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ENVIRONMENT

How Spain is imposing caps on visitor numbers for its top attractions

Spain has introduced limits on the number of tourists who are allowed to visit its natural attractions, including beaches, national parks and islands. Read on to find out where.

How Spain is imposing caps on visitor numbers for its top attractions
There are caps on the number of visitors who can access Mount Teide in Spain. Photo: scym / Pixabay

Increasingly, regions across Spain have introduced restrictions for some of its most popular natural attractions, in a bid to stop overcrowding and promote sustainable tourism.

In the last twenty years, tourism in national parks has grown by 77 percent, with nearly 16 million annual visitors, according to a report by the Eco-union association.

Visitor numbers were at some of their highest during the Covid-19 pandemic, when both international and local tourists preferred to travel to natural areas, away from crowds in the big cities. 

Increased tourist numbers cause a threat to natural habitats in the form of erosion, trampling of plant species, and frightening the local wildlife. 

“Natural environments have to be protected against massive tourism that can degrade them, with regulations that allow their enjoyment, but also guarantee conservation,” explained the spokesperson for Ecologists in Action, Pau Monasterio. 

Places that have a cap on visitor numbers include As Catedrais beach in Galicia, famed for its striking rock formations; Mount Teide, the highest mountain in Spain; and Doñana National Park, one of Europe’s most important wetlands. 

Which regions have introduced restrictions?

Andalusia

Doñana National Park has been restricting visitors for several years. For example, only 886 people are allowed per day on the routes from Huelva to El Acebuche and El Rocío, as well as on the route along the river to Sanlúcar de Barrameda.

Aragón

Aragón’s Ordesa y Monte Perdido National Park has had visitor caps for years and intends to keep them in place.

Asturias

In Asturias, restrictions have been placed on numbers of tourists to the Covadonga Lakes, one of the most-visited areas of the Picos de Europa National Park. During the busiest times of the year, the lakes can only be accessed by bus or licensed taxi from the town of Cangas de Onís.

Balearic Islands

Home to 50 percent of the posidonia (seagrass) meadows in Spain, limitations in the Balearic Islands have been extended to the Marítimo-Terrestre de Cabrera National Park. Those who want to access the area by boat must request special permission.

This summer, the government of the Balearic Islands also hired environmental informants to travel around the beaches, spreading advice and information about the protected natural habitats of the islands.

Basque Country

After being bombarded by Game of Thrones fans because it was the filming location for Dragonstone, the islet of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe has finally reopened to the public, but with a daily limit of 1,500 people.

Canary Islands

With almost 15 million visitors per year, Mount Teide National Park on Tenerife is one of the most popular in Spain. Restrictions have been introduced on the last stretch of path up to the peak of Teide, allowing only 200 people per day.

Limits have also been introduced in Lanzarote’s Timanfaya National Park by making visitors pay for entry, while on La Gomera, the number of vehicles allowed to access the laurel forests has been capped.

In Gran Canaria, no-entry areas have been placed on Maspalomas beach, in order to protect the natural reserve of the dunes, while on Fuerteventura only a certain number per day can visit the tiny islet of Lobos.

Castilla-La Mancha

In Cuenca, limits on the numbers visiting the Chorreras del Cabriel waterfalls have been proposed. Experts have suggested that only 400 per day be allowed to visit the Biosphere Reserve, where this summer eleven bathers had to be rescued due to accidents.

Extremadura

In Extremadura, limits have been placed on access to various natural attractions including the Castañar Cave in Cáceres and the Fuentes de León Cave in Badajoz.

Galicia

The region of Galicia has restricted access to the famous Galician beach of As Catedrais by making people reserve a free ticket online in advance.

Madrid

In the capital region, it is only permitted to swim in specific natural areas including Los Villares in the San Juan Reservoir and the beaches of Alberche and Las Presillas in Rascafría. There are also limits on the number of people who can visit the popular green pools of La Charca Verde de la Pedriza, one of the most-visited areas of the Sierra de Guadarrama National Park.

Murcia

There are restrictions in Murcia on the number of private vehicles that can pass through the regional natural parks of Calblanque, Monte de las Cenizas and Peña del Águila.

Navarra

In Navarra, access to the source of the river Urederra, in the Urbasa Natural Park has been limited to a maximum of 500 per day, while at the reservoirs of Leurza and the Orgi forest, there are restrictions on the number of cars allowed.

Valencia

Valencia has restricted the number of cars that can access the Serra d’Irta Natural Park in summer. This stretch of road is situated alongside the d’Irta Marine Reserve. In Alicante, there is a cap on the number of tourists that can visit Peñón de Ifach in Calpe, as well as the cliffs of Cabo de San Antonio, within the protected area of ​​the Montgó Natural Park.

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ENVIRONMENT

Spain grants personhood status to threatened Mar Menor lagoon

Spain has granted personhood status to Murcia's Mar Menor saltwater lagoon in order to give its threatened ecosystem better protection, the first time such a measure has been taken in Europe.

Spain grants personhood status to threatened Mar Menor lagoon

The initiative to grant the status to the Mar Menor — one of Europe’s largest saltwater lagoons — was debated in parliament after campaigners collected over 500,000 signatures backing it.

It now becomes law after Spain’s Senate, the upper house of parliament, voted in favour of the proposal, with only far-right party Vox opposing it.

This will allow the rights of the lagoon located in southeastern Spain to be defended in court, as though it were a person or business.

“The Mar Menor becomes the first European ecosystem with its own rights after the Senate approved the bill to give it a legal identity,” the president of the Senate, Ander Gil, tweeted after the vote.

The lagoon will now be legally represented by a group of caretakers made up of local officials, scientists who work in the area and local residents.

Ecologists have for years warned that the Mar Menor is slowly dying due to the runoff of fertilisers from nearby farms.

In August 2021, millions of dead fish and crustaceans began washing up on the shores of the lagoon, which experts blamed on agricultural pollution.

They argue that sealife died due to a lack of oxygen caused by hundreds of tonnes of fertiliser nitrates leaking into the waters causing a phenomenon known as eutrophication which collapses aquatic ecosystems.

Two similar catastrophic pollution events occurred in 2016 and 2019.

Ecologists in October 2021 submitted a formal complaint to the EU over what they called Spain’s “continued failure” to protect the Mar Menor, which they warned was on the brink of “ecological collapse”.

The following month the Spanish government unveiled a 382-million-euro ($377 million) plan to regenerate the lagoon.

It outlines several environmental regeneration projects to support biodiversity in and around the lagoon, including the creation of a 1.5-kilometre (one mile) buffer zone along the Mar Menor’s shores.

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