Along Spain’s east coast, storms and rising sea levels are eating away at the coastline – but the old solutions are now out of fashion.
Barcelona rediscovered the sea. It beefed up its beachfront using thousands of tons of sand, and the area is now packed with tourists and lined with beach bars. Barcelona’s beach may be partly artificial, but it’s big business.
The way things are going, however, soon there won’t be any beach at all. Across Catalonia, rising sea levels and winter storms are eating away at the coastline.
The culprit is erosion. Of the 700,000 cubic metres of sand sent by the Spanish government to the coast of Barcelona province in 2010, 70% has since disappeared. Barcelona’s nine city beaches have been losing about 30,000 cubic metres of sand a year, according to the municipal water authority’s Patricia Giménez, who is responsible for beaches in the greater Barcelona area.
The erosion is accelerating as a result of the climate crisis. Bogatell beach, at the north end of the city, has shrunk from 36,000 cubic metres in 2010 to 15,000 cubic metres today. Overall, Catalonia’s beaches have lost 25% of their sand since 2015.
Giménez says photographic evidence suggests there were no beaches at all until the first breakwater was installed near the port in the mid-18th century, creating the beaches of Barceloneta and Sant Sebastià. Then came the 1992 Games, with the new “enhanced” beach helping transform Barcelona into a tourist capital.
The city has now established a group of experts to study the future of the beaches. Giménez says: “It’s important to bear in mind that beaches not only serve to protect the coast, but have a social value for the people of Barcelona, who use them to swim, for sport, meditation or what have you.
“The group concluded that, until we find an optimum solution, we need more sand to give us time to develop other solutions.”
The city is still waiting for the Spanish government to agree to pay for a further tranche of sand. But with the tourist season already in full swing, it’s unlikely that there will be any change before the autumn.
The Catalan government opposes dumping any more sand, which it describes as a waste of money. Mireia Boya, the regional government’s head of climate action, instead proposes measures that work with nature, such as dune recovery.
“The natural dynamic will lead to the loss of sand in many places,” says Boya. “Sea levels will rise and we will have narrower beaches. Some smaller beaches will acquire more sand and others will disappear…”