Saturday, November 27

Pepe ‘El Sueco’, the retired fisherman who longs for a Mar Menor full of horses

“The population of the seahorse is the reflection of the conditions of the habitat in which it lives”, assures Cristina Mena, president of Hippocampus, after the latest study carried out by the association that gives a very unfavorable result for the seahorse. sea. The Mar Menor goes in the same direction. Pepe ‘El Sueco’ is a retired fisherman who has spent his entire life in the lagoon.

The rights of the Mar Menor will be debated in Congress: “The avalanche of signatures has been crazy, it is a dream”

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José Hilario Martínez Alcaraz is 73 years old, was born in Los Nietos and is popularly known as Pepe ‘El Sueco’. The sea has hardened his hands, a reflection of the toughness of the fisherman’s trade. “He didn’t give me much time to go to school,” says José, who from the age of 12 worked permanently on a fishing boat fishing in the Mar Menor and for the last 23 years as a boatswain at the Dos Mares Yacht Club.

In Los Nietos, where ‘El Sueco’ has spent most of his life, the buildings were made of wood in the seventies and he remembers with nostalgia how wooden huts and reeds were installed on the shore of the beach where they spent the summer and neighbors of the towns of the Cartagena countryside. “Los Nietos has grown practically little throughout, it has grown a lot for the interior zone” laments Pepe ‘El Sueco’. When there was no work, he would go to the beach to enjoy a bath and the seahorses: “On Sundays that we did not go out to fish we would bathe on the beach and you would see many horses and we even caught them.”

From problem to business

But as a fisherman, the horses looked different, they were a problem. “At that time there were many horses, we took them out bundled in the nets and we got very angry because they broke the net,” recalls ‘El Sueco’ as if that was no longer the problem. They were not returned to the sea once they were taken out in the nets. Although it later changed, they went from being a problem to a business. We may be surprised by the turn that the rocking horse once took, but for vacationers who enjoyed their vacations in the Mar Menor, it was a very precious memory.

“The horses that we caught we left on the deck and they bought them from the fishmonger, it was as a souvenir,” says José. A business to which all the fishermen of the lagoon signed up, as reported in a regional newspaper in an article of November 4, 1981, its price reaching almost 5,000 pesetas and exceeding in value the famous and appreciated shrimp from the Mar Menor. A decade later, the price dropped to eight pesetas per kilo, although specimens of female horse were more appreciated.

But the horse began to face several inconveniences, Pepe ‘El Sueco’ remembers: “When they dredged the Estacio channel, to increase the volume of water inlet, the alga that looks like a hare’s ear entered and was suffocating the other alga that was where the horse and chirretes were raised, because in that seaweed the horse was caught and fed on the young of the chirretes. It was a perfect habitat because they were protected from predators, such as the seabass that there are many, that in those algae does not they entered “.

It is not just this predator that he is facing. Currently the blue crab, an invasive species, has joined the list of enemies of the seahorse. To these difficulties that the horse faces must be added the state of the lagoon that is getting worse and worse. Their habitat does not improve. A few days ago he had the opportunity to navigate the Mar Menor and was able to see the clarity of its waters, which does not mean the same as quality. One of the problems of the lagoon is the entry of nitrates discharged by agriculture.

‘The Swede’ explains that in the 70s there were two plantations a year that were rainfed: “Now there are four crops and they are irrigated and you don’t want the water to go to the water table that ends up in the Mar Menor. Anyone knows that, “says Pepe.

In this last year, of the 26 samplings that we have done with a total of 209 censuses, we have seen only one horse in the 25,000 square meters that we have sampled

Cristina Mena
President of the Hippocampus association

Cristina Mena, president of the Hippocampus association, is concerned about the situation of this curious fish after reporting the latest study carried out. “The association operates since 2007 in the Mar Menor. In this last year, of the 26 samplings that we have done with a total of 209 censuses, we have seen only one horse in the 25,000 square meters that we have sampled.” It is the same as finding a horse in more than three football fields.

“With the methodology and the design that was proposed, a census of 1,347 specimens in the entire lagoon is given, right now the population is very, very affected,” adds Cristina. In the near future, Pepe ‘El Sueco’ suspects that nothing good awaits him: “The animals are going to have it annoying.” Cristina Mena is of the same opinion: “The horse is not threatened, it is in danger of extinction, its future is very dark.” The legend says that the seahorse has only one partner during its entire life and once one of the two dies, the other does so soon after. And even if this were true, in the Mar Menor it will not be the cause of his disappearance.

Legal personality for the Mar Menor

“If those who are destroying the Mar Menor have legal personality, why not give it to the Mar Menor?” This is the question asked by Eduardo Salazar, lawyer of the Pact for the Mar Menor and member of the group promoting the popular legislative initiative (ILP), which last October obtained more than half a million signatures necessary for the proposal to be debated in the Congress of Deputies. This idea came from the professor at the University of Murcia Teresa Vicente, taking as an example countries such as Colombia, Australia or Canada that had endowed ecosystems with legal personality.

The idea materialized first, in the Los Alcázares City Council, which took it to the Murcia Regional Assembly, which not only rejected it, nor did it take it to the congress of deputies. Faced with this situation, he was not discouraged and together with a group of citizens they took up the initiative and took it to the congress. For Eduardo Salazar, “endowing the Mar Menor with legal personality is the same as endowing it with rights as opposed to the rights that all farmers also have to exploit their lands.”

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