I visited Guardamar del Seguera in November last year and was delighted to find traditional fishermen’s houses built close to the sea with tiled balconies and coloured shutters, ‘listed‘ buildings and a historical community with a close and obvious affinity with the sea.
What a good job that I saw this proud ex-fishing community when I did because when I went back this time, just four months later it was almost unrecognisable, nearly gone, the victim of changing coastal dynamics, the battering ram of the sea and a wild Mediterranean Storm on 12th December 2016 when twenty foot high waves crashed into the decaying properties and did massive amounts of damage, washing away walls, tearing down terraces, breaking beams, trashing tiles and crushing concrete.
The Casas de Babilonia are a string of houses built in the 1930’s perilously close to the beach and the sea and over the years the advancing Mediterranean has nibbled away at the fragile infrastructure and undermined the inadequate foundations.
The owners seek State aid in dealing with the storm damage and providing protection for the future but the houses are now retrospectively declared to be illegal builds that contravene the Spanish Coastal Law (ley de costas 1988) that defines a public domain area along the coast and a further zone beyond that where special restrictions apply to private ownership.
The aim of the law is to make the whole length of the coastline accessible to the public and to defend the coast against erosion and excessive urbanisation and the Casas de Babilonia are in the front line of the debate because the front of these properties presents a barrier to public access.
Not that we noticed because there was a promenade all along the front and in front of that a wide caramel coloured sandy beach without any restrictions to the public. Call me cynical but it seems like an official ploy to deny responsibility or funding because putting things right here is going to cost a fortune and may well be completely unaffordable.
Anyway, as it happens, this may all well be academic because the December storms and the wrecking ball of the sea began a demolition process that may now be impossible to reverse and even though the owners have vowed to raise the money required for new defences it seems to me that this is hopelessly optimistic and within only a short time these ‘listed‘ buildings will surely give way to the inevitability of the awesome power of the sea.
Today, these special properties represent a breakwater against the Mediterranean, without them, the water will penetrate further inland and take away even more of the land.
These are some pictures of the storm damage…
In a way this reminded me of seaside holidays when I was a boy and we used to go to a cottage at Seaview Crescent at Walcott on Sea in Norfolk.
It was a crescent sure enough and every year that we went there were a few cottages missing as they had fallen over the cliff into the sea during the winter storms. Luckily ours, which was owned by a man called Mr Bean (he was an old man and dad used to call him Mr has-been – well, he thought it was funny) was furthest away from the cliff edge so each year before we left mum and dad could always book a week there the following year with some degree of confidence.
As King Canute demonstrated fighting the tides and the power of the sea is ultimately completely pointless…
The storm did more damage than demolish the historic houses and a walk a along the beach showed just how much sand had been gnawed away, cruelly stripped by the rip-tides and abducted out somewhere into the Mediterranean. A three foot high shelf is evidence of how far the beach has dropped and how much void there is for the sea to fill.
In just four months I could see that there is much less breakwater between the water and the sand dunes and now the sand is decorated with debris from the storm.
And Guardamar has other natural problems to deal with as well. At the back of the beach is a linear park of palms and cactus and succulents and these are withering away and dying back as they struggle to fight some sort of pest or disease which one by one is killing the trees and plants that (I am told) once provided a stunning green park for visitors to wander amongst. Such a shame. A warning of just how ‘temporary’ life can be on Planet Earth!
Not anymore however because these are all now fenced off with warning signs of Paseo Prohibito!