Human chain around polluted Mar Menor to mourn death of millions of fish

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

People formed a human chain around Spain’s Mar Menor lagoon on Saturday to mourn the millions of fish and crustaceans who washed up dead in the last two weeks, organizers said.

“It was an act of mourning for the death of the animals. We wanted people to somehow ask their forgiveness for the barbarity we’ve inflicted on them,” Jesus Cutillas, one of the organizers, told AFP.

Mar Menor, one of Europe’s largest saltwater lagoons, is dying as a result of agricultural pollution. Experts say the fish suffocated due to a lack of oxygen caused by hundreds of tonnes of nitrates from fertilizers leaking into the waters.

Campaigners warned the damage to the Mar Menor lagoon in Murcia may be irreversible. Many people wore black and held up banners reading: SOS Mar Menor. Organizers estimated up to 70,000 people joined the protest.

Protestors held hands along the waterfront on Alcazares beach and other parts of the lagoon’s 73-kilometre (45-mile) shoreline.

“For days, we’ve witnessed the death of millions and millions of fish and seeing all that unnecessary death hurts,” Cutillas said. “The aim was to express our regret for what has happened and show our determination that it never happens again.”

On Monday, regional officials said they had removed 4.5-5.0 tonnes of fish, but by Saturday, that had risen to 15 tonnes of fish and algae.

“The 15 tons of dead fish and biomass show that we are facing a catastrophe and an environmental emergency,” tweeted Noelia Arroyo, mayor of the nearby town of Cartagena.

On Wednesday, Environment Minister Teresa Ribera accused the regional government of turning a blind eye to farming irregularities in the Campo de Cartagena, a huge area of intensive agriculture that has grown tenfold over the past 40 years.

“It is Europe’s largest saltwater lagoon, and it is a crime that they are letting it die because all that has been spilled in. They knew what was happening for a long time,” said one of the women taking part in the protest.

Green soup
Ecologists have warned for years that the Mar Menor water quality has severely degraded from nearby agricultural facilities.

“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.

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