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NATURE

Toxic warning issues at Spain’s most instagramable turquoise lake

Experts in Spain have warned of the dangers of swimming in the “idyllic” turquoise waters of a Galician lake that has become a hit with instagramers.

Toxic warning issues at Spain’s most instagramable turquoise lake
Photo: Alexat25/Depositphotos

Instagramers have been flocking to the Monte Neme, a water-filled quarry from a disused Tungsten mine, to photograph themselves beside what appears to be crystal clear turquoise waters.

But experts have had to issue health warnings against entering the water, which have the vibrant colour because of chemical contamination.

The site, outside Bergantiños, in Galicia, a region in Spain’s northwestern corner was mined for tungsten, a chemical whichis used in the manufacture of light bulbs and for hardening steel.

According to reports, the material was mined during World War Two under order by General Francisco Franco at the behest of Hitler.

While the site has long been abandoned, it has become a recent tourist attraction popular, drawing instagramers keen to photograph its photogenic waters.

Some have even been tempted to enter the water.

 

But one recent visitor told online newspaper Publico that she came out in a rash and had itchy eyes, seconds after entering into the water for a photo shoot.

Medical authorities said prolonged exposure to the toxins in the water could cause seizures and even kidney failure.

“Brief exposure will most likely cause eye and skin irritation but a longer time in the water and digestion of the toxins could cause stomach problems, vomiting and diarrhea,” warned Manuel Ferreiro a doctor at the University hospital in nearby A Coruña.

Local lobby group Salvemos Cabana is calling on the regional government to limit access to the lake and provide warnings of the dangers.

READ ALSO: Eight of the very best Instagram accounts to follow in Spain

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NATURE

Why thousands of trees in Spain’s capital are at risk of dying

High among the treetops, the sound of a chainsaw rings out and a huge branch comes crashing down as Madrid's forestry engineers move from tree to tree, repairing the damage from the record snowfall seen in January.

Why thousands of trees in Spain's capital are at risk of dying
Photos: Gabriel Bouys/AFP

It has been over two months since Storm Filomena hit the Spanish capital, blanketing the city in the heaviest snowfall in 50 years.

But while delighted residents revelled in the winter wonderland, the weather event spelled disaster for Madrid’s 1.7 million city-owned trees, with hundreds of thousands of branches collapsing under the weight of the snow.

“Some 800,000 trees were affected in one way or another. Of that number, 120,000 won’t survive because they were totally uprooted or had to be felled,” Mr Borja Carabante, head of environmental issues at City Hall in Madrid, told Agence France-Presse.

“The damage to our green heritage has been very significant.”

Across the city, the devastation was shockingly evident, with streets and pavements blocked and the parks closed for six weeks.”Everyone was very excited, but I felt huge sadness when I saw all the fallen trees,” said Mr Pablo Fernandez Santos, a senior forestry engineer, describing it as an environmental disaster.

Worst-hit was Casa de Campo, a vast 1,500-hectare (3,800-acre) forest park west of the city, where 500,000 out of its 700,000 trees were damaged and one in five completely destroyed.

Even now, most of the park remains off-limits as the clean-up continues.

Evergreens – such as pines, holm oaks and cedars – bore the brunt, as their needles and leaves caught the snow.


By contrast, deciduous trees suffered far less, said Mr Mariano Sanchez, a tree expert from Madrid’s Botanical Gardens.

“Although the trees have adapted to cope with the wind and rain in Madrid, they weren’t ready for this snowfall. They were overloaded, the wood couldn’t support the weight and the branches broke,” he said.

Trees with very wide crowns may have supported up to “five or six tonnes” of snow, said Mr Antonio Morcillo, deputy head of green conservation at City Hall.

READ ALSO: Why everyone in Madrid is talking about its trees 

In Madrid’s historic Retiro park, 70 percent of its 17,400 trees were damaged, 1,000 of them beyond repair.

By comparison, the last major incident recorded in Madrid in 1885 was a typhoon that toppled 1,600 trees in the Retiro, Mr Sanchez said.

The Spanish government has declared the area a catastrophe zone, “which means there’s been very significant damage”, said Mr Carabante, estimating the total cost to be more than 100,000 euros (S$160,466).

But the extent of the environmental impact on Madrid’s “green lungs” remains unclear.

Trees generate huge benefits for cities such as carbon dioxide retention and pollution filtration, while also reducing the “urban heat-island” effect – increasingly important as climate change accelerates, experts said.

Mr Juan Garcia Vicente of Spanish non-governmental organisation Ecologists in Action said it is not yet clear how the damage will affect temperatures in a city with an arid climate that is getting hotter by the year.

“Not even the authorities know how much tree cover has been lost, they are looking at that now and how it could impact on the temperature,” he told AFP.

“There is a widespread belief that trees are the solution…but you must go to the root of the problem.

He continued: “We have the highest levels in Europe of nitrogen dioxide emissions and you can’t fix it by planting more trees but by improving transport.”

Over the past two months, forestry experts have been involved in an intensive triage operation, which at its peak saw 3,500 people working to clear the damage.

“We have collected nearly 21,000 tonnes of remains,” said conservation official Mr Morcillo, as workers in green-and-yellow jumpsuits cut down wreckage from a battered pine and huge piles of branches were removed to be turned into compost or used to generate electricity.

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