The use of the coastal strip for large infrastructures affects
the townships around Barcelona. In the case of Viladecans, there is the port
area and other installations. In Prat de Llobregat, there is the airport, golf
course, and Wetland Nature Reserve which have helped stop building on the coast
and the beaches are still fairly natural (although water and sand quality are
poor). The central part of the Barcelona shoreline was restored after the
Olympic Games and has helped provide open spaces and visual relief as well as
leisure facilities for city dwellers. However most of the shoreline is taken up
by general services. The port takes up much of the Southern shoreline. The
Northern shoreline is in a very poor state because that is where the river
BesÚs reaches the sea. The city plans to rehabilitate the final stretch of the
river, improving the landscape both aesthetically and ecologically.
The Sant Adriŗ de BesÚs township is one of the most blighted
coastal areas in the province. Most of the land is zoned for special
infrastructure. This dreary industrial landscape boasts a thermal power station,
an urban waste incinerator and a sewage treatment plant. Apart from blighting
the landscape and taking up a considerable amount of land, this infrastructure
also causes high air pollution levels, hardly an invitation to enjoy the
seaside. The mouth of the river BesÚs and the dumping of sewage sludge from the
treatment plant produce a giant slick of not easily biodegradable polluted water
laden with organic material, heavy metals and petroleum hydrocarbons. Despite
the agreements signed between the industry, the municipal authorities and the
former Ministry of Works as well as the use of filters and a change in fuels (to
natural gas instead of fuel oil), Sant Adriŗ is still a thorny urban problem,
even though its beaches have improved to a small extent.
In 5 of the townships, the whole of the shoreline is built up.
In Castelldefels, for example, the entire sea front is taken up by residential
use without any regulation of green areas, whether private or public. One
positive factor is that Castelldefels is still free of the kind of constructions
which transform the beach and is one of the few areas in Catalonia where sand is
deposited naturally. This is unfortunately threatened by a project to build a
port as part of the services included in the townís general urban plan.
The Badalona shoreline is heavily built up with 37% of the area
given over to industrial uses. The township has begun planning measures to make
the area attractive to tourists (remodelling of the sea front, improving access,
facilities and services, spreading sand on the beach) many of which will be
difficult to carry through since the railway line runs just a few metres away
from the beach which is difficult to improve because of regression, causing
about 80% of the sand spread to regenerate the beach to be lost during storms.
At Sant VicenÁ de Montalt, 100% of the shoreline is built up,
with ďtraditionalĒ housing next to newer residential areas. Large blocks of
flats and a few hotels are sited in the hilly area of the township with no
regard to rational urban planning, quite apart from being an eyesore. The N-11
road and railway cut the built-up part off from the coast and make access very
difficult. Roads and railway act as a barrier to beach access in all the Maresme
shore line townships and are a serious obstacle to town planning initiatives and
sea front remodelling.
Santa Susanna is an exception to the growing impact of tourism
in the county. While 100% of the townís shoreline is zoned for urban uses, a
large part has not been built on and is still used for agricultural purposes.
However, the landscape is blighted by blocks of flats in the middle of fields
and two camp sites in the area reveal a trend towards private use of the
shoreline. With 80% of the local population employed in agriculture and facing
strong pressure from land speculators it is to be hoped that the township
manages to save its coastline from the advance of bricks and mortar.
Only 7 townships have a certain amount of land left which has
not been built on. The reasons for the survival of these remnants vary: the
broken nature of the Sitges shoreline, the value of agricultural land in Calella
and Pineda de Mar; and protection of nature areas and landscapes at Sant Pol.
The coastline in the Barcelona region is built up along
practically its entire length. Except for the townships surrounding Barcelona,
the land use is basically for the infrastructure for environmental protection,
power generation and the city port. The main cause of this transformation of the
coastline is the uncontrolled growth of the tourist sector which often outstrips
the areaís ability to absorb it. In addition to the considerable burden of
satisfying highly seasonal tourism (basically during the summer) there is also
the trend towards purchasing homes in coastal townships.
Beaches: social and recreational use
Beaches in the Barcelona Area are affected by the way they are
used by one section of the population. There are few natural beaches in the area
and while there are many city beaches, these are so full of man-made elements as
to make them appear totally artificial. The indiscriminate proliferation of
buildings and infrastructure (largely due to a population shift to the coast)
has been particularly marked in flatter coastal areas, while hillier and rockier
parts of the coast have generally escaped lightly. In some townships along the
coastline the land is already either completely built up or zoned for urban use,
in the rest building speculation seems to be trying to strengthen the tourist
industry even further to the detriment of more traditional local activities.
Few townships have proved themselves capable of striking a
reasonable balance between the current pattern of development and conservation
of the landscape. One of the few exceptions is Gavŗ. Although he whole
coastline of this township is either built up or zoned for urban use, the type
of architecture permitted maintains large green spaces planted with pines. This
gives a softer look to the area. The maintenance of farmed fields between the
coastal strip and the town centre also lends balance and harmony. This sort of
town planning combined with municipal initiatives for protecting the coastal
environment sets an example of how to manage and improve tourist facilities.
