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Posted by portugalpress on September 19, 2017

One could be forgiven for thinking that these pictures were taken in a third world country, but no, this is Praia da Marinha, proudly claimed by Lagoa Câmara to be one of the top 100 best beaches in the world. Trip Advisor states it’s the ‘Favourite Beach in the Algarve’ and fluttering proudly above the carpark is the Ouro (Gold) quality flag.

At the recent Oceans Meeting in Lisbon (by invite from the Portuguese Minister of the Sea, Ana Paula Vitorino), the Ministerial Declaration welcomed the adoption of a ‘G20 Action Plan on Marine Litter, while recognising the urgent need to prevent and reduce marine pollution of all kinds from land and sea-based sources to enhance food security and public health’. Following on from a few days after ‘International Coastal Clean Up Day’ (September 16), now is the time to put all of this in perspective.

Let’s start with hygiene. Human excrement is the inconvenient trash that no one wants to talk about, or clear up.

Marinha is more than just a picturesque beach; it has picnic spots, a popular viewing area (miradouro) and designated hiking trails that follow the cliff-edge in both directions.

As one walks past shrubs and eroded gullies wherever you tread or look, excrement in some shape and form is on display. Bits of tissue and wet-wipes flutter in the wind; some are stained and snagged on branches whilst a faint stench wafts around in the heat as everyone stops to look at the natural geological formations. It is quite simply disgusting. There are no toilet facilities near the carpark. The only public restroom belongs to the small restaurant at the foot of the access steps, a long hot climb in the summer, when tourists would rather play hide and seek in the shrubbery.

Oddly, Lagoa Câmara has decided on putting coloured recycle bins on the beach. Tourists now feel inclined to leave their unsorted picnic trash next to these bins as some kind of feel-good show of environmental responsibility. Plain laziness is what it is. These bins quickly overflow and the trash inevitably blows across the sand and out to sea. Large rubbish bins are provided for in the main carpark but, unsurprisingly, these are completely empty and spotless.

There is no public transport from the nearest towns of Lagoa or Carvoeiro to Marinha. Everyone arrives by car or motorbike. Haphazard parking has left the approach road and clifftop in chaos. The main carpark is too small and is usually half occupied by residential motorhomes. Some park on the cliff-edge, some in the bushes and others get stuck in the sand but they all affect vegetation habitat loss. Inevitably, during the winter months, rains wash away the loose topsoil and summer trash down the gullies and onto the beach below.

The Gold quality flag for Marinha is one of 396 awarded by Quercus (Portuguese environmental NGO) in 2017. All of these beaches have shown to exhibit a consistently high level of bathing water quality over the previous five years. It doesn’t take into account the occasional sewage discharge that periodically hits beaches like Salgados (earlier this year) and Pescadores in Albufeira.

Otherwise there are no other criteria to fly the Gold flag (unlike the Blue Flag, a certificate awarded by the Foundation for Environmental Education) and, therefore, there is no reason by anyone to do anything about the mess Marinha finds itself in now.

Marinha isn’t the only Algarve or West Coast beach to be singled out. Also under immense carrying capacity pressure are beaches such as Barranco, Amado and Amoreira (to name a few) that face similar detrimental impacts from waves of tourism. Without any kind of coastal management, these beaches are blighted by insufficient amenities. With local câmaras shirking their responsibility, the tourism board attracting more holidaymakers and Quercus measuring E.coli, the wider environmental picture is completely missed.

None of us want to have to ‘pay per use’ for the beach or see some kind of beach tourism tax levied to cover management and infrastructure costs or even see large carparks built to accommodate yet more vehicles. The Portuguese Environment Agency (APA) needs to step in with a targeted environmental litter campaign. Tourists need to be far more conscious of the impacts they are directly causing and excrement disposal kits (plenty on the internet) should be made available at the beaches if no public facilities are available.

A visit to Marinha should never have to be a negative experience but something needs to be done to properly manage the current situation. The coastline is Portugal’s greatest natural asset; let’s see what happens when Marinha reopens for business in May 2018.

COMMENT by CHARLES FREW

Photos: CHARLES FREW/ASIATIC MARINE

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