21/09/2016
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Doñana National Park threatened by river dredging scheme

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Greater Flamingos are a charismatic but common species found in Donana, but there are around 4,000 others supported by the site. Photo: Bernard DUPONT (commons.wikimedia.org).
Greater Flamingos are a charismatic but common species found in Donana, but there are around 4,000 others supported by the site. Photo: Bernard DUPONT (commons.wikimedia.org).
The famous Doñana National Park World Heritage site in southern Spain could be devastated by a project to dredge the Guadalquivir River which forms one of its borders.

The park provides habitats for more than six million migratory birds each year, as well as the world’s rarest cat, Iberian Lynx, but since the beginning of the 20th century, Doñana has lost over 80 per cent of its natural marshes. Already exploited for the once-abundant water of its wetlands – notably by the presence of more than 1,000 illegal wells used by strawberry growers – this precious ecosystem is in immediate danger from plans to dredge the river, a highly destructive activity. The Spanish Government has until 1 December to cancel these plans.

The Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) is launching a campaign to motivate the Spanish government to act to avoid the embarrassment of the park becoming the first natural site listed as ‘in danger’ in any EU Member State, by cancelling the dredging project and protecting the site’s exceptional natural value.

A report – Saving Doñana: From Danger to Prosperity – produced for WWF by Dalberg Global Development Advisors, identifies looming threats from intensive agriculture, mining, and gas storage. however, the most urgent threat identified by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee is dredging of the Guadalquivir River. Spain must report to UNESCO that they will cancel the dredging project and not permit any future dredging by 1 December 2016. Dredging would worsen existing damage to the park and estuary, and consequently, its World Heritage status, the species inhabiting the national park and the wetland itself will face imminent devastation.

The Seville port authority plans to dredge the Guadalquivir to allow larger ships to navigate further down the river. It also plans to designate the area as a “strategic gas storage site”, and hopes to allow the México-Minorbis group to reopen a mine that caused one of Spain’s biggest ecological catastrophes in 1998 when five million cubic metres of toxic sludge poured into the Guadiamar river, a tributary of the Guadalquivir, narrowly avoiding the national park and costing £178 million to clean up. 

WWF is today launching a #SaveOurHeritage campaign to motivate the Spanish government to abandon dredging plans, and to protect the outstanding universal value of the site. The #SaveOurHeritage campaign follows over a million WWF campaign supporters worldwide drawing the line at the industrial destruction of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia and Virunga (Democratic Republic of Congo) natural World Heritage sites, and global action underway to achieve greater protection for Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania and the Belize Barrier Reef System.

Chris Gee, WWF-UK Senior #SaveOurHeritage Campaign Manager, said: “World Heritage sites belong to all of us. At risk is not only precious wildlife but also the livelihoods of the region’s 200,000 inhabitants in the fishing, farming, research and ecotourism industries. We need people to help us motivate the Spanish government today at wwf.org.uk/donana.”

WWF-Spain CEO Juan Carlos del Olmo said: “Doñana is at a crossroads, either the Spanish government adheres to the international commitments it has made to safeguard this vital area that provides benefits to the entire world, or it allows it to be exploited to the point of no return. The situation is already critical and now we have the embarrassing prospect of an 'in danger' listing for our most famous World Heritage site.”

“Since the beginning of the 20th century, Doñana has lost over 80 per cent of its natural marshes. In recent years, illegal and unsustainable water use have severely impacted its natural value resulting in reduced biodiversity and dried out lagoons.

“Despite Doñana’s significance and the fragile condition highlighted in the analysis, there is a proposal to dredge the Guadalquivir River. Dredging would worsen existing damage to the park and estuary, and would directly endanger the [estimated] 4,000 species in Doñana, many of which are unique to the area.”

In spite of Doñana being protected by several international agreements, including the World Heritage Convention, the Spanish government has failed to safeguard the site from harmful industrial activities that threaten its outstanding natural value. You can also help by using the Twitter/Facebook/Instagram hashtag #SaveOurHeritage and signing the petition here.
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