Es Trenc beach. | J. SOCIES


I'm trying to remember when it was. Some twenty years ago? There was a right old rumpus in Can Picafort about the beach. Environmentalists were protesting. It had to do with the remains of posidonia seagrass - a threatened removal of the remains. This was heading towards Easter, and I happened to go into the municipal offices in neighbouring Playa de Muro, where a conversation started about the protests. Someone said that the remains were perfectly natural - they should stay. The offices double as a tourist information office. The lady at reception agreed but added that tourists didn't like it.

A few years later, things kicked off again. It was earlier, January. The concessionaire for cleaning beaches in Can Picafort had arranged for the removal of loads of "seaweed" (posidonia is incorrectly referred to as algae). These loads were to end up in a disused quarry in Muro.

One morning, a bulldozer appeared and started the process. A Santa Margalida councillor explained that this was "dried algae from the second line" - back from the shoreline, in other words. The aim was to reduce the large amount that had already accumulated - Can Picafort's beach, it was noted, was one of the most affected by algae. The removal, the councillor added, would make it possible to take care of the dunes system in the event of storms and would "help to enjoy the beaches, with the first hotel openings scheduled for March and April".

At the time, this struck me as distinctly odd. Which dunes system was this exactly? The dunes had been levelled in the sixties in order to create the Can Picafort frontline; only a bit of dune by the boundary with Muro still existed. Then there were the hotels and the tourists. What had been said at the municipal offices? Tourists didn't like it. Ok, but it was only January, and removing posidonia remains in winter was prohibited. Wasn't it? Not according to the councillor, who said that this had changed. It was up to the town hall. Moreover, the Costas Authority had given its permission.

Back then, or so it seemed, there was a general lack of public awareness regarding posidonia. Protests and incidents like those in Can Picafort started to raise this awareness. If residents or tourists were uncertain, Alcudia town hall had adopted a different policy. Information notices were put up to explain why the posidonia was staying where it was until the season started. The remains settle into the sand and serve as a vital means of preventing erosion.

Nowadays, and where urban beaches such as Alcudia and Can Picafort are concerned, it is very much the rule that the posidonia stays for the whole winter. But what about the summer? Which leads us to those beaches which aren't urban and to one very famous beach in particular - Es Trenc.

Since June 2017, this beach has formed part of the Es Trenc-Salobrar de Campos Nature Park. This included regulations regarding the removal of dry remains, but a recently approved management plan for the park has gone one step further. Except for possible "management reasons", dry remains cannot be removed "under any circumstances". So, banks of dead seagrass will stay on the beach throughout the summer.

There is a distinction with wet remains, those that slosh around at the water's edge and have themselves generated controversy at Es Trenc. These can be removed but there is the issue with also removing sand. The same applies to taking away dry posidonia. The protective action of the seagrass is undermined if the very thing that it protects - sand - is scooped up and taken away. This is why there are policies for storing the removed remains and returning them to beaches in the winter. And they won't be stored in a quarry, from which sand could be taken that is incompatible with that for beaches and the marine environment.

The government's management plan for Es Trenc has yet to really surface as a controversy. But one suspects that it will. Remember, "tourists don't like it". At Es Trenc, they are going to have to get used to it, and there won't be anything that the town hall - Campos - can do about it. Cut from a different political cloth to the government, Campos town hall has clashed with the environment ministry over the management of the beach, but a nature park declaration would typically supersede any town hall competence. But, and lurking in the background, is the transfer of coastal responsibilities from the Costas Authority to the Balearic government. This will happen on July 1, and President Armengol has said that responsibilities will be delegated to island councils and town halls.

Might Campos wish to assert its claims to management as a result of this? Might other town halls (or island councils) do likewise with posidonia, but adopt the government's Es Trenc model?

We have in fact advanced a long way since those protests and incidents in Can Picafort. There is widespread awareness, but this doesn't eliminate the controversies. Tourists don't like it. Do they?