The largest permanent lagoon in drought-stricken southern Spain’s Donana natural park, home to one of Europe’s largest wetlands, has fully dried up for the second consecutive summer.
A vast expanse of cracked white earth now replaces the waters of the Santa Olalla lagoon, which used to support abundant aquatic life and serve as a habitat for large colonies of migrating birds.
This lagoon, which once covered approximately 45 hectares (110 acres), has been gradually shrinking in recent years. However, this is the first time it has completely dried up two years in a row, according to the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC).
Scientists attribute the disappearance of the lagoon to a prolonged drought exacerbated by the overexploitation of aquifers for agricultural and tourism purposes.
“Recent years have been exceptionally dry, which is not uncommon for a Mediterranean climate,” stated Carmen Diaz Paniagua, a researcher at the Donana Biological Station, in an interview with AFP.
While most lagoons in the reserve are temporary, filling with rainwater during winter and drying out in summer, a few contain water all year round, providing a vital refuge for wildlife.
“The real issue is the mismanagement of the aquifers. We are unaware of the exact volume of water being extracted due to the presence of numerous illegal wells,” she added.
The Donana national park is surrounded by a sea of greenhouses, and the town of Matalascanas, a popular tourist resort, is located less than a kilometer away from the reserve’s northernmost lagoons.
“This is not solely a result of climate change; it is a man-made phenomenon. If we can reduce water extraction, the lagoon could recover,” stated Diaz Paniagua optimistically.
While water use restrictions are in place in other parts of Spain, they do not apply to towns near Donana, where showers are still operational on the beaches, according to Diaz Paniagua.
The Dona reserve is home to marshlands, scrub woodland, and beaches, and it serves as a habitat for deer, badgers, and endangered species such as the Spanish imperial eagle and the Iberian lynx.
However, at the Santa Olalla lagoon, where wild horses used to drink water while surrounded by storks and flamingos, they now graze alone on the few patches of grass that manage to grow from the cracked earth.
Despite warnings from UNESCO and the European Commission, the conservative regional government of Andalusia, where Donana is located, is pushing for an extension of irrigation rights near the park.
A draft law currently under consideration in the regional parliament aims to legalize hundreds of hectares of berry farmland that are currently being irrigated through illegal wells.
Proponents of the proposal argue that it will help those who were unfairly excluded during a previous legalization process that took place in 2014 under a Socialist government.
“The water management policy is not conducive to the conservation of Donana’s lagoons,” Diaz Paniagua lamented.
© 2023 AFP
Key Spanish lagoon dries out due to drought, overexploitation (2023, August 11)
retrieved 11 August 2023
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Shambhu Kumar is a science communicator, making complex scientific topics accessible to all. His articles explore breakthroughs in various scientific disciplines, from space exploration to cutting-edge research.