CCTV cameras inside Benagil Cave? Future of famous sea cave under scrutiny

Working group’s first proposals under public consultation

The working group set up by the government to propose solutions to the overcrowding of the Benagil Cave in Lagoa has presented its first report, which is under public consultation until February 21.

Among the proposals most likely to spark debate are the creation of a CCTV system inside the cave which would be linked to the National Maritime Authority (AMN) and banning swimming inside the cave.

Benagil beach – Photo: Inês Lopes/Open Media Group

For those not up to speed about the issue, the Benagil Cave, in the Lagoa borough, has arguably become one of the Algarve’s most popular hotspots, attracting scores of visitors every year.

But the sea cave’s popularity has come with some negative consequences as the caves become significantly overcrowded with swimmers, tourist boats, paddle boards and kayaks in the summer, posing security risks and threatening the sustainability of one of the Algarve’s natural jewels.

Dozens of people queue up awaiting their turn to visit the sea cave, located just east of the beach – Photo: Michael Bruxo/Open Media

Following multiple calls for action, the government decided to create a working group to tackle the issue. Its first visible contribution to attempt to resolve the problem has now come in the form of a report, which includes a series of recommendations, some of which are described as “consensual” among the members of the group and others “non-consensual“.

Here’s a summarised list of the “consensual” measures, grouped into several caterogies:

Operation and Activity:

  • Maritime-tourism operators (MTs) are urged to collaborate with relevant authorities – the National Maritime Authority (AMN), Institute of Nature and Forest Conservation (ICNF), Algarve Tourism Region (RTA), Tourism of Portugal, Sea Science Centre of the University of Algarve (CCMAR), and others – to provide training opportunities for their guides, covering topics such as the geology of the area, the PNMRA-PV (the Natural Marine Park of the Algarve Reef – Pedra do Valado), and natural and cultural values in the region.
The safety of visitors is paramount

Safety and Monitoring:

  • Tour operators must offer customers adequate information about the activity, namely focused on individual and collective safety. Environmental awareness should be promoted using effective educational methods.
  • Guides must have first aid and basic life support training, as well as communication devices for emergencies.
  • A contingency plan must be developed for accidents or emergencies in coordination with the National Maritime Authority.
  • Benagil Cave should be integrated into the Municipal and District Emergency Plans.
  • All visitors and crew members must use personal protective equipment, such as helmets and lifejackets.
  • Access to the caves can be forbidden if any risks to the “karst landscape” are detected through the creation of a specific monitoring programme.

 

Sea cave seen from above – Photo: Inês Lopes/Open Media Group

Access and Circulation:

  • Access to the caves will be permitted to the general public and MTs depending on conditions set by competent authorities.
  • Maximum stay inside the cave is defined, varying from three minutes for boats and five minutes for visitors on stand-up paddles and other similar boards.

Usage:

  • Disembarking inside the caves or swimming inside the caves will be forbidden, as well as using “floating devices” inside the caves.
  • Visitors are discouraged from staying in potentially dangerous areas.
  • Diving is not allowed inside the caves without prior authorisation for monitoring or scientific research.

Surveillance:

  • Continuous surveillance via CCTV connected to the National Maritime Authority.
  • The creation of a specific penal framework for monitoring actions is deemed necessary, considering the guidelines developed by the working group.

Further measures were discussed by the working group which failed to be agreed upon by all members, with at least one entity “strongly disagreeing”.

Non-consensual measures include creating an electronic platform to register before visiting the caves and creating a tourist tax to be paid by all visitors, with the revenue being used to fund the cave’s management and conservation efforts. The proposal to request a special authorisation (Título de Utilização Privativa do Espaço Marítimo) to “explore the Benagil caves” also failed to please everyone.

The full report, with many other suggested measures, can be consulted on the participa.pt portal until February 21, which is accepting input from citizens until the deadline.

By MICHAEL BRUXO

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