Dead fish wash up on shores of Mar Menor in Spain

Around 100 light grey colored fish upside down dead in the water
Dead fish are seen in the Marchamalo canal, La manga del Mar Menor, Murcia, Spain, photo: Reuters/Eva Manez

Thousands of fish have washed up dead on the shores of Mar Menor in Spain, one of Europe’s largest saltwater lagoons. Protesters wearing ‘SOS Mar Menor’ t-shirts came together on the coast on Thursday, demanding solutions.

The lagoon in Murcia was once a magnet for tourism and a sanctuary for marine life. But in recent years, the number of fish has plummeted with mass die-offs in 2016 and 2019.

“I have been here 14 years, and it used to be clean when I first arrived. I would swim, but now I don’t because the conditions aren’t right,” a resident from Los Nietos, a fishing village on Mar Menor, said.

Residents began seeing dead fish and crustaceans on the beaches on Monday. “They are still washing up today. We calculate that some 20 tonnes have died to date,” Jose Luis Garcia, director of the World Wildlife Fund’s marine programmes in Spain, told Reuters.

Ecologists have warned for years that the water quality has severely degraded from nearby agricultural facilities and pollution from urban development.

“People call it the green soup,” explained Ramon Pagan of the Pact for the Mar Menor pressure group. “It’s caused by an excess of fertilizers in the water…particularly from intensive agriculture.”

“All those fertilizers and nitrates cause explosions of algae at the bottom of the sea, and in the columns of water, it gives it that green colour and prevents light from reaching the bottom,” Pagan said.

“When that process of eutrophication occurs, the algae at the bottom of the sea decomposes, it steals the oxygen from the water, oxygen levels decline drastically, and we enter a situation of hypoxia or anoxia and all the animals in the sea die,” he added.

“We have been demonstrating about this for years,” said Ana Pineda of the Urrutia residents’ association. “We’ve been unable to set foot in the water or be on the beach for years.”

Pineda said the only way to solve the problem was to cut back on the use of fertilizers as she urged politicians to take action.

As the lagoon turns into a sea of mud and dirt, another resident complained people no longer wanted to visit, and many houses had been put up for sale: “People don’t want to come. Just think, it’s August 18, and with the heat, look at the beach, it’s empty.”

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