Next to the Sierra de la Pila Regional Park stands the Sierra de Quibas and, between the two, a landscape mutilated by Murcian quarries. Open pit mining, through which both aggregates -construction material- and ornamental rock are extracted, leaves the postcard of a Region full of scars. Although the population of the municipalities in the area suffer the consequences, the ecosystem of the interior of Murcia is not far behind, increasingly resentful of extractive practices, which only in the municipalities of Fortuna and Abanilla already occupy 1,065 hectares. The sum of mining authorizations in both locations results in 68 licenses -permits necessary to be able to exploit a territory-, but the figure could increase, since the requests that are still on the waiting list are not included.
According to the General Directorate of Energy and Industrial and Mining Activity, there are almost as many mining companies in the area as there are authorizations, since, in some cases, a single company exploits two or more quarries. The population points to Mármoles Duaime, Colina Cimar and Mármoles Nicolás as the main companies, none of which have wanted to give statements to this newspaper. Of the three, only the last deducts tax in the Region of Murcia, so that, in most cases, the Autonomous Community only receives a small fee for the management of application files. The exception is the quarries opened on public land by the Fortuna City Council.
One of the companies that operates in the territory, specifically Mármoles Nicolás, shares a kinship with the family that lives in Casas Ríos, a 200-year-old complex that stands in the Peña Zafra territory, district of Fortuna, since before the quarries themselves . Some of the neighbors who denounce the mining exploitation were also stonemasons in their youth. The City Council of Fortuna takes advantage of these data to not act on the territory, alleging, according to the inhabitants, that “these are family disputes that should be resolved by talking to each other.”
According to the information provided by the operating entities to the Autonomous Community, in 2021 the extraction gave work to 165 people. Thus, the institutions allege an “economic benefit” as a reason to continue with the practices. Faced with this, the Association for the Custody of the Territory and Sustainable Development (ACUDE) points out that the deterioration of the natural environment caused by the quarries compromises the opportunity of another type of economy not only based on the exploitation of aggregates, such as tourism or the Agriculture.
Loss of biodiversity and heritage
The quarries cause the loss of heritage, deprive animal species of their natural habitat and ‘poison’ the crops and wild flora of the place. The neighbors denounce that in the last ten years they have witnessed an “impressive” decline of all the biodiversity of the area. The particular case of a century-old strawberry tree that the Platform of People Affected by the Mining Explotations of Peña Zafra, Balonga and Quibas – districts of Fortuna and Abanilla respectively – has chosen as a symbol of their struggle stands out.
Inma Nicolás Perea, president of the association, says that some time ago the tree began to die due to the dust that one of the companies -Colina Cimar- emits when it grinds the discarded material from the quarries. “Leaves did not sprout, since when the dust was deposited on the plant, it obstructed its stomata and it could not carry out photosynthesis,” she adds. Colina Cimar has the obligation to use palliative measures in the face of the aforementioned cloud of earth, but the president considers that these mechanisms are “clearly insufficient.” They managed to save the strawberry tree thanks to the continuous cleaning work of the volunteers.
Also with the crops of the neighbors, it is necessary to carry out the washing, but, despite the efforts of the members of the platform, much of the vegetation is deteriorated. For Juan Luis Castanedo, vice president and secretary of ACUDE, “summer is the worst time, since there is hardly any rain that can clean the land.”
Inma Nicolás conveys the feeling of loss of the population: “Before there were water springs. There was a very fresh and good fountain, but they dynamited it. It’s gone and we have no way to prove it.” Now there is only one smaller spring left, which they protect so that it does not get damaged. The aggregates plant also occupied an old livestock route that consisted of different paths to the houses. Today the road is impassable. The same goes for caves. “They made a cavity known as the Cueva de la Tosca disappear, and we know that it was not the only one,” he explains, pointing to some stalactites -conical rocks that form on the ceiling of the caves-, deposited by the stonemasons in the surroundings.