The Maresme coast has undergone a radical change since the 1960ís.
Large blocks of flats have been built (right on the sea front) to provide
accommodation for summer tourists. If this were not bad enough, a significant
proportion of people in the Barcelona Area have chosen Maresme county for second
homes and, increasingly, as their main residence. Some of the problems affecting
these beaches have already been mentioned, one of the most important being the
extent to which they are being destabilised by the building of yacht marinas (a
process which dates back to the 1940s).
The beaches in the Barcelona Area represent an extremely
important leisure asset. Urban beaches are heavily visited, even if only for
comparatively short spells. Metropolitan beaches, which are now being sited
further away from urban centres, are visited throughout the summer, with the
highest demand at the weekends. In general both city and metropolitan beaches
are overcrowded. A beach may be considered overcrowded if each user has 4 square
metres or less to himself. On Barceloneta beach (which is not the most crowded)
this area shrinks to 0.6 to 0.4 square metres per person. The Castelldefels
beach suffers from the same problem, placing an insupportable burden on services
and infrastructure. The lack of adequate public transport to more distant
beaches merely compounds the problem. The result is roads choc-a-bloc with
private cars. Lack of parking places encourages motorists to park on open spaces
which tend to turn into unattractive wastelands.
The leisure needs of the population make it essential that both
bathing water and beach sand meet the minimum health requirements. Sea water is
affected by marine pollution around the large conurbations along the
Mediterranean coast. While Spainís entry into the European Union has improved
matters, things are still far from satisfactory. The pollution in the Barcelona
area is particularly significant, especially near Sant Adriŗ where the river
BesÚs reaches the sea and where sewage plants will continue to dump their
sludge until the end of 1998. In addition to the normal discharges there is also
the danger of damage to the submarine sewage outlet pipe from heavy shipping
traffic along the coast. Bogatell beach and the Poblenou coastal strip also have
their problems. To the South of the city, visitors to the Prat de Llobregat
beaches are accustomed to the stench caused by lack of proper sewage treatment
in the township. Off Maresme county beaches, one can often see a slick of
pollution with all kinds of solid and liquid waste floating just a few metres
from the surf line, carried there by onshore currents. One can only hope that
the plans for treating the townshipís waste water will be swiftly put into
practice and a stop put to dumping raw sewage at sea.
The health and aesthetic characteristics of the sand are also
worth considering. The cleaning up of the most disgusting items found on beaches
varies considerably. Some of the busiest beaches close to urban centres are well
looked after. The same cannot be said of the more isolated ones. While
considerable effort is put into keeping beaches clean, the sheer number of
people using them makes achieving a satisfactory level of cleanliness very
difficult. Obviously the health issue is much more important than the appearance
of beaches. In this respect the micro-biological quality of the sand is
Changes in coastal dynamics: ports and beach regeneration
The balance struck in coastal systems is based on the
interaction of land and sea processes. Rivers transport sediments which provide
material for beaches and the sea bed. Sea processes redistribute these sediments
and add new materials. Wave patterns play a crucial role in transport (factors
such as angle of arrival, height, etc. determine their precise action).
Sediments are transported both transversely and longitudinally, the predominant
pattern in the area being of the second type, with material being swept along
beaches in a South Westerly direction.
Infrastructure plays an important part in altering coastal
processes. Marinas split up beach morphology, both above and below the water
line, changing sediment transport systems and re-activating movement of the sea
bed because of a change in the sediment budget. This in turn increases
turbulence and material in suspension which then affects habitats. Building
fishing ports and marinas also increases deposition of the finest sediments in
partly enclosed areas. This can lead to an accumulation of organic material,
depending on the nutrient content of the sediments.
The groynes which have traditionally been used to retain beach
sand are something of an eyesore and merely pass the problem on to beaches lying
to the east. Some of these groynes have been either completely or partly removed
over the last few years, with intermittent sand replacement used instead.
The beach resort of Sitges provides a good case study of the
impact of both marina and breakwater groyne developments. The loss of sand from
the Sitges beaches had reached very serious levels by November 2001.
Beach regeneration operations have been carried out on several
beaches, including Barcelona's over the last few years, partly to remodel the
city for the Olympics in 1992. The results of beach regeneration are not ideal.
They are unsuitable for reasons of cost, geology, biology and leisure use of
beaches. While the organisation responsible for these operations estimates
annual sand loss from beaches at 10% of the amount spread, in fact the amount
retained on the beach above the waterline ranges between 0% and 15%. The cost of
replacing beach sand is much above all criteria of what is sustainable and
except in a few isolated cases, yields very disappointing results. Alternative
systems with less environmental impact have proved more effective, such as
submerged dykes (examples: the playa de Gros, San Sebastian and the playa de Las
Teresitas, Tenerife). One of the most promising and innovative measures is
instalment of drainage systems along the beach which have no impact on the
environment and are long-lasting. However, the results still remain to be seen.
Sitges Beaches Management Case Study (S.W. Barcelona)
click on beaches to view