Piles of washed up rubbish have transformed Tavira’s once golden sand beach Praia Deserta into a seaside landfill, covering the shoreline with all kinds of plastic waste, glass, cans, car parts, fishing equipment and even “a packet of butter from the 1970s”. An online petition demanding action and accountability has already gathered over 1,300 signatures.
Local citizens and fishermen believe that the refuse sat at the bottom of the Gilão River for decades but was released into the ocean during the dredging works that were carried out between November 2018 and February this year. The rubbish has since been washing ashore and covering the Praia Deserta beach.
Fishing and port authority Docapesca has denied any responsibility, claiming it did everything ‘by the book’ and that all the sludge that was released into the sea near Cabanas was filtered and underwent tests to prevent any contaminated refuse from being released.
But the lack of accountability for what many are calling an “environmental disaster” is angering locals, who stress that the rubbish could not have come from anywhere else except the river.
“This is city waste. This isn’t rubbish that is being washed ashore from the sea,” local resident João Diniz told the Resident.
“We have been finding plastic waste with expiration dates that are decades old. This isn’t the kind of common waste that would be washed up from the sea; this is decades worth of rubbish that was on the riverbed and later dumped out at sea,” he added.
With the help of other local citizens and municipal waste management company Tavira Verde, Diniz says that over one tonne of waste has already been removed from the beaches.
But as he points out, “a lot more is likely to be washed up” as there are fears that many more tonnes of rubbish now lay on the oceanbed near Tavira.
Docapesca remains adamant that it did nothing wrong. In an official statement, it says that all the sludge that was released was filtered and that the waste that was detected was moved into a truck and taken to a landfill.
It also says that it conducted several water tests and that all the sediments that were released were identified as ‘Class I’ – in other words, a kind of sediment that is not contaminated and can be released freely into the sea or to feed beaches and dunes.
Docapesca also claims that an underwater film crew filmed the oceanbed where the sludge was deposited and found “no signs of any kind of pollution”.
In a written response to the Resident, Tavira council said it is “aware of the situation” although the procedure was carried out by Docapesca under the supervision of the Portuguese Environmental Agency (APA).
The council also explained that the situation is occurring on Praia Deserta and “not on Tavira Island as has been reported”, adding that the rubbish has washed up on a section of beach located to the east of Tavira’s sea barrier.
It added municipal company Tavira Verde has been carrying out clean-ups in the affected areas and will continue to do so until no rubbish is left.
“We can guarantee that all beaches in the municipality of Tavira can be used, in terms of safety and environmentally, and that all beaches will be cleaned before and during the bathing season,” said the council.
Algarve MP Cristóvão Norte (PSD) has weighed in and says he will be questioning the government about this case. Calling it an “environmental crime”, he told Correio da Manhã tabloid that the sludge that was removed from the river was deposited very close to the coast and that much of it was deemed ‘Class I’ when, in fact, it wasn’t.
“In order to be released into the sea, it should have been treated and purified, which did not happen,” he said.
The Resident contacted Docapesca for further comments but did not receive a response before going to press.
At the time of writing, a petition launched by João Diniz had already amassed over 1,300 signatures. Find it at https://peticaopublica.com – ‘Responsabilização pelos crimes ambientais em Tavira’
By MICHAEL BRUXO