In mid-March, the Autonomous Community published an exploitation project by Hondo Minería SL that intended to open a new quarry in an area adjoining the Quibas paleontological site, in Abanilla. In the environmental impact study presented by the company, it was argued that “the quarry is projected in an environment where there are areas of extraction of materials and that, therefore, it is affected”. Given this statement, Ecologists in Action and the Platform of People Affected by Mining Exploitation have presented a joint allegation in which they assure that the selected section is a virgin area -an area that has not been previously exploited-, and in which they warn of the damages that the activity may entail. , such as the disappearance of protected fauna and flora.
He too Institute of Human Paleoecology and Social Evolution -IPHES-, the center responsible for the paleontological site excavation campaign, has presented allegations to the project. The site, classified as an Asset of Cultural Interest, is “unique in Europe for housing species of flora and fauna from millions of years ago,” explains Pedro Piñero, co-director of the excavation. Contrary to what Hondo Minería assures, the IPHES warns that the vibrations derived from a quarry would endanger the structure of the deposit, endangering both the team in charge and the visitors as well as the investigation work itself: “Any detachment that occurs it is an irreversible loss of information”.
The neighbors have also written allegations against other mining projects for being dangerously close to the urban center of the fortunera district of Peña Zafra de Abajo and in an area that the population uses to cultivate. The allegations presented are currently being studied.
“An apocalyptic landscape”
It is striking how the houses are enclosed by a fence of mining deposits, some of which remain abandoned. According to Maria Dolores Saurín, Councilor for Industry, Employment, Tourism and Commerce of Abanilla, the law states that, once the activity is finished, the area destroyed by the quarries must be rehabilitated; an action that consists of covering the hole and reforesting the land. “The sad thing is that it is not made here, because if you go up to the area you will see that an authentic Gruyere Cheese is made,” he comments, showing his disagreement with the situation and blaming it on the Autonomous Community, in which, he underlines, “ the competition lies.” For its part, the General Directorate of Energy and Industrial and Mining Activity of the Region of Murcia alleges that depending on when the exploitation of a piece of land has been authorized, it will have some obligations or others. Oblivious to reality, they explain that “in the event that an operator with conditions proceeds to abandonment without having met the necessary requirements, it will be required to do so.”
Inma Nicolás laments the “apocalyptic landscape” with which the population has to deal. The neighbors, fed up with the authorities “throwing balls without assuming responsibilities and without solving the problem”, decided to join forces on the aforementioned platform. “The one who has the house next to the abandoned quarries lives among disused machines, tires, diesel… you see the boulevards full of discarded blocks and wheels. It looks like a scene from a horror movie and nobody does anything, ”she denounces.
According to the vice president of ACUDE, there is no ecological way to carry out the extraction of minerals, but he is in favor of restoring the soil, especially when it comes to the public forest of Fortuna, where half of the quarries of the zone. For him, an operation like that should have totally different demands than those carried out in a private environment. “The City Council should properly manage this public heritage, since it does not belong to the company -Mármoles Nicolás-. The concession should be canceled if it is not mined in the right way,” he declares. Given this, the City of Fortuna has not wanted to make statements.
The ‘terror’ of the terreras
The Fortuna and Abanilla quarries are located in a semi-arid southeastern region, highly affected by desertification. The panorama worsens due to the deforestation carried out by the quarries and the abandonment of discarded material in the form of land – mountains of useless product scattered throughout the mountains. The latter, if not well fixed, can be subject to landslides; a danger for the inhabitants of the area, because they can block the roads and even reach homes or people.
When it rains torrentially, the dumps end up in the boulevards. “The water carries these solids and stones and an excess of sedimentation is produced that can cover the vegetation and the threatened species of the wild flora. In other cases, they also reach the crops,” says Castanedo. “A lot of waste, not just rock, ends up in the Rambla de Balonga, which drains into the Chícamo River, with all that this entails,” adds Inma.
Faced with an extreme situation such as the one experienced in the interior of Murcia, the Platform for People Affected by the Mining Exploitation of Peña Zafra, Balonga and Quibas collaborates with other associations that suffer the same, such as the Northwest Defense Council, the Platform for People Affected by heavy metals, Association for the Custody of the Territory and Sustainable Development and with groups defending the Mar Menor, among others. Inma Nicolás states that “the commitment of the administrations is economic benefit at the expense of the exploitation and looting of our land. Given this, we cannot sit idly by.”