The receding coastline means urgent measures are needed to protect Marbella's dunes

The receding coastline means urgent measures are needed to protect Marbella's dunes
  • Nearly three metres of dunes and two metres of beach were swallowed by the sea in the latest storms at Las Chapas. The waves reached nearby houses and walls

"They are starting to see the wolf's ears, but nobody does anything about it." On the beach at El Alicate, in Las Chapas, which is one of those that suffered the most damage in recent storms, Susanne Stamm and Fernando Piquer, secretary and president of the Produnas Association of Marbella, look sadly at the wreckage. They show us the dossier of photographs which they have sent to the local, central and regional authorities to demonstrate how the sea is advancing in this area.

“The beautiful La Víbora dune is disappearing in large chunks and now, after the latest bad weather, another three metres of dune mass and two metres of beach have been lost,” says Susanne.

This year's storm, together with the one in December 2016, will be remembered as one of the worst to have hit the Marbella coast in decades because of the gravity of its effects. The high waves, gale force winds and heavy rain caused serious damage and, once again, the east side of Marbella has come off worst, to such an extent that the Dune Reserve of Marbella, the biggest in the province, is being washed away by the sea.

“The problem is that the area had still not regenerated after the storm in 2016 and this one was even worse,” says Produnas. This non-profit-making organisation has been working tirelessly for 30 years to protect the dunes, and its nearly 200 members (of 12 different nationalities) deserve most of the credit for ensuring that the area managed to survive the hardest years of construction and corruption in the municipality.

Now they are once again issuing an SOS with a clear message: “Disaster has no political colour. This is not the time to look for someone to blame, it is time to act,” they say.

In recent days other groups have joined the call for definitive measures to be put into effect to stabilise the coast in this year. For years there have been discussions and debates and several announcements have been made regarding projects to stabilise the beaches at Marbella and San Pedro, but none have materialised. Most of the action which has been carried out has been on beaches in the centre of Marbella, but what about the eastern side? The whole coastline may be losing sand and the sea is advancing everywhere, but more at Las Chapas than anywhere else and this also threatens the environment in the area.

“Climate change is becoming more evident,” says ecologist Javier de Luis, who lives in Marbella. There is, he says, no need for major alarm bells to start ringing yet. A good part of the dunes which are swallowed by the sea are mobile (those closest to the shore) - in other words this loss of sand is “a natural movement, it is the natural dynamic,” he says. However, the damage is starting to occur further into the beaches now.

Produnas is well aware of this natural movement of mobile dunes, but stresses that “more sand is lost every time, and the waves are coming further and further in”. Susanne Stamm points out that this latest storm has caused damage in a place where the waves have never reached before: Artola.

Over ten years ago the Andalusian Environmental Centre carried out studies into the vulnerability of coastal areas as a result of the rise in sea levels, and the effects of this on the coastline of the Costa del Sol during the present century.

In 2016, the Ministry of the Environment approved its 'Strategy of Adaptation to Climate Change on the Spanish Coast' to mitigate the effects of global warming in public areas. However, the studies which were carried out for this plan didn't include the Costa del Sol, something which has been criticised by the IU political party, which is demanding that Marbella council produces plans for preventive action on the Malaga coast.

In addition to this there is the unrestrained and, in many cases, uncontrolled construction which took place on the Costa del Sol for years. Some of those buildings now end up with water below their balconies every time there is a storm. People in Costabella are especially affected, as the force of the waves has knocked down walls.

A warning in the Urban Plan

The Urban Plan (PGOU) of 2010 warned of erosive processes on some of Marbella's beaches and proposed certain interventions which, says Javier de Luis, “were ignored.”

The Plan, which was annulled in 2015, referred to an interesting study carried out between 2006 and 2007 about how the coastline had varied from 1956 to 2003. The report showed that the beaches on the east side of Marbella, between Los Monteros and Las Cañas, saw a distinct enlargement of their coastline between 1956 and 1998. After that, this increase of between 11 and 36 metres began to reverse. El Alicate and Real de Zaragoza are the most affected by the advance of the sea, losing 34.4 and 32.5 metres respectively.

The overall effect of movements in the past decade (compared with the data in the Urban Plan) is not known. There is no information about it, but a look at old photos shows how much the coast has changed. Councillor Miguel Díaz points out that, looking at three photos (two of them taken from the air), it is easy to see how the sea has advanced between the 1990s, 2010 and March 2018.

“The road which GIL asphalted in the 1990s, between Calle Nereidas and Calle Tritón, in the Rancho Hotel urbanisation, was removed by the Coastal Authority in the early 2000s, because it invaded public land beside the beach. The asphalt was removed but a pedestrian path was left, and that was destroyed in this year's bad weather. And the sea has not finished recovering what it thinks is its territory yet,” he says.

Diagnosis and dredging

Urgent action and definitive measures are needed in this area. The first step will be to examine the situation closely, something which the Coastal Authority and Marbella council have now promised to do. The Councillor for Beaches, Manuel Cardeña, says: “What we are going to try to do is, as well as carry out this detailed study into the state of the beaches at Las Chapas, which will help us to decide what measures to take, dredge Cabopino port of the sand at the harbour mouth because it is stopping boats from entering. That sand can be used for regenerating the beaches,” he explains.

Dredging this marina, something which has been pending for years because of a change of concession for the port, would alleviate some of the effects of the storm in the short term. Politicians and ecologists have asked Granada university to draw up a project which will determine whether or not artificial reefs should be placed in the area.

The report, costing 55,000 euros, will then be sent to the Ministry of the Environment and the Junta de Andalucía, who will decide whether this is the best solution. With the situation at present, an extremely detailed diagnosis of the real dangers to this part of the coast is the most urgent and necessary measure.