Dredger hard at work by Marbella beach

The sand is taken from four metres of water at the mouth of the leisure marina and discharged into the hold.
The sand is taken from four metres of water at the mouth of the leisure marina and discharged into the hold. / Josele-Lanza
  • Vessel sucking sand from town’s Puerto Deportivo marina is dumping it offshore at La Fontanilla beach

  • The experienced crew, paid for by the council, is trying a different technique to try to protect the shoreline from erosion by slowing waves about 80 metres out to sea

“There’s quite a dangerous problem here for the boats entering and leaving the port with the silty sand accumulating at the entrance. In some places, like here near the filling station” - the captain points to the Puerto Deportivo marina in Marbella- “there’s only 60 centimetres of water, or in other words, the sand is almost as high as the sea”.

Pedro Rodríguez is in charge of the operation to dredge the mouth of the port, near the centre of the old town, that has been going on for over a week under town hall supervision and at a cost of 60,000 euros. Under his control, a dredger named Josefa Pérez, 60 metres long and ten metres wide, has been working non stop from seven in the morning until nightfall. “This port is small and it’s difficult to work at night,” he explains from the bridge, while moving around the pipe that sucks up the sand and silt like a vacuum cleaner, discharging it into the hold of the vessel through up to six separate outlets.

Pedro controls the buttons calmly. It shows that he was brought up in the world of dredging. His parents also did the same job in Chiclana, Cadiz. He bought the boat in 1993 and travels all over Spain with it.

It’s years since this area of Marbella was dredged and this time there are two distinct goals. On one hand, they aim to put a stop to the problems boats have navigating into the port with the build up of sand and silt. On the other hand, they are setting out to repair the damage caused by this winter’s storms on the nearby La Fontanilla beach by strategically dumping the dredged sand.

The way of working is quite different to other dredging that normally takes place in Marbella. This time the material dredged up doesn’t go straight onto the beaches via the tubes. The sand is deposited out to sea up to 100 metres from the shore so that the movement of the water does the rest. The aim is for the new sand dumped at sea to form a natural bank and protect the sand already on the beach from aggressive tides. Pedro Rodríguez explains that this barrier is important so that the sea doesn’t wash away so easily the other sand that is being added directly back onto the beach by coastal authorities. With several trips a day, the job can be repetitive: collect the sand at the mouth of the marina, move to nearby La Fontanilla beach, stop the vessel some 80 metres from the shore and open the hold doors to dump the sand. And back again.

Risk of running aground

The hold can store up to 689 cubic metres and takes up most of the space on the dredger.

Does he fill the hold every time? “No, we can only fill it with about 500 cubic metres as the port mouth is so shallow. We could run aground if we take on too much weight,” the captain warns. The hull is designed so that the water that is dredged up with the sand can run away, reducing any environmental impact.

Only time will tell if this new way of adding sand to Marbella’s beaches can stop the frequent erosion, even by a little bit.