, is sounding the alarm. Uncontrolled sea level rise could have serious consequences for parts of the densely populated coastline of Málaga province by 2070.

And the regression has already begun; between 2016 and 2022 the coast has already retreated up to 45 metres. According to Costas, the zones in question are subject to ‘severe coastal regression’. A report on this was published in the BOE Gazette on June 3. The Guadalmar and Arraijanal zones in Málaga and the coast near Vélez-Málaga in particular are being ‘eaten’ by the sea, researchers conclude in the report.

Detailed study

This is evident from a detailed study of the coastline between 1957 and 2022. Guadalmar and Arraijanal are located just west of the mouth of the Guadalhorce River, against the border of Torremolinos. The forecasts point to a rise in sea level. This will result in the coastline moving by the middle of this century to areas where beach bars, densely populated residential areas and important infrastructures such as the water treatment plant and the Parador de Golf in Málaga are now located.

Population density on the coast

The rise in sea levels, the deterioration of the coastline and the damage caused by climate change have direct consequences for Spain in particular. The country has around 7,900 kilometres of coastline. This coast is also home to a large part of the population (39%, so approximately 18.5 million people). The population density is also high at 429 inhabitants per m2. As a result, “the coast has been the target of numerous construction works resulting in ‘high urbanisation’ to accommodate such population density,” according to the Costas report.

Tourist activity

A huge amount of tourist activity is also concentrated along the Spanish coastline. Consider the construction of ports, urbanisations, golf courses, canalisation, undergrounding and even diversion of river channels, breakwaters, dikes and battering rams. The specific case of Arraijanal is a good example of this with the Guadalmar urbanisation, with homes and hotels, the Parador of Málaga, the Parador golf course, beach bars and a sewage treatment plant that is already continuously attacked by waves.

Consequences for Guadalmar

For Guadalmar, the stretch of coast that lies directly under the flight path from the sea to Málaga airport, the coastline is expected to shift between 80 and 226 metres as a result of a rise of 31 centimetres in sea level. This is detailed in a report from Tragsatec from May this year. Despite repeated attempts to add sand, erosion has increased since 2016. A total of 223,495 square metres of beach have been lost in the past 70 years.

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guadalmar coastline

Failed defensive measures

In the residential area of ​​Guadalmar, the coastal authority has constructed breakwaters for protection. These just did not have the desired effect. The changing wave pattern, where powerful storms from the west dominate, accelerates erosion. Without the protection measures, the coastline at Arraijanal would have receded up to five metres every year.

If current conditions persist, the largest regression movements over the next 10 to 20 years will occur between San Julián beach and the golf resort. At Guadalmar the regression will be influenced by the existing breakwaters. If it weren’t for them, the coastline would soon reach the first row of houses.

Situation in Vélez-Málaga

In Vélez-Málaga, 222,107 square metres of beach have been lost since 1957. This concerns the area between Camping Almanat and Torre del Mar at the mouth of the Vélez river. Dry periods and a decrease in sediment supply by the river have led to significant coastal erosion, especially in the last ten years. This erosion is reinforced by an increase in westerly storms.

Predictions

If current trends continue, the coastline on the left bank of the Vélez River will recede by up to 40 metres in the next 10 years and up to 70 metres in 20 years. In other areas the regression will be less severe. According to the Coastal Act, new occupancy permits for maritime-terrestrial domains cannot be issued in seriously degraded areas unless there is no risk of flooding within five years. For existing structures, these will be retained as long as the sea does not reach them. The government can carry out protection, conservation or restoration work and impose a special tax on those who benefit from these works.

More storms

The coastline in the above-mentioned area has already been weakened by excessive development. Furthermore, it is hit by four times as many storms. This little piece of Costa del Sol illustrates thus how climate change is having serious consequences for the Spanish coastline. A coast that is therefore ‘under attack’ and is already vulnerable due to human actions. Arraijanal was precisely one of the few remaining undeveloped areas on the Costa del Sol. Was, because a sports city is now being built.

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