Thu, Nov 29, 2012 - Page 9 News List

Lure of jobs and money threatens one of Spain’s last wild beaches

Valdevaqueros is a surfers’ paradise and a haven for rare wildlife, but the local council has approved a huge new tourist complex in an attempt to bring jobs to the crisis-hit area

By Martin Roberts  /  The Observer, TARIFA, Spain

Perched on the southernmost tip of Spain, Tarifa is at the strategic crossroads between Africa and Europe, where the Mediterranean Sea meets the Atlantic. Campaigners say it also has a vital role in the animal world as a crossroads for migrating species.

Salvemos Valdevaqueros (“Let’s Save Valdevaqueros”) became a trending topic on Twitter 12 hours after the Tarifa council voted for the project.

The campaign also has a Facebook page and is supported by groups including Greenpeace, the World Wide Fund for Nature and the Spanish branch of conservation network Birdlife, as well as Spain’s indignado movement, which arose last year to protest against a political system that they say denies people a voice in deciding how to face the crisis.

“It’s the environmental equivalent of putting a shopping center right in the middle of the Alhambra,” said Noelia Jurado, 38, who uses the multimedia expertise she gained while running an advertising agency in nearby Algeciras to campaign against the complex.

She added that the resort would be near the ancient Roman town of Baelo Claudia.

“They could be building on top of more Roman ruins here. Nobody knows,” she said.

Also joining the charge against the planned resort has been the Andalusian College of Geographers, which in a preliminary study charted on its Web site concluded that “free areas,” including car parks if not actual buildings, will overlap part of the Alcornocales national park.

The geographers also estimate that the site intrudes on two areas designated by the European Environmental Agency as part of its Natura 2000 network of conservation zones to protect wildlife across the EU. One of the areas in Valdevaqueros is home to the lesser mouse-eared bat and the greater horseshoe bat, both species whose survival is threatened.

Environmental group Ecologistas en Accion (“Ecologists in Action”) asked the EU in June to take legal action against the Valdevaqueros project because of the conservation risks.

“Money is once again being put before urban laws and European environmental directives,” said Raul Romeva, a member of the European Parliament who is vice president of the Greens group. “European public interest in the Natura 2000 network is neither being applied nor safeguarded.”

In Romeva’s view, the project is also at fault because the proposed site has too little water in a town that already suffers from shortages in the summer weather that scorches the southern Spanish region of Andalusia.

Lack of water led the Andalusia supreme court last month to uphold an appeal filed by Ecologistas en Accion in 2005 against plans to build a complex called Merinos Norte elsewhere in the region, which would have included golf courses, hotels and luxury homes.

Many locals are also wondering why a resort should be built 10km away, rather than on wasteland near Tarifa’s picturesque old center, with its typically Andalusian whitewashed walls and winding streets, dominated by a 10th-century Moorish castle.

“My opinion and that of catering workers is that we agree [with the complex] as long as it creates jobs in the town, which is what is needed, but we are against it being for the benefit of a few,” said Cristobal Lobato, 45, who has waited on tables at the same beachside bar in Tarifa for 30 years.

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