07 September 2021

The Mar Menor: Ecocide? Does Environmental Law Exist?

By José Manuel Marraco Espinós, lawyer

The death of fish in the Mar Menor has once again put the environmental disaster that this place is suffering in the autonomous community of the Region of Murcia on the front page.

This 135 km² coastal lagoon is separated from the Mediterranean Sea by La Manga, a 24 km long bar with a variable width between 100 and 1200 meters.

It is a serious problem that has been occurring for years with previous episodes such as the one that occurred in 2016 that seriously affected the underwater prairie, and that of 2019 when, as in this year 2021, thousands of dead fish appeared in that emblematic space.

Scientists have repeatedly spoken out about the causes of this repeated environmental disaster. Recently, Juan Manuel Ruíz, from the Spanish Institute of Oceanography, asked about what was happening at the moment in the Mar Menor, stated that “there is only one thing happening to it and it is the same as always, which is experiencing a fairly severe eutrophication process, triggered by the entrance massive and almost constant nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus) in the ecosystem due to human activity ”. (The Country 25/08/21)

Now everyone is trying to find culprits, a pernicious and repeated practice in this country, when what must be located is who are responsible for having repeatedly arrived at this environmental crime, which could be described with the current language of "ecocide ”, Having acted against an ecosystem such as the Mar Menor.

As we all know, environmental law acts in various ways, and in the first place the administrative route has shown in the assumption that we are dealing with an obvious inaction. There is talk of illegal extraction of water, with their desalination plants, of polluting discharges (brines, among others), of lack of control of fertilizers in agricultural operations ... All these activities have been subjected to the mandatory prior examination and the corresponding authorization, where appropriate, or the immediate closure, would not have led to this irreversible situation in which we now find ourselves.

It is worth remembering that the Kingdom of Spain will probably end up before the Luxembourg Court for breach of its obligations with respect to Directive 91/676 / EEC, on the protection of waters against pollution produced by nitrates used in agriculture in accordance with article 258 of the treaty on the operation of the European Union.

With regard to the Autonomous Community of Murcia, the Commission (EU) understood in its reasoned opinion of 2020, that in view of the events that occurred in the months of September and December 2019 in the Mar Menor, the measures adopted were insufficient .

It is clearly seen that the events that are currently taking place are not a matter of competences, but of abandonment of functions during years in which environmental law has been ignored, as we unfortunately verify.

The increase in uncontrolled agricultural holdings, fundamentally and with the concurrence of other harmful activities for the environment, has led us to the current situation in which we find ourselves and in which it is necessary to rethink the current model of agricultural production and incidence tourism to save the protected area of ​​the Mar Menor.

These facts should lead us to reflect that problems are not solved by promulgating laws but by applying them.

Before a Juzgado de Instrucción, of those of Murcia, proceedings are currently being carried out on previous acts of pollution produced in the Mar Menor. Justice, secularly lacking in means, has difficulty with this type of process since the courts do not have the material and personal means to face what is called in colloquial language "macro causes" and with matters in which they are precise judicial experts who are conspicuous by their absence. Determining the responsibility of those responsible for these unfortunate events, over so many years of this endless nonsense, prioritizing production at all costs to the detriment of natural resources, requires a titanic judicial effort with the current means.

After many years demanding compliance with environmental law, other environmental disasters come to mind that we should remember. For example, the contamination produced by the pesticide lindane in the years 1975 to 1989 by the company "Inquinosa", in Sabiñánigo (Huesca); the dumping of the ponds near the Doñana park (Aználcollar, April 1988), of which I believe the payment of civil liability is still pending in both processes, with dizzying figures due to the numbers they have and which have been forgotten.

I also wonder, if an "accident" such as the "Prestige" (2002) occurred now, if we would have a port of refuge to face it, because I am not aware that the place for it was finally determined, as it is well known that in environmental issues some apply the Nimby principle (not in my backyard). And that we already had the history of the spills caused by other vessels such as the "Urquiola" (1976), and the "Aegean Sea" (1992), among others.

It goes without saying that other environmental threats are being produced in the Latest News in a silent way, such as the so-called "macro farms", proliferating everywhere in depopulated Spain, and that also in its day will lead us to lamentations when it comes to pollution produced by them is hopeless, and the exploiting companies have taken the surplus value and left us the crap.

A portal of hope was opened with the enactment of the Climate Change and Transition Law Energy, in May of this year 2021, (analyzed in the blog of the Advocacy on 14/05/21) which supposes a paradigm shift compared to the model that has resulted in such disastrous results for the environment as some of the aforementioned. But it seems that we have forgotten. Good proof of this has been to propose the extension of the Barcelona airport and that it does not seem in line with the legal mandate of the aforementioned law that promotes rail transport.

It will be necessary to think that another environmental model is possible for the Mar Menor, amending the mistakes made, remembering that article 45 of the Constitution that enshrines our right to the environment is still in force, and thus demand responsibility from the authors of the events that occurred, for action or omission, given that they have led us to this untenable situation and apply current legislation on environmental matters, rigorously and without delay, which, given what has been seen, has become, today, a revolutionary event.

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