Wednesday, September 07, 2016

The Vandals Of The Sea

There are statements which are made that come back to bite those who make them. In the case of Margarita Dahlberg, the president of the Balearic association of nautical businesses and industries, it bit rather more suddenly than is usually the case. No sooner had she declared, apropos the abundance of superyachts, that "the quality of waters, coves and anchorage in the Balearics is unbeatable" than this quality was in some way responsible for the takeover of a beach by the users of superyachts.

I make no apology for quoting her again - it merits being repeated for the right and the wrong reasons - or for looking at the superyacht issue again. Coming towards the end of what has been a weird summer for Mallorca during which regular tourists have at times appeared to have been excoriated for no better reason than being here, we now have a very different take on the saturation/sustainability theme.

An element of the regular tourist class is lambasted for essentially not having any class. Or a great deal of money, if any. This class without quality, variously characterised as drunk and/or with no interest beyond the confines of a low-grade all-inclusive, needs eradicating. Not my words; those of politicians. By eliminating inferior hotels, the class without quality will disappear. This is the logic of the argument, albeit one could challenge the logic.

The superyacht brings with it a totally different class of tourist. Loaded, it splashes out on hiring a yacht and rampages through Palma stores buying everything in sight. Joy is unconfined. This is quality tourism par excellence. More, please.

Just as the lower end of the tourist food chain does not deserve to be castigated as a whole and branded as being without quality, so the upper end does not merit being styled as being filthy rich and not giving a monkey's. But both lower and upper share something in common. Within their ranks they have some vandalistic and anti-social tendencies, but the lower end will not share with its upper counterpart the vandalism at sea: it can't afford a yacht.

The nautical industry, or more accurately nautical tourism, does a great deal of good, but it harbours within its midst those elements who show a total lack of regard for their environment: not land, except where certain beaches are concerned, but sea and what is unseen that lies on the seabed.

It would be nice to believe that recreational users of the sea - and commercial providers of recreational use - would be highly responsible. One would hope that those based here, who live here would understand the need for responsibility and what possible damage that can be caused; one hopes, though the practice might not always follow. Increasingly, there are measures to help marine conservation. The reserves are a positive development. They have assisted with bringing about a more controlled environment for diving and fishing, while the latest government legislation should with any luck deter party boats from entering reserves.

But whatever is done, there are those who thumb their noses or who are simply plain ignorant. Among them might be included pirate charter operators or those boat owners whose lack of responsibility leads to rubbish being tossed into the sea.

The reserves are important for the posidonia sea grass, but they can't all be policed effectively and nor can other waters. Posidonia is all around the Balearics. It can't all be spared the unthinking intervention of man and in particular man's anchors. It is here we come back to Margarita Dahlberg's potentially unfortunate words. One of the greatest acts of marine vandalism is that caused by anchors. They rip the sea grass away. It dies. Or if it recovers, this can take years.

The enormous sea grass meadow between Ibiza and Formentera that was discovered some ten years ago is said to be the largest "living" organism in the world. It could have been there for at least one hundred millennia. Within three years, researchers were suggesting that parts of this meadow had been reduced by almost a half. No one is currently sure of its status.

The principal culprit is the anchor. With superyachts an anchor can weigh getting up to a quarter of a ton, and then there are the chains. There are great numbers of vessels operating between Ibiza and Formentera, just as there are in other parts of the Balearics. Not all are of course superyachts, but lighter anchors can and do also cause harm.

Here's a different saturation and an aspect of quality tourism, vandalising the marine environment. The killing of sea grass is not some environmentalist's scare-mongering, and with the loss goes the posidonia's mitigating effects on CO2 and its role in protecting the coasts from erosion. This brand of quality tourism is contributing to an unseen environmental disaster. Where's sustainability when you need it?

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