The fight continues to clean up the Ria Formosa lagoon, one of Portugal’s natural parks, with questions submitted in parliament by opposition MPs on protection measures for the sea cucumber.
Teresa Caeiro, Patrícia Fonseca, Ilda Araújo Novo, Hélder Amaral and Álvaro Castello-Branco questioned the Minister of the Environment and the Minister of the Sea and recommended that the list of protected species includes the sea cucumber.
The MPs also want to know what the government is doing to stop people illegally harvesting this creature and whether existing measures and actions have had any effect at all.
On 1 June 2017, MPs voted unanimously that the Government included the sea cucumber, Holothuria arguinensis, in the list of species under the regulations to limit harvesting yet little may have happened to protect the creature.
The CDS-PP recommended that the Government adopted an environmental control and management plan for the sea cucumber, a soft bodied, limbless invertebrate.
In December 2017, the danger of extinction of the sea cucumber was once again in the press after an alert was issued by researchers from the Sea Science Center at the University of the Algarve, contained in an article published in the ‘Ocean and Coastal Management Journal.’
On January 8th this week, another group of MPs questioned the Government after news reports alterted the public of the danger of the Ria Formosa seahorse population dying out.
Again, the Minister of the Environment and the Minister of National Defence were asked what enforcement actions have been carried out and how often the Maritime Police have been successful in arresting illegal seahorse fishermen.
This questioning followed an article in Correio da Manhã, "The seahorse at risk of disappearing," that stated that "what has become the largest population of seahorses of the world is almost completely decimated. By mid-2000, it was estimated that there were around two million in the Ria Formosa estuary and now, according to the latest studies, 94% of long-nosed seahorses and 73% of short-nosed seahorses have disappeared."
(See: 'Ria Formosa long-nosed seahorse population down 94%')
Regarding pollution in the Ria Formosa, from sewage treatment plant dumping and foul water pipes discharging directly into the water, the IPMA now has an obligation to propose that the Ria Formosa should be classified as at risk of dying due to lack of dissolved oxygen in the water. This would mean the total elimination of direct sewage and the removal of phosphorus and nitrogen in any water discharged by sewage plants.
The institute now has reported that oxygen levels in coastal waters are generally good, but concerningly low values have been found to exist in the Mondego estuary and in the Ria Formosa, which “may affect aquatic life and cause mortality.” This is damning and governemnt will find these findings hard to ignore.
To spur the government into action and based on the IMPA admission, on Sunday 7th January a complaint was submitted to the Ombudsman asking for the Ria Formosa to be classified as a Sensitive Zone Subject to Eutrophication.*
If this is accepted, and it should be as the scientific results are irrefutable, this would mean a legal ban on treated and untreated sewage being discharged into the Ria Formosa and, according to local activist blog Olhão Livre, the exposure of decades of lies about pollution levels from Aguas do Algarve, the Portuguese Environment Agency and Faro and Olhão councils.
Holothuria arguinensis, Sea Cucumber
* Eutrophication: excessive richness of nutrients in a lake or other body of water, frequently due to run-off from the land, which causes a dense growth of plant life.