Another week ends with the weather foremost among current affairs in the Region of Murcia with official warnings for gale force winds in force on Friday afternoon and Saturday as another weather front sweeps across the Iberian Peninsula, bringing steady rain to the south-east on Friday afternoon and evening. By nightfall on Friday Aemet has upgraded its warning to orange alert status for Force 8 gales all along the coastline, although the outlook is for better weather to return next week!

Earlier this week the snowfalls were so heavy in northern Spain that the Military Emergencies Unit was called out to clear roads as villages were isolated in the province of León and power cuts affected residents in rural areas, but in Murcia the cold snap produced only frost in the north and one of the main topics in the news has again been the need to protect the marine environment of the Mar Menor.

Everyone agrees that this matter is one of the utmost priority in the Region of Murcia but unfortunately the regional and national governments, as well as other bodies, continue to disagree over who should do what and when. A sign of the growing frustration is that on Monday a petition containing 360,000 signatures was handed to Fernando López Miras, the president of the Murcia government, demanding solutions.

Almost simultaneously there was an example of why such frustration is felt, when it emerged that plans to begin pumping water out of the Rambla del Albujón, one of the runoff channels along which water containing harmful nutrients makes its way to the Mar Menor, have run into delays. The newly repaired pumping system and pipeline will remain inoperative until March unless an agreement is reached by the CHS water infrastructures body, the Murcia government and irrigation farmers to bring it forward, and even then it will be only a temporary measure until a de-nitrification plant is built in San Pedro del Pinatar to treat the water, a task which will take two years from the moment when (or if) it is started.

Meanwhile, the regional government reports that since the severe flooding caused by September’s “gota fría” storm the cleaning teams on the beaches and on boats in the lagoon have removed as much as 1.8 million kilos of organic waste from the water. The teams have been unusually busy for the last two months but still it is reported that work is on-going to draw up new legislation to regenerate and protect the lagoon in future.

The government also reports grounds for both optimism and pessimism regarding the recovery of the Mar Menor. The good news is that over the last week the level of chlorophyll in the water has dropped significantly, perhaps indicating that the worst of the episode in terms of this particular parameter is over (although some sources state that this is nothing more than a consequence of the drop in water temperatures over the last two weeks). In addition, salinity is gradually increasing and the level of oxygen is close to normal after the episode which resulted in tons of dead fish and crustaceans being washed up on the beaches of the lagoon in October.

But visibility in the water is as low as it has been since data were first collected following the episode of eutrophication which turned the water green in 2016, and when it improves it will be due in part to sediment settling on the seabed, where it could effectively stifle any remaining plant life.

On Thursday the Mayoress of Cartagena added her voice to those calling for a complete ban on new construction activity around the lagoon, advocating a strict ban on all building except on consolidated urban land and urging the CHS water infrastructures administration body to recover all natural water courses and floodwater channels leading to the Mar Menor, including the Ramblas of La Carrasquilla, El Beal and Ponce. It is reported in the regional Spanish media that Cartagena Town Hall is also proposing that the CHS should expropriate the Bahía Bella residential development next to the Rambla del Albujón alongside the boundary between the municipalities of Cartagena and Los Alcázares. This development contains 600 homes but is described by the Town Hall as “an illegal urbanization on unconsolidated urban land” which cannot be legalized due to its susceptibility to flooding.

In the Campo de Cartagena, meanwhile, 21 more farming concerns have been placed under investigation for illegal practices which led to an estimated 3.8 million cubic metres of contaminated water making its way into the Mar Menor, and in this contexts residents of Los Alcázares, rather than waiting for the government, have designed their own flood prevention scheme. A series of measures covering the whole of the Campo de Cartagena but especially the shore of the Mar Menor appear relatively simple on paper, but as yet this is only the outline of a possible plan: however, at least it is a call to action, and as a Ciudadanos spokesman stated in the regional parliament on Wednesday there is a danger that if nothing is done, when the next gota fría storm arrives Murcia may be armed with a host of in-depth studies, fabulous plans and panels and committees formed by “magnificent experts”, but not with any actual flood prevention measures in place.

