Friday, April 30, 2010

Saline Lagoons of Spain's Costa Blanca

We arrived in Alicante on their first really warm day of the year, and for the first time, were among many northern European English speakers enjoying the beach. We had crossed all of Spain and reached the Mediterranean Sea. Melanie Frinke-Craig, a student friend from Mammoth, showed us the sights and the best place to buy ice cream.

Not far to the south we explored the 38th parallel at Torrevieja (38°02'; 0°42'), an old town known for its salt works and singing competitions. There are two immense saline lagoons cradling the town, one green and one pink. At La Mata, the green lagoon, brine flies and bright red brine shrimp (artemia salina), eared grebes, osprey and avocets (with blue legs!) were in residence. So much like home!

Ranger Antonio Saez explained that the 2 lagoons are natural, but have been managed for salt production for centuries. A canal, controlled by the salt company, lets in the sea when the water level gets low. The pink lagoon, colored by bacteria, is hyper-saline. We were told it is the only place in the world where salt is harvested by scooping if off the lagoon bottom and drying it in huge piles on the shore. A colony of the rare Audouin Gull was using the salt works area as a nesting site.

The Mar Menor ("small sea" at 37°49') is the largest lagoon on the Spanish Mediterranean coast. Though surrounded by condos and beach development, the warm, calm waters serenely reflect the Mediterranean sun. Mud bathing is encouraged here, with a boardwalk infrastructure to get the people to the mud. How strangely enjoyable it was to coat ourselves in the smooth black stuff, hoping it would help our skin cope with salty years at Mono Lake. The Mar's buoyancy also reminded us of swims in Mono.

Spain's water issues are very similar to California's. They move water long-distance from the wetter north to serve farms and resorts in the south. A few years ago, the government decided to not transfer any more river water, but instead focus on construction of two dozen desalinization plants. The largest in Europe is under construction now at Torrevieja, but seems to be stalled. The guard at the gate of the complex just shrugged and rolled his eyes when we asked when they might finish. The usual issues of energy costs and environmental damage in the ocean are part of the problem, but Europe's economic crisis is also affecting things right now.

We have finished crossing Spain now, and tomorrow fly from Barcelona to Sicily. During our days with Javier and Virginia Grijalbo, Javi's list of bird sightings grew past 120 species. An amazing country.


  1. Hi Janet and Dave,
    So fun to read about your adventures and follow you vicariously across the 38th. It is finally a little warmer here, in the 60's today. Safe travels! Connie and Dave

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