The price of fun and games in Ibiza
If we were to play a game of associations and I gave you the word ¨Ibiza¨ it´d probably immediately lead you to thinking about words like ¨party¨ and ¨chill out¨. I´d be the same, particularly if I rewind some 30 years and bring back those raving and memorable five days we happy eighties adolescents spent in the island, celebrating the end of high school. Even without recalling the parties and the fun, I´d be hard pressed to establish an immediate link between the rustic beauty and wild party environment of this fine island with the words ¨conservation¨and ¨biodiversity¨.
But let me tell you why Ibiza is more than sand and fun.
On the 4th of December 1999, Ibiza officially joined UNESCO´s World Heritage collection, an award that recognised the importance the biodiversity and culture of the island have played in the history of the Mediterranean sea and its people. A number of Ibiza´s sites were included in the UNESCO World Heritage list like:
The acropolis of Dalt Vila (the old town of Eivissa), a treasure of all the cultures that have inhabited the island, from the very first settlers to the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans and Moors, up to the Christian conquest led by the King of Aragón in the 13th century.
The underwater posidonia meadows, source of the rich marine biodiversity of the Pitiusas Islands. Posidonia are the source of the beauty and transparency of the waters of the Pitiusan Sea and as such the great biodiversity in the waters of Ibiza and Formentera directly depend on their strength and vitality:
The Punic necropolis Puig des Molins, which contain the vestiges of the first settlements on the islands:
and Las Salinas, in the southern tip of the island, where human-induced activity has formed wetland areas of great beauty and ecological interest:
This mediterranean island paradise, however, is now paying the consequences of a massive influx of raging tourists and the rapid growth of urbanised areas over the last few decades. The rapid transition from a farming economy capable of comfortably feeding over 100,000 residents to one that relies mainly on the arrival of more than 2 million tourists annually has had a tremendous impact on the island’s environment.
This massive flow of tourists in a short period of time exceeds the capacity of the island’s environment, and has generated a huge demand for land, water and energy, while producing an increasing volume of wastes.
Water shortage and pollution
With only an average of 46 days of rain each year and the single river in Ibiza having ceased to flow long ago, the island is far from fresh water rich. Historically, residents have found various ways to compensate for the perpetual lack of water, like building houses with water catchment facilities incorporated into the ground and relying on the use of desalination plants. Water conservation has always been an integral part of their lives.
However, the escalating water demand from mass tourism in the last decades has led to depleted and polluted aquifers and to a growing dependency on desalination plants, that contaminate coastal waters and contribute strongly to Ibiza’s soaring energy demand.
Most of Ibiza’s important habitats are coastal or marine areas, threatened by mass construction and other activities connected to mass tourism. Protection programs have not succeeded in natural parks like Ses Salines Park and marine habitats of key international importance like the Posidonia meadows are currently threatened by navigation and by infrastructure projects.
Increased energy use and waste generation
Energy consumption in Ibiza has risen almost 70% over the last decade. The increased demand for transport along the 571 km 2 of the island has translated into higher fuel usage and consequent pollution of the environment. Air traffic has become a main concern and will continue to be a priority for environmentalists as the plans to enlarge the existing airport to expand its capacity are put into action.
A project to expand the facilities of the existing port in the city of Ibiza was also approved in 2009 by the Spanish government even at the serious risk of damaging the World Heritage Posidonia meadows. A UNESCO mission that assessed the potential impact of this development concluded that the scale of the project is “beyond acceptable limits” and recommended “to re-examine alternative options for port development and select those which are more rational and involving limited expansion”.
In the meantime, alternative forms of energy like solar energy remain almost untapped.
Sewage plants are also a serious problem. During the tourist season the existing facilities cannot cope with sewage discharge, which ends up being dumped into the sea.
As expected, the volume of household waste is also increasing. Selective collection and recycling currently represents a small fraction of total waste produced (some 6.6% and 5.4% in 2008). A new separation facility is expected to cut by half the amount of rubbish dumped in the landfill once it comes into operation, but further measures are required to encourage waste reduction and recycling, and to improve collection services.
The Greenheart Travel’s volunteer program
If Ibiza is in your bucket list but don´t want to be part of the crowds that contribute to the issues we have discussed above, then perhaps the Greenheart travel´s volunteer program is for you. You can visit their website to obtain more information but this unique travel group gathers dedicated activists concerned about the environmental damage heavy tourism has on the island and sends them on their way to La casita verde. Volunteers spend a minimum of two weeks in this working farm supporting Greenheart projects in ecological research, beach cleaning and environmental education programs.
The project is open from March 15 through September 15 and prices vary from $990 for two weeks to $1,930 for 6 weeks and include:
Accommodation in rustic on-site housing
3 vegetarian meals per day
Emergency medical insurance for the duration of your program
Arrival transfer service from Ibiza airport
Project supervisor and emergency staff available 24/7
Orientation pre-departure and upon arrival
Maintain and improve the farm facilities
Install alternative energy systems
Promote environmental awareness among visitors
Cook for visiting groups
Assist with Sunday community visits/meals
If the program is not for you but you still want to visit the island, please be a wise and sympathetic traveller and help us retain the cultural and environmental richness of this Mediterranean paradise.