In the light of all this, it is no surprise to learn that professionals in the Murcia tourism sector fear the effects of the deterioration in the Mar Menor, with visitors expected to seek alternative destinations in south-west Murcia, other parts of Spain and in Tunisia and Turkey. On the one hand the public health service’s water sample analyses confirm that the Mar Menor is still suitable for bathing, but in realistic terms a dip in the lagoon is a far from appetizing prospect at present (and not only on account of the onset of colder weather).

This could provide a boost to resorts on the Mediterranean coastline of Murcia such as Águilas and Mazarrón, which both have superb beaches as well as enjoying the warmest weather of mainland Spain, but of course there are also fears in the hostelry sector that the business may migrate to the neighbouring coastal provinces of Alicante and Almería.

A series of incidents this week have highlighted the fact that the flow of migrants attempting to make their way from Africa into the EU via the Spanish borders is by no means limited to the calmer sea conditions in summer and early autumn, and as the week ended it was reported that the Spanish Open Arms vessel had rescued another 73 people from the Mediterranean off the coast of Libya and was looking for a port where they can be taken shore safely. At the same time the Aita Mari is carrying 78 people rescued from the sea and another 125 are awaiting a destination on board the Ocean Viking.

Earlier in the week Spain’s armed forces were called into action to help 57 would-be migrants Africa after they were stranded on the three tiny islands known as the Chafarinas just 2 miles from the coast of Morocco – these islands were claimed by Spain in 1848, and among those stranded were 44 women of whom at least two were pregnant. In addition, the week began with 52 sub-Saharan migrants breaking into the Spanish enclave of Ceuta on the southern side of the Strait of Gibraltar on Monday morning when a kamikaze van driver succeeded in ramming his vehicle van through the frontier post of Tarajal.

The migratory flow may slow down a little when adverse weather conditions make Mediterranean crossings even riskier, but it certainly doesn’t dry up completely!

AVE high-speed rail network to reach Orihuela by the spring: services approach the Region and the AVE is on schedule to reach Murcia in 2021, but prior to that the nearest AVE station will be just a short drive from Murcia as of April or May 2020.

At the same time it has been announced that 2,400 post offices all over Spain including 37 in the Region of Murcia will be selling tickets for long-distance, medium-distance and high-speed rail services, making it possible o purchase tickets in person without travelling to the main station in the regional capital.

Rail link to Alicante airport moves a step closer: an underground station at Alicante-Elche will provide an easy connection with the city of Murcia and improve connectivity to the Alicante airport, but there is no news of whether Corvera airport will be linked to the rail network any time soon.

Ryanair forced to return 20-euro handbag surcharge: a passenger on a Madrid-Brussels flight was wrongly charged for taking her handbag as hand luggage, says a Madrid court.

British passengers make in-flight conflictive situations more common at Alicante airport than any other in Spain: 88 per cent of incidents on Alicante flights involved British nationals as 163 passengers unfortunately fuelled the reputation of British tourists in Spain for drunkenness and hooliganism.

Thousands enjoy the Mazarrón-Bolnuevo romería and traditional sardine barbecues on the beach: celebrations of the Miracle of Bolnuevo on Sardine Sunday were blessed with sunny weather!

Cartagena tourism sector shows impressive growth, Murcia lags behind: in terms of creating jobs the tourism sector in Cartagena ranks above Fuengirola and Puerto de la Cruz, while in the city of Murcia Exceltur see little sign of growth.

Shipping companies propose Cartagena-France ferry: the route would bypass possible motorway blockages in Catalunya for HGVs and cars and the port authority is also keen to explore the possibility of regular roll-on roll-off services to and from Italy.

Controversy as the Spanish government tracks the movements of 43 million mobile phone owners: a survey is being performed to study habitual and holiday journeys throughout Spain but amid concerns over data protection it is stressed that phone users are being completely guaranteed their anonymity.

Solar panels at Mazarrón desalination plant save costs, save water and protect the environment: the pioneering clean energy scheme makes irrigation water cheaper for farmers, showing that agricultural production, profit maximization and ecological cleanliness can certainly be made compatible if sufficient thought, commitment and financial investment are devoted to making it possible. Take note in the Campo de Cartagena!

Major new tuna farm planned off the north of La Manga: further environmental studies are needed on the part of the company which lost 9,000 tuna when cages broke during the September gota fría storm.

