Picture from last autumn during maintenance work in the wetlands Migue Fernández
New islets, larger lakes and debris removal: this is how Malaga's estuary nature reserve will be revived

New islets, larger lakes and debris removal: this is how Malaga's estuary nature reserve will be revived

The Junta has put out a tender for 335,000 euros for the works which aim to preserve the flora and fauna in the wetlands at the mouth of the Guadalhorce

Chus Heredia


Tuesday, 11 June 2024, 13:32

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The Junta de Andalucía has unveiled a plan to revive the Guadalhorce estuary nature reserve by removing debris, and forming new islets and larger lakes.

The regional ministry of environment has put out a tender for 335,470 euros for the works, which will also involve building fishing shelters and cleaning up vegetation to preserve animals in the wetlands.

The deadline for submission of bids has just ended with the evaluation phase to begin soon. The contract is for nine months and is financed by European funds. The project was drawn up by Tragsatec in July last year and is part of the Andalusian Wetlands Plan. The area was declared a nature reserve in 1989 and covers an area of 67 hectares. Now, in addition, the Junta has initiated the procedures to increase the protected area to 145 hectares.

Finca de La Isla: cultivation and extraction of materials

"In the 1960s, La Isla estate was cultivated in its entirety and bordered on an area of marshland which was flooded by the action of the easterly winds; there were also a series of small lakes that extended along the beach. In the 1970s, the cultivated areas were reduced and almost the entire area was devoted to the extraction of materials such as gravel, sand and stone for use in construction. Sand extraction began in 1977 and continued until 1982, creating a series of pools of different sizes which were progressively flooded with water from underground sources," state project plans to give historical context.

Artificial lakes fed by aquifers

These lakes are permanently fed by groundwater. They are of varied characteristics and varying degrees of salinity.

Flora and fauna

The vegetation of this environment is made up of tamarisk, reeds, bulrushes and rushes of different species. And the area is of great ornithological interest as a stopover point for the wintering areas of a large number of birds. Among the species of fauna: the common bittern, the black stork, the Audouin's gull, the white-headed duck and the osprey stand out. But there are many more: little sandpiper, teal, mallard, grey heron, common stonechat, pochard, sandpiper of various subspecies, little plover, coot, little egret, red-billed tern, black-billed and black-headed gull, great cormorant, spoonbill, whimbrel, black-necked grebe, common swamphen, avocet, common scoter... Some of these species are catalogued as vulnerable and even in danger of extinction.

This is an area of enormous value due to the variety of birdlife it is home to.
This is an area of enormous value due to the variety of birdlife it is home to. Salvador Salas

The Guadalhorce estuary is an ecological enclave that is home to a rich and varied fauna of birds, reptiles and amphibians. It is one of the areas in Spain where the greatest number of bird species has been recorded.

Urban tensions

According to the technical document seen by SUR, the location, in an urban environment, with airport, transport and industrial uses, puts pressure on the wetland. Livestock activity, nearby sugar cane crops and intensive groundwater extraction also contribute.

An additional problem is the debris found in the area, which also presents a shortage of suitable resting and breeding sites for the large number of bird species found in the nature reserve.

Insufficient space for birds

Environmental technicians are in favour of enlarging the existing lakes for the reproduction, rest and refuge of the different species of waders that frequent the wetlands, as well as action on existing islets with the same objective, and the smoothing of the slope of the banks overlooking the lakes themselves, which will increase the natural space's capacity to receive birds. "The removal of the debris found in the area is necessary as part of the forest restoration work," a technician said.

Also to be eliminated is an old road in the area, where there are lakes independent of each other, and the so-called old river, a former meander of the Guadalhorce which became independent of the natural course of the river due to the channelling work carried out at the beginning of the 21st century.

One of the areas to be improved.
One of the areas to be improved. SUR

It is a very popular place for sport and walking, among other things, due to the large pedestrian walkway and the archaeological work at the Phoenician site of Cerro del Villar.

Current status of the lagoons

"At present the lakes, especially in the Laguna Grande area, are connected to land or have numerous barriers inside them, which reduce the capacity of the lake to accommodate birds, as well as the places of refuge for the fauna, since there are numerous arms that enter the lake from the mainland. This greatly facilitates the entry of land predators into the breeding and roosting islets and prevents the use of the entire lake as a whole by different species of birds that need space on the water surface. The occupation of the existing islets by dead tamarins also leads to a decrease in the amount of land available for most of the birds in the wetland," according to the study.

The old river

The debris removal is focused on the old river (río viejo) area, where the construction of a new islet is planned, by means of earthworks. In the old river area, the rubble accumulates mainly in six locations, however, there is rubble scattered along its surface.

The enlargement of the existing lakes is therefore vital, as is the creation of islets within them. The big lake (laguna grande) is the main one, although the enlargements of the hidden lake (laguna escondida) and the creation of an islet in the old river also stand out.

Five islets

A total of five islets are planned: two in the big lake to be covered with gravel and boulders; two in the hidden lake, and one in the old river, also covered with gravel.

Vegetation clearing, weeding, embankment work will also be carried out. The machinery to be used in this work will be excavators with caterpillar tracks and buckets. They will need to work at a depth of up to one and a half metres below the water surface. There will also be work to install fish shelters.

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