The Ria Formosa burst into life on Saturday morning as a flotilla of around 200 vessels took part in a protest against the demolition of peoples’ houses on the islands.
The protest set off from Faro and passed each island affected in the current struggle which is seen locally as economic vandalism, and in Lisbon as moving the rabble out of the way, leaving only sand.
The vessels later arrived in Olhão to the delight of protestors awaiting the flotilla at the quayside at the famous twin markets.
The protest is against the destruction of houses on the islands, some of which have been lived in for generations, and against the wanton, deliberate and unchecked discharge of raw and semi-treated sewage into the Ria Formosa, a protected area and the source of much of the region’s shellfish.
Polis Litoral Ria Formosa, the organisation that is spending millions of euros knocking down houses, turns a blind eye to the deliberate pollution flowing daily into the Ria Formosa which is part of its remit but a part that has not been dealt with due to lack of will and funds.
There seems to have been no problem with funds for highly paid contractors who still appear unable to carry out the work correctly, leving behind a blend of sand, asbestos and other building materials as well as destroying habitat for the islands' chameleons.
Next Friday there will be another convoy of coaches taking the protestors to Lisbon to hear parliament again debate the Ria Formosa demolitions. Just under 500 islanders went last time and this trip may see more as the protest gathers pace and energy.
The contractors so far have knocked over and removed 200 houses of the 800 scheduled for demolition under the plan to take the islands ‘back to nature.’ The islanders say they are quite capable of respecting nature if they are left to get on with their fishing and shellfish harvesting.
Opposition parties continue to demand an ‘immediate stop the demolitions’ and the government wants to proceed with the caution and only knock down houses that are second homes and after the ‘socio-economic contexts’ of the households are investigated.
This is government nonsense as Polis continues along the same lines as before to clear the way for beach concessions and high end tourist developments, or so the islanders fear.
The opposition call for "immediate suspension" of demolitions were rejected on March 6 by the majority PSD/CDS who back the Minister of the Environment who would “rather demolish than save the Ria Formosa," according to Silvia Padinha from the Residents Association of Culatra, who added,
"What is at issue here is that the government has given priority to the demolition works and has not given due attention to the necessary and urgent works we have been asking for so many years which are approved on paper but are not being implemented; meanwhile the demolitions are continuing.”
José Lezinho, of the Residents Association of Hangares criticised the Government's actions and asked "what is the purpose of these demolitions, when there are dozens of sewage outlets opening into the estuary." "This should be the top priority of the Ministry of Environment, Polis, and the local councils."
The 'little boats' demonstration has been the most high profile so far with national coverage in the press and on television.
If the government sticks to its scorched earth policy for the Ria Formosa and refuses to concede that the right to housing, the right to work and the right to a quiet and productive life is more important than islands stripped bare of 800 dwellings, the protests will intensify.