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A view of Los Baños del Carmen, an iconic location in Malaga city. Marilú Báez
The hidden secrets of Malaga's Baños del Carmen

The hidden secrets of Malaga's Baños del Carmen

Experts in marine life and mineralogy are researching the biodiversity present at one of the most iconic locations in the city

Matías Stuber

Malaga

Friday, 1 December 2023, 17:41

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A seagull perches on a rock jutting out from the rest. It takes flight with screeching cries, hovering over the slate-coloured sand. It then soars over the waves capped with white horses that foam as they roll to shore. The sands of Baños del Carmen draw an archway between the rock formations outlining the coastline. These rocks in turn serve as the foundation for the beach spa.

It's November, yes, but temperatures resemble the last gasps of summer. Two young girls are sunbathing and snoozing, perhaps even contemplating one last dip. The words on the mural, in large block letters, one of the most sought-after spots for social media posts from the spa, make more sense than ever: "You were, you are and you will always be my most beautiful coincidence." This is a totally unique place in Malaga city. Just breathing in the sea breeze around here delivers high doses of happiness. Also here is Francisco Franco, who holds the Chair in Coastal Management for the Costa del Sol and is a leading professor with the crystallography and mineralogy unit at UMA (University of Malaga). "If you set a rock down and let the sea get to work on it, the biodiversity generated is extraordinary," he says.

Francisco Franco with key research colleagues Laura Pardo and Marta Domínguez at Los Baños del Carmen.
Francisco Franco with key research colleagues Laura Pardo and Marta Domínguez at Los Baños del Carmen. Marilú Báez

Over the past year Francisco Franco and his research team from UMA have been studying the flora and fauna of Baños del Carmen both underwater and on land. They have dived, they have scoured the terrain and they have spent hours in the lab as part of this ambitious research project, whose sole mission has been to find and study all the plants and all the species that exist side by side in this unique space. The professor acknowledges the contribution provided by two key colleagues from his department, Laura Pardo and Marta Domínguez.

The rocks are vital for the generation of a biodiversity that doesn't exist on other beaches in the city

Before starting to list all the flora and fauna, Francisco Franco switches into teacher mode and takes us on an interesting tour to set the scene. Rocks feature heavily throughout our walk. Sea life revolves around rocks, making Los Baños del Carmen the richest beach in the city for its biodiversity.

"The blasting of the Cerro [hill] made way for the construction of the first railway line in 1885, whose primary task was to transport materials from El Palo to Malaga and which would then sow the seeds for the railway line between Malaga and Vélez. It also made it possible for the Vélez-Almería road to run parallel to the railway line. To transport rocks by sea to Malaga port, a small port was built on what was then known as San Telmo beach; then, as of 1918 with the construction of the spa, it became known by the name we still use today: Los Baños del Carmen beach," says Franco.

The scientists of the Catedrá del Mar have been working in the area for nearly a year.
The scientists of the Catedrá del Mar have been working in the area for nearly a year. Marilú Báez

Between the months of June to September, the researchers conducted tests to determine water quality. Following parameters set by the European Union, the water quality was deemed "excellent". Franco explains how the tests were carried out: "The water analysis was done by filtering 100 millilitres of water collected through fine membrane filters." The quality is not affected by the creamy cloudiness that can appear in the waters here. "It is due to the fine dust in the sand, which generates sediment when coming into contact with water".

Flora and fauna

The UMA research team divided the area under investigation into three zones. The upper shore is the supralittoral zone (aka the supratidal zone), where the beach is never covered by water, although it can be splashed by waves and sea spray. Here, the rock consists of mostly irregularly-shaped limestone measuring one to three metres across.

The second part of the shoreline is midlittoral (the area between maximum and minimum tidal levels). This zone is adjacent to the spa and has greater biodiversity than the massive rocky outcrop near El Morlaco.

"This could be due to that one area being established longer than the other, which over time has allowed it to host more life," says Franco. In terms of the range of plant life, you can find green, brown and red algae, but mostly the latter.

Among the most prevalent plants is green seaweed (Ulva rigida), followed by brown seaweed (Ericaria selaginoides and Dictyota dichotoma). The most abundant red seaweed are Centroceras clavulatum, Rhodophyllis divaricata, Amphiroa beauvoisii, Ceramium spp and Asparagopsis armata. As for animal species, there is a wide variety of molluscs such as Octopus vulgaris (common octopus), Hexaplex trunculus (a medium-sized sea snail), Mytilus galloprovincialis (the Mediterranean mussel), Barleeia unifasciata (a minute sea snail) or Paludinella globularis (also a miniature snail with a pearly shell).

Franco points out that this research project seeks to establish "collaboration agreements between Malaga city council and the UMA to develop a wider study on the research and management of the shoreline of Malaga's beaches."

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