Pedro García (Isla Plana, Cartagena, 1966) has been protecting the nature of the Murcia Region since 1984. Preaching in the desert. Director of the Association of Southeast Naturalists (ANSE), García, together with a very committed group of Murcian ecologists, have allowed natural spaces in the Region such as the Calblanque Natural Park, Marina de Cope or the Salinas de San Pedro del Pinatar. He filed his first complaint about the breach of the European Union’s nitrates directive in the Mar Menor 20 years ago and points out that now “we are worse off than then.”
VIDEO: The keys to understanding why the Mar Menor is in danger
The Murcian ecologist has gone eight consecutive days to different beaches of the salty lagoon to collect dead fish and crustaceans from its shores and thus “document” the anoxia – lack of oxygen in the water – of the lagoon, denied at first by the regional government. He has succeeded: the news has spread from Canada to Israel, passing through France or Germany. ANSE believes that twice as many marine species have died these days of the 4.5 tons recognized by the regional government.
What do you think of the attitude of the Government of the Region of Murcia during this environmental crisis in the Mar Menor in which you have basically blamed the national government for everything that happened?
We can use many terms, irresponsible to say the least. The regional government follows the 2019 line, nothing has been advanced. The worst thing is that change and recovery are more difficult because the dismantling of environmental policies, equipment and infrastructures is increasing. The regional government has shown that it does not care about the environment for many years, but the worst thing is that last week it showed that there is no solution, because it again deceived everyone in a very crude way the first day saying that it was a consequence. of the increase in temperature. He has given an impressive bump that has ended up dragging the researchers who advised him and has left the world of science in a horrible place.
I have seen people cry on the beaches and also children catch shrimp and crabs with a cube and put them in the water to see if they could live. Things that are going to remain etched in the retina of many people for many years.
When he has been in a situation of decomposition, he has come up with the same old story: the fault lies with the State. He has tried to hide how the negligence of all these years has been able and has even threatened to denounce the Minister for the Ecological Transition, Teresa Ribera. It is an absolutely crazy situation; it is difficult to get worse.
Precisely during the pandemic, the regional government has been deactivating various environmental regulations in the Region.
Various organizations, such as ANSE or Ecologistas en Acción have made a joint complaint about this: taking advantage of the COVID-19 excuse, the regional government has relaxed some environmental regulations supposedly to favor economic recovery.
They say that the peoples have the rulers they deserve and if the Region of Murcia never ends waking up from this nightmare, which is already evident to many, the day will come that some future generation will throw it in our face because as long as it continues to govern us this people who tease us one day and another will also turn out that we deserve it. We are left with the option of asking the State and the European Union for help. At that level things are changing a little, but everything is going very slowly.
What impression did you get from the meeting held by various environmental groups with Minister Teresa Ribera last Thursday in the Mar Menor? Do you think there will be a solution to the environmental disaster?
We have recognized that it had never happened in the Region that a person responsible for the Environment had visited a space as affected by problems as the Mar Menor twice in such a short time. Also, between the first visit in 2019 and now, the Administration has recognized and documented something that had always been denied and that is the existence of 8,500 hectares of illegal irrigation in Campo de Cartagena. That is a historic change.
From our point of view, the ministry needs to take the reins of coordinating other solutions that it had left in the hands of the regional administration. We have not asked for a coordination commission between the two administrations because we do not trust López Miras’ commitments, but rather that it depends on the ministry. In all these days, just as the minister came, called and consulted us continuously, we have not had any communication from the Autonomous Community.
How did the complaint that later became the ‘Topillo case’ and that investigates the causes of the environmental degradation of the lagoon originate?
In 2017 we presented a report with WWF on the illegal irrigation of Campo de Cartagena because they told us there was none. We made a report with cartography and data from the Segura Hydrographic Confederation (CHS) and found that in Campo de Cartagena between 10 and 12 thousand hectares had been cultivated outside the authorized areas. They kept telling us that it was not true, so we sent it to the Prosecutor’s Office and, in this way, the ‘Topillo case’ was reinforced.
You have to have very little shame and be very cynical to do what they are doing. If the regional government had more powers, it would lead them to utter ruin, as has happened to much of the region’s environment.
Now a minister orders an audit to be carried out in Campo de Cartagena and the CHS says in 2020 that there are 8,500 hectares of illegal irrigation and informs the Community that they have already closed the procedure of 1,700 hectares, so they can begin to dismantle them. The Autonomous Community now says it has ordered the dismantling of 700 hectares. All the governments that have passed through the Community have ensured that there was no illegal irrigation and that they did not contaminate the Campo de Cartagena or the Mar Menor. If it had been otherwise, we would not have reached this situation.
In fact, you have also recently filed a complaint with the Prosecutor’s Office to investigate whether the Regional Minister of Water, Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries and Environment, Antonio Luengo, has favored an agricultural company owned by a relative.
The Prosecutor’s Office admitted it for processing some time ago. In the coming weeks and months we will be able to report other things. It should also be remembered that the counselor Luengo and the former counselor of the Treasury, Javier Celdrán, are being investigated for an alleged crime of prevarication by a ban order. The environmental legacy that successive governments have left us is appalling.
If you denounced the situation of the Mar Menor 20 years ago in the European Union and have come to see this tragedy in recent days, how do you feel?
I reserve the feelings that I have had these days on the beach, but I imagine they will be similar to what some researchers from some universities or centers in the Region of Murcia have had, who have also been crying out in the desert for many years. It is a feeling of very tiredness, but also of a lot of indignation and anger. And I am eager for responsibilities to be assumed and for this to be uncovered in a definitive way.
In this crisis I have found a level of indignation that I have never seen in any environmental issue in the Region. I have seen people cry on the beaches and also children catch shrimp and crabs with a cube and put them in the water to see if they could live. Things that are going to remain etched in the retina of many people for many years. On the other hand, I have never seen a media display like this one. During the 2019 anoxia there was some repercussion, but we have had several incredible days: the news has been published in Canada, Israel, the United States, Great Britain, Germany, Switzerland, France, Italy, Poland and many national media have also come. There are supermarket chains that work on environmental sustainability that have contacted the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and we know that they are very concerned about what is happening. The problem of the Mar Menor is having an international projection that the regional government is not able to measure.
How do you see the proposal of the President of the Region, Fernando López Miras, for the State to also give it the powers of coasts and basins to solve the environmental crisis of the Mar Menor?
Cede any environmental competence of the State to López Miras and his government would be suicide for the management of that heritage. As precedents, it must be remembered that PP governments unprotected 2,000 hectares of Marina de Cope to urbanize them and we were able to stop it because it was the responsibility of the State, just as when former President Ramón Luis Valcárcel illegally approved the restart of the Puerto Mayor works, among others many examples that I could put.
All they do is a tricky and poisoned flight forward. They intend to give the sensation to public opinion that they still believe that the State does not act and if the Autonomous Community had the powers, it would act. Well no, the Autonomous Community has shown that if it had the powers it would destroy everything completely. And that they also do not give up the management of the money that the European Union gives to the Community. This is an environmental disaster of impressive proportions. You have to have very little shame and be very cynical to do what they are doing. If the regional government had more powers, it would lead them to utter ruin, as has happened to much of the region’s environment.
The official figures speak of three tons of dead fish and crustaceans in the previous Mar Menor anoxia and 4.5 tons in this second. Do you think the figures are higher?
From 2019 we will never be able to have the real data, but in 2021 we could get closer because there was a control center counting the fish at the beginning of La Manga and we have data. We hope that the Autonomous Community ends up recognizing that the real figure is around double that amount, leaving aside the fish that died on the bottom and cannot be counted because they decomposed.