Thousands of people gather to ’embrace’ the dying lagoon of Mar Menor in Spain

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Madrid (AFP)

Tens of thousands of people formed a human chain around the crisis-stricken Spanish lagoon of Mar Menor on Saturday in a mourning spectacle after tons of dead fish washed up on the shore, organizers said and the responsibles.

One of the largest saltwater lagoons in Europe, the Mar Menor has long attracted tourists, but is slowly dying from agricultural pollution, with millions of fish and shellfish dead in the past fifteen weeks .

Images of dead fish have traumatized this southeastern coastal region, with locals and tourists joining in the mass mourning.

Footage from the scene showed huge lines of people, many in beachwear, holding hands along the seafront on Alcazares Beach, which stretches for six kilometers and across another section of the 73 kilometers of lagoon shore.

“It was an act of mourning for the death of animals (…) we wanted people to somehow ask their forgiveness for the barbarity we inflicted on them,” he told the AFP Jesus Cutillas, one of the organizers.

“For days we have witnessed the deaths of millions and millions of fish and seeing all this unnecessary death hurts.

“The aim was to express our regret for what happened and to show our determination that this does not happen again.”

Many people wore black, others carried banners that read: SOS Mar Menor.

Organizers estimated that up to 70,000 people joined the protest.

– 15 tonnes of fish, algae –

Experts say the fish have suffocated due to a lack of oxygen caused by hundreds of tons of nitrates from fertilizers seeping into the waters, causing a phenomenon known as eutrophication that is shattering ecosystems. aquatic.

On Monday, regional officials said they removed 4.5 to 5.0 tonnes of fish, but by Saturday that figure had tripled to 15 tonnes of fish and seaweed.

“The 15 tonnes of dead fish and biomass (removed from shore) show that this is indeed an environmental disaster and an emergency. We need immediate help for the ecosystem,” tweeted Noelia Arroyo, mayor of the neighboring city of Cartagena.

Pedro Garcia, director of the regional conservation organization ANSE, said this week that environmental groups feared the death toll at sea was more than double the figure given by authorities on Monday.

“In that 15-tonne figure, there will certainly be at least two or three tonnes of dead vegetation, but we have no way of knowing for sure,” he told AFP on Saturday.

Environment Minister Teresa Ribera in the lagoon on Wednesday accused the regional government of turning a blind eye to agricultural irregularities in Campo de Cartagena, a vast area of ​​intensive agriculture that has grown tenfold in the past 40 years.

But agricultural groups insist that they scrupulously respect environmental legislation.

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