Unusual whitish body of water in Mar Menor is under investigation

by Lorraine Williamson
whitish water

An unusual whitish body of water in Mar Menor, southeastern Spain, is currently under investigation by the Spanish Institute of Oceanography (IEO). Researchers are examining its composition and possible origins. 

Their research is part of the BELICH project, aiming to support the recovery efforts for Mar Menor. The water mass is covering approximately 15 square kilometres and this enigmatic phenomenon has raised concerns about its composition and origins. Therefore, as part of the BELICH project, an initiative aimed at aiding the recovery of Mar Menor, the IEO is diligently working to unravel this mystery. 

The peculiar body of water is characterised by a mixture of organic matter, phytoplankton cells, and bacteria. Remarkably, it exhibits chlorophyll concentrations four times higher than other areas within the lagoon on Spain’s eastern coast in Murcia. Furthermore, this whitish body of water has deviated from the norm in terms of colour, turbidity, and size. Consequently, it is catching the attention of researchers.  

Also read: Conflicting messages about the state of Mar Menor 

According to Juan Manuel Ruiz, an IEO researcher and coordinator of the BELICH team, the high primary production within this mass indicates that the nutrients driving the planktonic blooms may have originated from a diffuse source. 

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“Unnecessary alarm” 

Despite the worrisome findings, regional government sources accuse the Ministry of Ecological Transition and Demographic Challenge of causing unnecessary alarm. They argue that similar variations have been observed in Mar Menor for years, citing satellite images as evidence. Nonetheless, the ongoing investigation by the IEO aims to provide a comprehensive understanding of the situation and valuable insights for decision-making by the authorities involved. 

The BELICH project and monitoring efforts: 

The BELICH project serves as a collaborative platform for a diverse range of experts in biology, ecology, and marine oceanography. With the objective of not only monitoring the lagoon but also gathering crucial scientific knowledge, this initiative plays a vital role in supporting the recovery and conservation of Mar Menor. An integral component of the project involves the deployment of in-situ and remote sensors to monitor the lagoon’s condition. Real-time data collected from these sensors are processed and made available to end-users. 

Mar Menor’s Natural Beauty and Environmental Challenges 

Mar Menor, the largest saltwater lake in Europe, captivates visitors with its stunning natural beauty. Situated in southeastern Spain, it stretches across approximately 170 square kilometres. It is separated from the Mediterranean Sea by the renowned land strip known as La Manga. 

Mar Menor has become a popular tourist destination. Its shallow depth, averaging just four metres, leads to warmer waters compared to the nearby Mediterranean. This makes it an idyllic playground for water sports enthusiasts. However, the lake has faced environmental challenges over the years, including pollution from agricultural runoff and urban development, resulting in issues such as algal blooms. The continual monitoring and conservation efforts underline the crucial importance of maintaining a balance between tourism and environmental preservation. 

Legal personhood 

Mar Menor has had legal status as an ecosystem since September. This means that the lagoon has been given rights and protections under the law similar to those of an individual or a corporation. This legal personhood is typically conferred with the intent of protecting and conserving the environment. Furthermore, it can give environmental activists or government bodies the legal standing to sue on behalf of the body of water, in case its rights are infringed or it is damaged by human activity. 

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