Without any malintent, but with reason, the best course of action the evicted Ria Formosa inhabitants should do…is leave and take their fight for justice to Lisbon and get themselves heard at the World Oceans Summit in June 2015.
Yes, the government set a bad precedent by allowing people to build homes in Ria Formosa as a result of decades of poor coastal use planning and decisions which sadly spread across the whole of the Algarve.
Yes, Polis Litoral has mishandled the demolition of the islanders’ dwellings with a certain lack of decorum and sensitivity. But, undoubtedly, Ria Formosa is a unique and fragile ecosystem. Made up of barrier islands that both protect the tidal lagoon from Atlantic storms and feed sand to adjacent beaches to the east and west, Ria Formosa also plays a role as prime habitat for migratory birds and supports a small scale shell fish harvesting industry.
Given the situation we read about every week in the news now, all that we really want to know is: What are the long term objectives and coastal management plans for Ria Formosa?
Polis Litoral has stated that ‘environmental safety’ is the de facto reason for the ‘evict and demolish’ programme. Statements like this, however, require a series of complex metocean modeling processes as evidence (using coastal elevations, wave forecasts and potential storm surges) to evaluate what could potentially happen during a low pressure Atlantic storm system making landfall and causing widespread housing damage in Ria Formosa.
Coastal Change Hazards are a very serious threat both locally and nationally and should not be taken lightly. Polis Litoral would do well to be open and transparent in sharing this information with residents and the general public to support eviction rather than having to defend accusations of collusion with developers or pushing through construction plans for future mega resorts.
One should also question whether these islanders might at some time in the future seek property compensation for storm-related flooding or have the funds to rebuild damaged houses. Or will they bully the government into building physical protection seawalls at huge expense to the national coffers to protect their lives and real estate?
Take a walk along the Algarve coast to witness the number of abandoned and derelict building projects that have run out of cash and were part of poor planning and inadequate coastal zone regulations. The owners of all these should be forced to pull them down and reinstate the habitat; though not at the expense of EU funds.
The future and priority for Ria Formosa must simply be about preserving its Natural Park status, a wetland of worldwide beauty and a sustainable coastal tourist attraction free from any infrastructure and urbanisation.
The only way to do that is to simply keep people from living there out.
Charlie Frew – Marine Specialist