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Protecting sea life

Healthy seas and coasts are essential for a country’s prosperity. Spain is committed to declaring 30 percent of its waters as marine protected areas by 2030. - Aniol Esteban, Director, Marilles Foundation, Spain.

TO DATE Spain has designated about 13 percent of its vast marine territory as protected and is heading towards its goal of 30 percent by 2030. The idea is that by declaring ecologically rich areas off-limits to fishing and other extractive activities, marine ecosystems can recover after decades of over-harvesting.

Maro-Cerro Gordo Paraje Natural
Cliffs of Maro-Cerro Gordo Natural Park (Acantilados de Maro-Cerro Gordo Paraje Natural)

Scientists advocate marine protection areas (MPAs) as one way to help conserve and build fish stocks while preserving rare habitat and marine species. When protected areas are large enough – and fully closed to fishing and other damaging activities – research has shown that they do improve fish stocks and generate sizable revenue streams for nearby communities.

In all Spain has about 300 MPAs but less than one percent of this total area is fully protected. Its newest MPA is known as the Cetacean Corridor, covering an impressive 46,000 square kilometres of the Mediterranean Sea. The corridor was created for the survival of dolphins, whales, and porpoises whose populations have declined drastically over the last few decades due to massive-scale fish trawler nets, gas fracking, marine traffic, noise pollution and collisions.

Within the Almuñécar-La Herradura municipality there are three marine conservation areas protected under Spanish and international law, although not as MPAs. Small in comparison to Spain’s largest MPAs, these three areas are critical for the conservation and regeneration of Mediterranean sea life along the Andalusian coast. According to experts at the University of Granada, protecting these areas will not only benefit fish populations and biodiversity, they add prestige to our coastline.

The largest and best known is the Cliffs of Maro-Cerro Gordo Natural Park (Acantilados de Maro-Cerro Gordo Paraje Natural).

Designated a natural park in 1989, Maro-Cerro Gordo owes its name to the two torres or towers, Cerro Gordo and Maro. Built in the 16th century, the towers were used to warn villagers of pirates and other dangers along the Granada coast.

The park itself is a narrow 12-kilometre long strip of coast from Cerro Gordo within the municipality of Almuñécar (Granada province) to Maro within the municipality of Nerja (Málaga province). Its boundary to the north is the N-340 road and, to the south, it extends one nautical mile out to sea.

With a total area of about 19 square kilometres, the park is 80 percent marine, and 20 percent terrestrial, and includes two popular beaches Cañuelo and Cantarriján.

According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries and Sustainable Development, the department responsible for the park, its steep cliffs and sheltered coves are the result of “erosion and marine regression on the last foothills of the Sierra de Almijara.” On land and sea, the park is an enclave for endangered species, such as seagrass and orange coral. Seagrass meadows can be found up to 17 metres deep in some parts. And its underwater canyons and caves provide refuge for endangered fish and other aquatic species.

Of Almunecar’s three marine areas designated for protection, only Maro-Cerro Gordo has a management plan in force to regulate access and activities such as fishing and diving. Companies offering diving or kayaking expeditions into the park require special permission to do so. Notably, jet-skis are prohibited.

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