The community of Ferragudo is in uproar over a river dredging project that threatens to cause “irreparable damage” to the village’s picturesque beaches and destroy the Arade River’s underwater archaeological heritage. It could also spell the end of plans to build the long-awaited Ferragudo Marina.
Those who are familiar with Ferragudo, a fishing village nestled on a small hill on the edge of the Arade River, know all about its picturesque charm. It is a perfect example of a traditional Algarvean village which over the years has grown popular with tourists who seek a taste of the ‘true Algarve’. Its quaint beaches attract thousands of bathers in the summer and local surfers say the waves at Praia do Molhe are “unlike any others”.
But amidst the sunny August skies, a “dark cloud” has appeared on the horizon – a river dredging project developed by the Sines and Algarve Port Administration (APS), which aims to expand the Portimão Port’s navigation channel to welcome cruise ships measuring 334 metres in length.
The dredging operation would involve removing around 4.6 million cubic metres of sand from the bottom of the river, with most of it to be disposed out at sea, while some would be used to artificially replenish Ferragudo’s Molhe and Pintadinho beaches. Residents fear this could destroy the beaches’ charm forever, while others focus on the “dubious quality” of the sand.
Meanwhile, the environmental impact study also shows that Angrinha beach, known for the stunning Forte de São João do Arade, would decrease in size as part of the works.
Concerns that undiscovered underwater archaeological treasures could be lost forever have also come to fore, while the local council has admitted the project could spell the end of plans to build a long-awaited marina in Ferragudo.
Another issue raised by locals is the potential increase in pollution that could come from the steady flow of passing cruise ships, which they say will ruin the tranquil setting the village is known for.
The outrage was made worse by the fact that the public consultation period for the project’s environmental impact study lasted “just 10 days”, coming to an end on Tuesday (August 11).
Lagoa Mayor Luís Encarnação and Ferragudo Parish Council President Luís Veríssimo both told the Resident this week that they were “not consulted” (about the project) prior to public scrutiny.
Encarnação lamented the “disrespectful way” shown towards Lagoa council, considering its opinion “was not even requested once”, except for a call from civil protection authorities requesting an assessment of the project’s safety aspects.
The mayor says the council refused to oblige and focused instead on preparing a comprehensive assessment of the project in its entirety.
“We are against this project and always will be,” the mayor told us. “It will have a negative impact on many levels and poses far too many questions.
“The amount of sand they plan to remove from the bottom of the river – around 4.6 million cubic metres – is the biggest in the last 50 years, possibly ever. They say most of the sand will be dumped in the ocean, but where and what environmental impact will this have? Will the river’s underwater archaeological heritage be protected?”
Luís Encarnação also fears the village’s “peace and quiet would be lost forever” if large cruise ships started arriving at Portimão Port.
“Ferragudo is a jewel. What makes this village so special is its traditional charm, which will be ruined be these ‘skyscrapers of the sea’,” he told us.
The local parish council president, Luís Veríssimo, used an allusion to describe the controversy: “If you lived on the ground floor with a pet giraffe, would you tear open a hole in the ceiling without consulting your neighbours?
“How can anyone expect a parish council like Ferragudo, which has limited resources, to provide a comprehensive assessment of this project in just 10 days?” he asked.
Veríssimo also slams the plans to dump the dredged sand onto Ferragudo’s beaches, as opposed to Portimão’s, and has gone as far as to say he would resign if the parish council’s opinion was not heard.
For now, he has been working alongside citizens’ group ‘Defensores de Ferragudo | Não à destruição! Sim à preservação!’ (Defenders of Ferragudo | No to destruction! Yes to conservation!).
The citizens’ group has been at the forefront of the battle against the river dredging project and has, in just one week, welcomed nearly 2,100 members.
“We are not linked to any political group. We are a group of concerned citizens who want to protect Ferragudo from the consequences of this project,” said Sérgio Magalhães, a local surfer and spokesperson for the group.
Speaking on behalf of the local surfing community, Magalhães told us the plan to artificially replenish Praia do Molhe will spell the “end of its iconic wave”.
“It will change forever,” he said, adding that local marine ecosystems would also be destroyed if the project moves forward.
Magalhães urges anyone concerned about the impact of this project to sign the petition ‘Contra o aumento da capacidade do Porto de Cruzeiros de Portimão’, which can be found at peticaopublica.com – as the Resident went to press, it had already been signed by over 1,150 people.
A paper version of the petition can also be signed at the Ferragudo campsite, parish council, Café Duplex, Café da Hortinha, Pastelaria Lanchote, Café do Mercado, Panito, Café Zona J and Gelados com História.
Meanwhile, a citizen-led protest will be held in Ferragudo at 6pm on Friday (August 21), the day the village celebrates its 500th anniversary.
Marine specialist weighs in
Marine expert Charles Frew told the Resident this week that the river dredging project could lead to the “decharacterisation” of Molhe and Pintadinho beaches as it would be “too costly for the project’s proponent to find another location to dump the dredged material.
“Therefore, the cheapest, most convenient and closest option is to widen the beaches of Molhe and Pintadinho, under the guise of nourishment – even though it is not needed and against the wishes of the residents and local councils – and stop a marina from being built in the village.”
Said Frew, “people quickly forget how idyllic and picturesque the beaches of Praia da Rocha, Albufeira, Alvor and Dona Ana all once looked.
“Now these very beaches are characterless expanses of hot fragmented shells, void of any marine life and widened purely to accommodate more tourists. All this comes at a financial and environmental cost, with zero objections. Let’s not add two more beaches to the list,” he concluded.
By MICHAEL BRUXO