There are environmental conflicts that develop slowly and invisibly over decades and suddenly, when they reach certain thresholds, come to light. In the case of the Mar Menor (Region of Murcia, Spain), the first warning signal dates back to the early 2000s, with the invasion of jellyfish in the largest salt lagoon in Europe. Symptoms were treated, but the causes were not resolved.
The investments and transformations made in the 1970s, with the arrival of the Tajo-Segura transfer, continued the socio-economic development of the Campo de Cartagena region. For a few decades it was achieved, and agriculture and tourism flourished.
Beginning in 2016, and catastrophically in October 2019, the visible collapse of the lagoon occurred, a decade after the first warnings. The Mar Menor dumped 3 tonnes of dead fish, and 4.5 tonnes more in 2021. All of this due to changing ecological conditions, which caused oxygen levels in the water to destabilize. The lagoon had lost its resilience to extreme weather events, be it a DANA or a heat wave.
From the environmental crisis to the sustainable development of the Mar Menor
Initially, an environmental issue turned into serious, entrenched and seemingly intractable conflicts of interest. These are scaled at different levels:
The Mar Menor is currently suffering from a socio-economic and environmental crisis, in a region with a high rate of poverty and at risk of social exclusion. Solutions that seemed good and understandable a few decades ago, since people had the right to improve their standard of living and their future, do not seem so good today. After several decades, we can quantify the impact of many decisions made in the past and learn from them.
This situation is almost a carbon copy of similar situations around the world. For example, the eutrophication of the Baltic Sea and Tampa Bay in Florida. It is just as important to understand what happened as to break out of the vicious cycle of guilt. We must develop solutions that help overcome the obstacles to more sustainable development. As difficult as it may be, we are facing a unique opportunity to turn this environmental and social crisis into a sustainable development scenario for all sectors.
The search for solutions requires generating understanding across sectors, the availability of objective information and the quantification of impacts. The keys to this are: participation, mutual learning and the search for common values, to motivate and support the transition of all sectors.
Overcoming obstacles to resolve the Mar Menor conflict
Often in environmental problems, such as the case of the Mar Menor, scientific and technical knowledge is sufficient to identify solutions. However, there are social, economic, cultural and institutional barriers that hinder their implementation. It is crucial to identify what these obstacles are and how we can overcome them.
Gradually, the psychology and sociology of the environment are emerging as tools for understanding and helping to resolve environmental conflicts and to adopt solutions in a negotiated manner, at best by consensus.
Observation and analysis of the values underlying the decisions taken by the various social agents make it possible to identify what unites and separates them. The values and beliefs we have as individuals and as a group drive us to action, drive our commitment to causes.
Environmental and socio-economic development policies and decisions can benefit from it, by connecting to the values of the different social agents, who will identify in this regard, motivating and facilitating the adoption of solutions, minimizing or even solving the Conflicts.
Workshops that promote understanding
In the research carried out within the framework of the European project COASTAL to seek consensual solutions to the problem of the Mar Menor, we apply a participatory methodology. For four years, we have been organizing workshops with representatives of all sectors where we identify, on the one hand, the personal and common values of the different social groups involved, and, on the other hand, their proposed solutions.
We noted in the analysis some divergences, but many points of convergence, both in the values and in the proposed solutions. We are making progress in understanding between the groups. We identify the easiest solutions to implement because they have a common base. Those that require more negotiation. Even situations that require courageous decisions by the competent authorities in the event of disagreement. In the latter case, even if a consensus is not reached, participation can bring positions closer together and generate better understanding for better informed and transparent decision-making.
Participation, dialogue and integrated planning
In the initial workshops of the participatory process, we asked, for example, individually all the representatives of the sectors (scientists and NGOs, administrations, farmers, fishermen and salt workers, the tourism sector and the local population) what was their favorite landscape in the world has been. To this question, 85% answered in a convinced and emotional way: “The Mar Menor in my childhood and my youth”, highlighting a set of common values between sectors: the emotional landscape.
Rootedness, affective value, valorization of natural, ethnographic and architectural capital were values very common to all social groups. These values were as important as others, which emerged from different dialogue tables, related to governance, economy, education and ecological status.
The values analysis allowed us to identify spaces where we found common interests and a roadmap with 4 objectives and 14 solutions was co-designed. These also include many practical proposals. Some examples of these proposals are the creation of green corridors, the promotion of agrotourism, coastal and rural ecotourism, the training of the agricultural sector on the use of fertilizers and the transition to ecological agriculture.
We will not be able to achieve the sustainable development of the Mar Menor and the Campo de Cartagena region without an agreement between the groups concerned. Focusing on what unites us, generating knowledge and acceptance of what differentiates us, to achieve a lasting consensus. All this based on ethical behavior in the use and management of natural, cultural, social and economic capital as a common good.
Reference article: https://theconversation.com/colaboracion-y-valores-para-salvar-el-mar-menor-184860