Is Barcelona About to Lose Its Beach?

© Diriye Amey / Flickr
Photo of Tara Jessop
1 May 2018

One of the reasons Barcelona is such a coveted destination is that its main beach is so easily accessible, just a few minutes from the city centre. Yet, all that might be about to change, as it seems Barceloneta Beach may slowly be disappearing into the sea.

From warehouses to walkboards

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.

The Barceloneta is now popular with tourists | © Robert Brands / Flickr

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.

Rolling with the tide

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.

Aerial view of the beach | © Cha già José / Flickr

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.

Long-term solutions to an ever growing threat

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.

One of Barcelona’s beaches in the winter | © Edi Weissmann / Flickr

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.

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