Thursday, February 11, 2016

Privatisation Of The Sea: Waterparks

Beaches are suddenly very much in political vogue. To the question of chiringuitos and items of beach furniture on rustic beaches can be added things that lie off beaches. One thing in particular: a floating waterpark. Calvia has, in effect, banned these waterparks. Good for Calvia.

In fact, banning is too strong a word, even if this would be the outcome. The waterparks off Calvia beaches, of which there have been several, are not illegal. The town hall, in addressing the issue, is to consider their suitability and to make void contracts that do not meet requirements; however "requirements" might be defined. The wording seems rather loose. Deliberately so perhaps, as it leaves room for manoeuvre in removing the waterparks on grounds that might seem more subjective than objective. A legal challenge may be raised, one fancies.

In principle, however, Calvia is adopting the right line. The waterparks off municipal beaches were the consequence of a 2014 decision to put out to tender the so-called occupation of public domain marine space close to shore. Calvia was not alone. There have been floating waterparks dotted around Mallorca's coastline.

When they were first being mentioned - and the first one I was aware of was off Playa de Muro - they didn't sound such a bad idea. They would be environmentally neutral in that they would not be permanent, would not be anchored in a way that might harm seabed flora, e.g. posidonia, while access (other than by wading or swimming) would be with rowing boats and nothing that was using fuel or was noisy. They sounded reasonable insofar as they would be an additional attraction, something that might have been thought good for a family tourism market.

It was when they became visible that the idea seemed less good. Did the beaches of Mallorca really want a load of floating giant pieces of plastic bobbing on the gentle waves in the full glare of the beachgoing public? General reaction was less than positive.

In Colonia Sant Jordi, as an example, a local pressure group - Salvem Sa Colonia - staged a protest on the beach against the plan to install a waterpark. There were a variety of reasons for objecting: ecological, the use of the sea by the public and navigation by boats. There was an additional element to the protest, the establishment of platforms for jet skis as well.

The regional government, via the natural spaces and biodiversity department of its environment ministry, might now be said to have such installations firmly in its sights. Its desire to ensure there are no chiringuitos on rustic beaches is just one aspect of a far wider consideration of protected areas included under the Natura Network, a European Union device that was adopted for environmental conservation purposes. Under this, most of the Mallorcan coastline is defined as protected. But not all of it. Much of the Calvia coast isn't, for instance. Where the provisions are more evident are, for instance, in the whole of the bays of Alcudia and Pollensa and along the coast that stretches from Santanyi through Es Trenc towards Arenal. This is coast which therefore embraces Colonia Sant Jordi and, in the north, the beaches of Puerto Pollensa, Puerto Alcudia, Playa de Muro and Can Picafort, all of which have had floating waterparks off them.

Does this sound as if the environment ministry, controlled by the eco-nationalists of Més, is getting into a zealous fervour, as was the case when the PSM socialists (part of Més) took control of the ministry in the latter half of the previous PSOE-led administration of 2007 to 2011? Perhaps it does. The minister, Vicenç Vidal, appears to be even more of an eco-warrior than the PSM minister, Gabriel Vicens, was.

But there is much to potentially praise in the ministry getting to grips with the Mallorcan coast. Fundamentally, the beaches are public domain. It is a Spanish birthright to have free and unfettered access to and use of the country's beaches. It is a birthright enshrined in law. It has not prevented the exploitation of beaches, of course it hasn't, and it surely isn't the case that any minister would propose getting rid of sunbeds and what have you from the main, urban beaches. But there is and can be excessiveness, and when this "privatisation" involves the sea as well, one can argue that things have gone too far. Yes, there is privatisation, as with charging for anchoring and so on, but boats are a rather different matter to the likes of floating waterparks. They may cause environmental damage but they are not in themselves unappealing. A waterpark on the other hand ... .

Calvia's initiative is, therefore, to be applauded, even if the beaches involved are not deemed to form part of the protected coast. As such, specific intervention is required. More general intervention, on behalf of the ministry, may well be looming on the horizon.

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