It’s easy to forget that as recently as fifty years ago, Barceloneta Beach – the city’s most central beach – was nothing but a narrow strip of sand with a handful of chiringuito beach bars and warehouses. A historically working-class neighbourhood where the local fishing community lived and worked, the Barceloneta and its waterfront had been neglected by the city for many years.
However, all of that changed when Barcelona won the bid for the 1992 Olympic Games and the city got a multi-million dollar facelift and, perhaps most remarkably, acquired a brand new beach. Hundreds of tonnes of sand were imported from as far as Egypt to flesh out the now rather attractive Barceloneta Beach, which rapidly became a popular spot for locals to swim, sunbathe and relax.
Fast forward a few years, and Barceloneta Beach is a prime tourist spot lined with seafood restaurants, luxury hotels and nightclubs. The beach is as much a part of the city – and its global appeal – as the Gothic Quarter or the Passeig de Gràcia. Yet, unlike these brick and mortar constructions, Barceloneta Beach has proven a lot more difficult to maintain over the years, and these days its very existence is under threat.
It seems that Mother Nature is not intent on being kind with Barcelona’s coastline. The seasonal bad weather has led to serious damage to the beach, washing away hundreds of cubic meters of sand and causing the local authorities to import thousands of euros’ worth of sand in recent years. Both in 2008 and again in 2010, the Barcelona city council asked for assistance to undertake the considerable renovation work needed to repair the damage caused by wind and waves.
Yet, patching the holes won’t help Barcelona keep its beaches in the long run, as in 2016 a survey revealed that Barceloneta Beach alone had lost over 50% of the sand that was added in the last decade – the equivalent of five football pitches. In total, nearly a third of Barceloneta Beach has been washed away into the sea since 2010. Nearby Somorrostro Beach was reported to have lost 87% of its sand by 2016.
What’s more, the problem isn’t isolated to Barcelona, as all along the coastline in northern Catalonia, seaside towns are seeing their beaches reduced to just a few meters in width – posing a serious threat to restaurants, hotels and apartment blocks that line the beach. Local councils have appealed to the central government to take action and fund large-scale regeneration projects, with the last of this kind dating back to 2006.
With the estimated cost of replacing the sand lost to waves reaching a colossal €800,000, it’s unlikely that the situation can go on like this much longer. If the government doesn’t come up with a workable long-term solution, it may well be the case that Catalonia has to say bye-bye to some of its sandy beaches.