Image taken last August

Hundreds of intensive pig farms in the Murcia region of south-east Spain will play a leading role in the collapse of what is one of Europe’s largest saltwater lagoons, the Mar Menor lagoon.

A four-month investigation by Spanish newspaper reporters “elDiario” e “La Mareapela”, together with the “Lighthouse Reports” – a Dutch-based non-profit news organization that leads complex transnational investigations – analyzed the role that intensive pig farming may have played in one of Spain’s worst environmental disasters in recent years. And the conclusion was that the impact of pollution caused by pig farming may have been greater than what has hitherto been publicly recognized.

The case gained public interest when residents of the Murcia region warned last August that many dead fish, molluscs and crustaceans had begun to appear on the shores of the Mar Menor lagoon.

In just a few days, the number of rotting carcasses scattered on beaches that was once a major tourist attraction rose to more than five tons. And while the Spanish press was filled with images of the lake’s murky waters and local complaints about the nauseating smell, scientists blamed decades of nitrate-laden floods that would have triggered an algae bloom that eventually depleted the water’s oxygen. , causing the fish to suffocate.

Use of fertilizers will be the main cause

This summer, as dead fish continued to arrive on the shores of the Mar Menor, the regional government banned the use of fertilizers less than 1.5 km from the lagoon, suggesting that the environmental crisis could be attributed to the vast expanse of farmland in the vicinity. of the pond. And the central government even accused the local authorities of negligence regarding the irrigation of the fields.

But none of the executives mentioned the pig farms that have multiplied in the last decade in the Mar Menor watershed, although, in 2019, a report by the Ministry of the Environment had already estimated that these sites (which then had around 800,000 animals) ), could account for 17% of the nitrogen in the Mar Menor aquifer (formation or group of geological formations that can store groundwater).

The findings of the new investigation – which in September collected drones and satellite images of the area showing swine droppings dumped nearby or stored in large holes in the ground – are consistent with that report.

In visits to 10% of the slurry pits in the Mar Menor basin, more than 90% failed to comply with regulations requiring swine waste to be stored in sealed waterproof tanks. “Major deficiencies were detected in the livestock waste storage facilities… the waterproofing is almost non-existent, allowing the waste to leak directly into the soil and resulting in the contamination of the aquifer”, consider the authors, who point the finger at the local authorities and national, for not having taken a position on the 2019 report.

The investigation considers “obvious” that the main source of pollution is intensive agriculture in the Mar Menor basin, but highlights the role of the 450 pig farms in the catchment area “that no one talks about”, said María Giménez Casalduero, a former professor at the University of Murcia and a representative of Podemos at the Regional Assembly of Murcia. “It’s like we’re giving the swine industry amnesty.”

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