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Posted by portugalpress on September 11, 2018

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The Ria Formosa Natural Park, Portugal’s seventh natural wonder and a designated Ramsar wetland since 1980, is made up of a network of estuaries, mudflats, lagoons and sand barriers. The 18,400-ha wildlife park managed by the ICNF (Instituto da Conservação da Natureza e das Florestas) is an impressive ecosystem.

However, one of the first views a visitor sees after stepping off the ferry onto Ilha do Farol is on all counts shocking.

Farol is a very popular place to visit during the short summer months. It’s the first and last view of the Algarve from a plane window. Hundreds of ferry trippers and boat owners mingle with the 1,000 ‘residents’, searching for a table in the myriad of restaurants, souvenir shops or even a quiet spot on the beach to place an umbrella. Some are even looking for their short-term rental accommodation. Whether there is any concern from anyone about the burgeoning current environmental cost of sewage effluent treatment, freshwater delivery and daily garbage disposal amongst all this seems most unlikely.

What is far more disturbing and completely unacceptable is the action committed by some ‘homeowners’ who have moved on from a life of shellfish harvesting to being so-called coastal zone experts. It seems their belief is that they have a given right to protect their shoreline property with shambolic and totally illegal hard engineering experiments that make the beach resemble more like the Lebanon coastline.

Construction rubble has been partially buried by beach sand and used for house foundations, in the hope that ‘out of sight out of mind’ avoids the need to dispose of any waste properly or of having to dump it in deeper water. As the sand erodes, the full extent of this is blatantly apparent and larger chunks of concrete end up being used as anchor points.

The use of dumpy/rice bags packed with yet more construction waste placed in straight lines to make wave erosion barriers, is both illegal and visually appalling. Even the old shredded nylon bags from previous wave defence efforts still lie half buried in the sand.

It would seem that all the supposedly responsible government entities, Polis Litoral Ria Formosa, Portuguese Environment Agency (APA) or the Ministry of Environment, have turned a blind eye to this or simply allowed it to happen. All beaches in Portugal are government ‘property’ and these very ones should have the added protection of natural park status.

Leaving aside the emotional and procedural argument of having apparently been given local council permission (supported by local lawyers) to build homes should not allow these village homeowners to set a precedent and vandalise the environment. With such uncontrolled encroachment, is it no wonder Polis has been out on a demolition spree to evict those that find themselves on the wrong side of national law?

To the custodians of Culatra, Armona and Farol, the environment comes first and they all need to start safeguarding and caring for their privileged location by restoring parts of the islands back to their original natural settings for all of us to enjoy. Should this piecemeal environmental damage continue, remedial action will be far costlier in the future than intervention measures taken now.
Too many of the Algarve's precious beaches have already been spoiled; let us preserve and be proud of those that are left.

Photos: NICK HENLEY-WELCH

By CHARLES FREW, MSc
Asiatic Marine

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