Over the last few years I have witnessed the rise in tourism to the coastline from Armação de Pêra to Portimão, writes Stafan Meigh.
Having worked in the tourism business for 25 years I can see how important this is to the local and regional economies. To have such an incredible coastline come to world attention through TV documentaries and social media is exactly what all players in this game dream of.
Unfortunately with it has come a disturbing and completely unregulated aspect of a free for all on the waters, with hundreds of companies selling coastline trips to view the beautiful caves.
Therein lies a disaster waiting to happen and I fear that it will take several tourist deaths before anything will be done about it.
These last two weeks I have taken a kayak on to the waters from Praia de Benagil and I have been left aghast at the dangers that people swimming or using small inflatables and/or rowing vessels have been exposed to. A myriad of vessels from small mortised boats to the larger cruisers and catamarans come within 6/7 meters of you, causing substantial wake which itself is also dangerous. It is sometimes difficult to know where to turn as there are boats coming at you from all directions. They do so at speed in order to complete their tour and return to base in time for the next lot of tourists.
I witnessed one of these large catamarans with probably 80+ clients onboard actually reverse into one of the caves, which can only be dangerous for others on the water as well as pose significant dangers to the passengers onboard. The sandstone caves are by virtue of their very existence fallible and must inevitably collapse at some point. A boat of that size with the amount of water disturbance, meagre height clearance and pollution must quicken the erosion with these caves.
I have little knowledge of seafaring rules but there seems to be a complete disregard for the safety of the general public. We have seen poor captaincy of boats in recent times with the tragic events of the Costa Concordia (admittedly considerably larger than those I refer to ) off the coast of italy and I have little doubt that there is flouting of rules, laws and guidelines on an industrial scale here in the Algarve.
I hope that something is in the process of being done to protect the general public. I did notice a police jetski being delivered to Benajil, which is acknowledgement of sorts to the hazards, but it really isn't tackling the issues just firefighting in the event of an incident. It would however be a great shame if changes were made and laws introduced at the expense of local residents and holiday makers.
Those like me that take a kayak out along the coastline, at a safe distance from the rocks, should still be able to enjoy the waters, so too swimmers etc. If eventually it is us that are penalised and banned at the expense of keeping the more commercial aspects rolling then its a poor world we live in. My cynicism I fear may be well placed but I will wait for next year now before seeing if indeed there are any changes to the mayhem on the southern coast.
I urge you though to look into this matter and push for more security and a better regulated service to avoid the inevitable deaths.
Action Challenge UK
On the question of the enormous ships berthing on 'secret' beaches, I often imagine what a spectacular sight it would be if the coastal tours had to be conducted in the colourfully-painted wooden-boats that are traditionally Algarvian.
They are slower, smaller and more beautiful, not to mention the potential to rescue or revive an ancient craft. These little vessels tootling around in the summer could easily become emblematic of the region.
Also why are there warning signs all over the beaches alerting us to crumbling cliffs, yet these boats zig zag in and out of caves all day long. Cliffs don't just crumble onto beaches. Tick tock tick tock...it's only a matter of when.