“A DESERT of mud.” That is the description of the Mar Menor by Juan Manuel Ruiz, lead investigator of a team from the Spanish Institute of Oceanography (IEO) studying the marine vegetation in the natural lagoon.
Ruiz, along with the environmental NGO ANSE, has been studying the Mar Menor’s state since 2013. They conducted a detailed map of the marine life and vegetation and recorded in 2014, when 13,780 hectares of intact vegetation suggested that seagrasses were resisting the impact of human activities. However, in just a short time, this has changed in the waters of the Mar Menor as the team returned to dive to see how most of the marine vegetation has disappeared.
In 2015 the waters of the Mar Menor began to transform and turn green. Ruiz explained this occurs during what is known as the ‘eutrophication’ process, which occurs when excess amount of nutrients such as nitrates or sulphates are allowed to enter the water. Increased amounts of algae form and are responsible for clouding the water and disrupting the ecosystem’s balance, potentially endangering iconic resident species such as the long-snouted seahorse.
Diving in the waters between September and October this year, researchers made new measurements and when compared to data from 2014, found that 85 per cent of the seagrass vegetation has been lost.
The coastal lagoon is Europe’s largest and was once a haven for wildlife, but is now almost dead despite being protected under national and international law, with neither local councils or residents paying heed to the regulations and no-one being held to account.
Ruiz said this is a new and unfamiliar situation: “We have no information on what we can do and we have to go look outside, to other parts of the world that have gone through similar situations.
“In some of these places, the situation has reversed in a few months: “But here we have already had this ecological disaster for a year.”