Cota Doñana is a Spanish border wetland that stands out as one of the most important World Heritage Sites in Europe, with 4 Natura 2000 sites within its boundaries. 6 million birds migrate through the area, situated strategically at the mouth of the Guadalquivir River, on Spain’s small Atlantic coast. WWF owned 6,794 hectares of Doñana before handing much of the land to the Spanish National Research Council. Now they are revealing multiple threats to the ecosystems, mirroring other major problems that affect water and drainage in Asia, California and Africa.
Now the massive use of the marshes as a great ecosystem of services to both humans and wildlife is under threat. Ricefields and fish and prawn nurseries fit neatly into the natural systems of the wetland, leaving agriculture quite dominant in some areas. But dredging affects many delicate river species and damages both fishermen’s livelihood and the natural balance. More impacts from toxic mine waste pollution and water extraction from illegal wells have reduced both quality and quantity of the large underground aquifer on which Doñana relies.
Protecting such habitats as these requires action from the Spanish government, but politicians are susceptible to big money influences. Illegal farming of a highly intensive variety has abused the Spanish system of water extraction as well as using the land illegally. If you obey the laws, you lose money of course, and so licensed farms have been liable to go out of business. 3000 hectares of illegal strawberry and other farms need to be closed down to avoid these problems. Gas extraction proposals will also create inevitable confrontations. In addition, Seville is upstream from the marshes and wants to enlarge the river for larger vessels to reach its port. The fact is that you can’t have 2 opposing interests here. Either the lovely ancient city of Seville settles for ports nearer the coast or we lose the ecosystem. Just as many Chinese rivers have proved, enlarging and damming has blocked their natural systems of drainage.
Inadequate management has haunted Doñana for more than 20 years, €380m worth of waste needing treatment from a single event at the AznalcÃƒ ³llar-Los Frailes mine in 1996. While the government seems to have no social conscience, the conservation of 309 endangered Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus), many herons, several species of amphibian and insect and untold stretches of habitat actually has priority. Elsewhere we have lost numberless places for wildlife, but the few that remain need help via this World Wide Fund For Nature publication from Dalberg last year, and the varied
stakeholders that they appeal to. June 2017 looms as a date for proscribing Cota Doñana as a failed World Heritage Site.