Why is the sand on the beaches of Malaga so dark and dusty?

by Lorraine Williamson
mini spring

MALAGA – Anyone who has been on the beach in the province of Málaga, but especially in the city itself, can confirm it. The beaches here are quite dark in colour. Almost dark grey in the city. However, the further west of the Costa del Sol the lighter it gets. 

Also, residents of the city of Malaga regularly complain about the sand on their beaches and tend to compare them negatively to the beaches on the Costa del Sol in Mijas or Marbella. Coastal expert Francisco Ignacio Franco states in La Opinion de Malaga that “our sand is neither better nor worse. We have the sand that suits our geology.” 

Paco Franco is head of the Chair of Coastal Sciences at the University of Málaga. This chair analyses the microbiological content of the water and sand on the beaches of the province every 15 days. This shows that the sandy beaches are excellent in terms of health. “They contain no harmful microbiology”. 

Composition of the sand 

The sand on the beaches depends on the geology of the area. The rocks in the mountains weather and the resulting material ends up in the sea via rivers and drainages. It rinses the material clean and brings it back to the beaches. The geology of Málaga consists of rocks such as slate, shale, black mica and green chlorite, as well as quartz and calcite according to Paco Franco. “Chlorite is a very fine mineral powder. That is why the beaches of our coast have much more dust compared to, for example, the Balearic Islands”. 

What is “nata”? 

Malagueños and some tourists sometimes see “nata” (whipped cream) floating on the water. A brown, frothy layer on the waves. It seems dirty and is often regarded as such, but actually, it is not. Experts have been studying the composition of these “natas” since 2017 and conclude time and time again that it is related to a mineral substance floating in the sea. “When waves wash the sand, it creates buoyant mineral foam, which is completely harmless,” Franco adds. 

That is why coastal municipalities deploy “nata removal” vessels during the summer to monitor the water quality in the area from Torremolinos to Manilva daily. The water is also checked daily at the beaches of Vélez-Málaga, Algarrobo, Torrox and Nerja. 

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Paco Franco assures that the “nata” floating in the sea “is the same as what showers produce when washing mineral dust from the sand. This dust is similar to what beach cleaning machines throw up.” 

Beach recovery 

The beaches are a key factor in the tourism on which the economy of the province of Málaga largely depends. Because of the storms during autumn and winter, the beaches are often very unstable. A lot of sand is being washed away and beaches have to be repaired with new sand. If that happens with gravel or river sand, these sediments contain a high content of fine material. We know that as silt and clay. After a beach has been restored, the first time the sand is washed by the seawater, a large amount of ‘nata’ is created,” said Paco Franco. 

“Málaga has very good quality beaches” 

Juan Antonio López, president of the Aula del Mar Foundation, also confirms that Málaga has beaches of very good quality. “Our sand has a more grey colour, which is characteristic of slate. I am not in favour of comparisons. We are very demanding and always idealise a beach with fine and white sand.” 

La Malagueta is one of the best urban beaches in Spain 

According to these experts, the idea that the colour of the sand determines the quality of the beach is not correct. Paco Franco even calls La Malagueta Beach “one of the best urban beaches in Spain”. Despite the harbour being next door. There is a rich biodiversity around the rocks and an extraordinary underwater richness… It’s very easy to talk from the shore without actually entering the water,” says Paco. 

Also read: AI deployed for jellyfish and ‘nata’ detection on the Costa del Sol 

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