Regenerating the sand on the beach in Cala Millor. | A. BASSA


The pandemic had yet to truly send fear and shock through the tourism industry. It was February, and in Majorca, in Cala Millor in particular, there were anxieties about the beaches. Storm Gloria had led to the loss of sand and to serious damage. Tourism municipalities, such as those of Sant Llorenç, Son Servera and Manacor, were insisting that urgent action had to be taken in order to have the beaches ready for Easter. The president of the Bay of Cala Millor Hoteliers Association, José Marcial Rodríguez Díaz, observed in February that “we are facing an enemy who is constantly knocking at our door”.

A new enemy was to emerge which wasn’t just knocking at the door, it was breaking the door down. Worries about the Easter trade because of the condition of the beach were as nothing when compared with the shock of the state of alarm and much of Europe in lockdown. From a tourism perspective, Rodríguez drew not on coronavirus in order to give a scale of the problem but another and recent crisis, which has since paled into comparative insignificance - Thomas Cook. “It is increasingly difficult for the beach to regenerate naturally. We are facing a situation that is worse than the bankruptcy of Thomas Cook.”

He was nevertheless right to have highlighted a phenomenon that has been occurring far more frequently than was once the case. Violent storms, not necessarily as severe as Gloria, have become more regular. In the Cala Millor bay area, storms have had an impact every year since 2016. On top of these was the October 2018 disaster. The loss of life was the tragedy, but the “torrentada” left its mark on beaches and the seabed as well.

Rodríguez spoke about transferring sand, so long as this didn’t affect posidonia sea grass. He accepted, however, that this would probably be just like putting a sticking plaster on the problem. He also referred to longer-term solutions, such as moving the coastline back. This, however, could have enormous legal implications.

The example he gave was of creating a dunes system to operate as a barrier and a braking mechanism for waves. But in order to do this, a wall in Cala Millor that separates the sand area from a green one with hotels would have to go. Hotels could suddenly find that they are within the maritime land domain; hence the legal implications. The beach may have been saved, but hotel business could be destroyed.

He raised the possibility of there being some form of dyke. Legislative change would be needed, and he hoped that debate regarding a long-term solution would be conducted “without ideological connotations”.

In 2000, there had been a loss of beach in Cala Millor. The solution was to pump sand from elsewhere. Pumping of sand was to create a major controversy two years later, when protesters halted work at two beaches - Can Picafort and Cala Agulla. What this protest by environmentalists ultimately boiled down to had to do with posidonia, the remains of posidonia on the beaches in particular.

Posidonia remains are yet again a source of controversy on account of a Spanish government proposal for beach regeneration in Majorca and the Balearics. An added source of controversy is that the national ministry for ecological transition, via the Costas Authority (which is a ministry department), wants to use hydraulic pumps and dredgers in order to take sand from the seabed and deposit this on beaches.

The regional environment ministry is furious. Madrid has come up with a strategy for coastal protection in the Balearics that not only advocates the pumping but also defines the posidonia remains as a problem. This strategy is such that, because the state has the powers to decide what happens with the coasts anywhere in Spain, there only needs to be consultation with the regional authority. The Balearic government has let the national ministry know what it feels about the proposals. It is against the dredging and most certainly does not consider posidonia to be a problem (it is vital for preventing erosion), but it can only voice its view, as it doesn’t have the ultimate say.

It’s not as if, as José Marcial Rodríguez Díaz noted, there are any ideological connotations. Or one would assume not, given that the governments in Palma and Madrid have roughly the same political composition. There had been in 2002, because the then national minister of the environment was from the Partido Popular - Jaume Matas, a former Balearic president who was to again be president in 2003.

However, the latest controversy is ideological in the sense that it raises - and certainly not for the first time - the Balearic desire to be able to manage the coasts directly. But there is also a question as to how strategic the proposals are. Rodríguez referred to the sticking plaster, yet that is what Madrid seems to be wanting.