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“To save the beaches, we must correct past mistakes”

Year after year, the coast of Tarragona suffers storms, apparently increasingly violent, that seriously damage its beaches, causing a gradual regression of the coastline. It is true that in some cases they regenerate naturally, but many others need tons of sand to recover so that bathers can enjoy them in summer. One option, that of the contribution, is very expensive and not very effective, since it usually happens that when another storm arrives, the added sand is carried away very easily. But of course, it is the fastest solution to recover a beach. In contrast, the option of a structural management plan for the coast is not usually valued, under technical and sustainability criteria, “because the results come in the long term and people have no patience.”

This is what Francesc Xavier Roig, PhD in Geography and PhD in Geology, who has carried out beach management plans and analysis of dune systems in Tarragona, El Vendrell, Calafell, Altafulla and also on the Costa Brava, talks about. It is clear when he assures that “the beaches are looking for their space, and in 30 or 40 years there will be none if they are not managed well and if the mistakes made are not corrected.” And it is even clearer when he states that “a lot of correction means unemployment and de-urbanization.” With vacancy, Roig refers mainly to those campsites that have been installed on the same beach, as is the case of Camping Las Palmeras de Tarragona. And with de-urbanisation, –he already points out that he is not talking about tearing down buildings– he refers to reducing the space for pedestrians and cars in areas such as Passeig Sant Joan de Deu de Calafell (removing either the promenade or the road), and recovering it for the beach.

In line with the idea that beaches are looking for their space, the expert recalls the large artificial regeneration of sand that took place on the Costa Daurada at the end of the 1980s and during the 1990s. Between 1988 and 1994, several beaches of the province a total of 5,239,700 m3 of sand. Specifically, Altafulla beach was regenerated in 1991 with 164,680 m3 of sand and in 1994 with a further 282,607 m3. Regarding this, Roig assures that “the useful life of these regenerations has come to an end.” And that of the municipality of Baix Gaià is a clear example that can be seen on the website viewer of the Institut Cartogràfic i Geològic de Catalunya. It shows how in 1993 the beach had a width of about 20 meters, which increased considerably to 100 meters in 1994, at the time of the second contribution. Since then, it looks like it has been narrowed to the current state.

Although it is true that every year there are these storms that affect the coast of Tarragona, this year the debate is more intense because one of the last episodes caused part of the Cal Vitali Voramar Restaurant in Altafulla to collapse. This has led to a motion of censure – the first associated with climate change, Roig points out – which, if there are no last-minute changes, will end the government of EINA ERC, with the co-mayors Alba Muntadas and Jordi Molinera, to make way for the mayor by Montse Castellarnau. The main argument of the opposition to take this step has been an alleged mismanagement of the municipality’s beach due to the problem of storms in recent years. The fact is that it seems that the beach, a few weeks after the incident at Cal Vitali – which, by the way, is installed on the same sand, that is to say, raised without foundations, and whose terrace ceased to be legal with the new Coastal Law from 1988 – is regenerating naturally. “In Altafulla, people continue to ask for inconsistent measures and against technical issues, because no matter how much sand had been added to the beach, a building under an illegal regime would never have been saved,” says the expert, who adds that “the The sand’s natural return process is slower than the loss associated with the storm, but people have no patience.”

Apart from the unemployment and de-urbanization that Roig defends “to correct the mistakes of the past”, the geographer and geologist explains that the solution to the regression of the coastline also involves good management of the beaches, on the one hand, bringing sand in the right conditions optimal so that it stays as long as possible and without machines that eradicate vegetation and erode space and, on the other hand, maintaining or creating dune systems in those that are possible. “The dunes protect the beaches that have the morphological conditions to have a dune system, but not all of them have this potential,” says Roig. Along these lines, he gives the example of Camping Las Palmeras and Camping Las Salinas, both in Platja Llarga de Tarragona. “Las Palmeras always receives because it has occupied the dune system, while Las Salinas never suffers in storms because it was built behind the dunes and did not advance on them”, comments the expert. In fact, the main conclusion of the Platja Llarga management plan drawn up by Roig last year is that Camping Las Palmeras must go back a few meters in order to recover the dune space on which part of the tourist complex is located.

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