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Spain’s Doñana wetlands are drying up

Europe’s most important wetland is suffocating due to a lack of water. The last freshwater lagoon in the Spanish national park of Doñana, has dried up.

It’s located in Andalusia, in southern Spain, and is world famous for its unique landscape and biodiversity. However, out of a total of 3,000 registered lagoons, 60% have been completely lost and are now covered by terrestrial vegetation.

As a result, animals are dying because they have nowhere to drink. Carmen Díaz, a researcher at theDoñana Biological Station, has been warning of this danger for a long time.

“If this long period of drying out persists, we will gradually lose these unique species. In other words, by drying out Doñana we are impoverishing its fauna and vegetation, which, as I said, is very important”.

The wetlands are an essential stop-over for birds on their migration to northern Europe or Africa, some species of which are in danger of extinction. At the last count, there were almost 88,000 wintering birds here. However usually the average 470,000.

Carlos Dávila works for SEO Birdlife, a bird conservation group. He says when birds arrive the “first thing they find is that they have made a large part of a journey to a point that does not meet their nutritional requirements. It is not a place where they are going to find the food they were looking for.

He adds that “they will have to find a plan B. That plan B could be in areas in the Levant or in other areas of the Mediterranean, or they could go back on their journey. That above all means less chance of survival.”

In addition to the lack of rainfall, experts say that the extraction of water for agricultural and human use is a direct cause of the wetland’s poor state

In 2021 the European Commission criticised Spain for failing to protect Doñana. The drought is also having an effect on the livestock farming that takes place in the natural park.

Farmers have had to spend up to 8000 euros in one area to avoid their animals dying of starvation.

Scientists working on Doñana insist that without stopping water extraction, delaying climate change or acting to create artificial water reserves, the future will be difficult.

Javier Bustamante is the Director at the Doñana Biological Station. He warns that “The wetland may change towards a wetland different to the one we know today. It will tend to look more like a system of lagoons in North Africa, which is what we are going to tend to look like”.

Whether Doñana remains a source of life or becomes an impoverished ecosystem depends on the immediate decisions of local and national administrators. However climate change is also a big factor too, and that is largely out of the control of any one country, or one national park.

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