We often say that we have to touch the ground to be realistic and to lead a life consistent with our possibilities. This expression, however, forgets that to be realistic and consistent with the environment in which we live, there is much more water than land. The so-called Planet Earth has 361 million square kilometers of sea surface, which is about 71% of the total surface of the planet. So even though humans tend to live on earth, with the exception of lucky sailors, it will be selfish on our part to think that we should only pay attention to what is happening on the continental shelf.
Over the years, however, we have gone from having an abandoned coastline, without planning and an ideal place for uncontrolled discharges and other environmental impacts, to a situation of maximum urban, port and tourist exploitation. The regulatory mechanisms that have ensured the management and protection of coastal areas have been given mainly by the Spanish State, competent on the coast of the whole State. After the Coasts Act of 1988, a good law but not complied with, the current central government pushed for a new Coasts Act in 2013 with a preamble that said phrases like this: “The coast is a sensitive and vulnerable ecosystem that needs protection, achieving it is a key objective of this reform. Therefore, the law strengthens the protection mechanisms, both in their preventive and defensive aspects”. The problem is that we have not gone from words to deeds, on the contrary, this new law has expanded the concessions to coastal facilities that were at the limit of legality and has considered exceptional places like Empúriabrava, thus allowing coastal areas such as these are not subject to the maritime-terrestrial public domain.
If there really was a will to protect the coast and the sea, there would be a waiting list for the declaration of marine protected areas. In fact the waiting list exists, but it does not move forward. In all the Spanish coast only a protected marine area exists, the one of “The Cachucho” in Cantabria, although this figure of protection exists in Spain from the year 2007 with the Law 42/2007, of 13 of December, of the Patrimony Natural and Biodiversity. Yes, from Madrid, from Tarragona or from L’Espluga de Francolí we look out to sea, but suddenly, lest we get wet.
Catalonia is also equipping itself with its instruments in order to order and protect the coastal strip. Although we have said that it is the Spanish State that legislates in this matter, Catalonia has competences in matters of planning. That is why the Government of the Generalitat has recently begun the procedures to draft the new Coastal Planning Act of Catalonia, which aims to be based on an integrated management of the Catalan coastal area with the Generalitat as the reference administration and a greater prominence of coastal municipalities. The purposes of this law, which is still in a very embryonic phase, are the sustainable development of coastal areas ensuring the conciliation between the environment and landscapes with economic, social and cultural development; to value the preservation of coastal areas to guarantee quality tourism; and prevent and / or reduce the effects of natural hazards and in particular climate change.
The management figures promoted in the proposal for a new Catalan law, the Catalan Coastal Management Plan and the Plan for the use of the coast and beaches are interesting. It will be necessary to see the distribution of competences, the responsibility on who falls, the monitoring and control, and the availability of means to develop this arrangement. Without any of this, it would probably be more convenient to stay where we are.
No doubt this will be an interesting and intense legislative process that from INSTA we are following closely, participating in the debates and participation sessions that are taking place in the territory.
Joan Pons Solé
May 26, 2015