Schoolchildren in San Cayetano present Mar Menor project in public: environmental education begins at an early age in Torre Pacheco!

Killer whales seen in Cartagena thought to have moved on to the Balearics: the whales are believed to have been drawn east from Gibraltar in their hunt for tuna.

390 tons of wet wipes are removed from the Murcia sewage network every year: the costs of removing the wipes and personal hygiene items come to 600,000 euros.

Murcia asks for the barbary sheep to removed from the list of invasive species: the species has been allowed to remain in the Sierra Espuña after a decade-long debate which at one point resulted in an extermination order being decreed.

Thousands of single-use plastic cups eliminated from Murcia school lunches every day: Madres por el Clima campaigns on many environmental issues in the Region of Murcia and has persuaded a catering company to use alternative cups at 90 schools.

Courts back suspension without pay of shop assistant who neglected customers to use her mobile phone: customers left the pastry shop without being served as the woman prioritized her phone over business!

Spanish PGA Golf tournament at Hacienda del Álamo in December: the prestigious event comes to the Region of Murcia for the first time, with previous winners including Seve Ballesteros, Ignacio Garrido and José María Cañizares.

One dead and 4 seriously injured in Murcia city car crash: 5 young people from Alcantarilla where in the car when it collided with a tram cable pylon in the early hours of Sunday morning.

Massive Colombian-style marijuana plantation found in the forests of Aragón: 16,000 plants were destroyed by the police and an Albanian gang also face charges for petrol station heists.

Greyhound found near death in Murcia now happy in her foster home: greyhounds are frequently abandoned by hunters in Spain but a British rescue association  saved Matilda from certain death.

Butane gas canister price went up on Tuesday: the first increase of the year raised the maximum legal sale price to 12.74 euros although in practice the units are sold for around 16 euros in most garage forecourts.

Murcia increases workplace inspections in 2020 to clamp down on the black economy: more than 17,000 inspections are planned in Murcia next year.

Average spending on the El Gordo Christmas lottery expected to top 65 euros in Murcia: one lottery office in San Pedro del Pinatar sold the winning number in both 2017 and 2018 and expects to be busy between now and 22nd December!

Murcia roundabout named among the leading urban road accident hot spots in Spain: the Plaza de los Cubos on the A-30 between the city centre and major shopping malls climbs into the national top 15, the only surprise being that according to Línea Directa there are more accidents here than at the notoriously congested roundabout of “Plaza de los Poetas” just a short distance away!

Missing 85-year-old woman found in Mazarrón crop fields: the elderly woman suffers from dementia but was found alive and conscious in a tomato field.

Murcia near the bottom of the class in English language skills: the level of English is lower in only 2 of Spain’s 17 regions, say EF, with the blame being attributed to insufficient teacher training.

San Clemente procession in Lorca embraces the embroidery tradition of the city: the figure of the patron of Lorca will be accompanied in procession on Sunday by a guard of honour wearing embroidered capes on horseback.

Magoga restaurant in Cartagena only the second in Murcia to boast a Michelin star: Cabaña Buenavista in El Palmar already holds two Michelin stars which it maintains in the 2020 Michelin guide to Spain and Portugal.

Last week saw the publication of figures by Spain’s notaries which indicated that 28.5 per cent of all homes sold in the Costa Cálida during the first half of 2019 were purchased by non-Spaniards, and while another set of data issued this week by property registrars quoted rather different figures the importance of international investors in the Murcia and Costa Cálida property market is again underlined.

In Spain as a whole the registrars report that non-Spaniards were responsible for 12.55 per cent of all purchases between 1st July and 30th September with 14.27 per cent of those purchases being made by British buyers. The next largest proportions belonged to buyers from France, Germany and Belgium.

But in terms of the regional breakdown, the registrars report that in the third quarter 21.6 per cent of all buyers in Murcia were non-Spanish, the fourth highest proportion behind the Balearics, the Comunidad Valenciana and the Canaries (23.7 per cent). Furthermore, they note that the dependence of the regional market on foreign purchasers is increasing, with the proportion having risen steadily from only 11.4 per cent in 2012, while in the Balearic and Canary Islands it appears to be falling significantly. In the province of Alicante, meanwhile, the figure remains at over 40 per cent!

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