Taken from an article in the Guardian:
In August, scores of dead fish began washing up on the shores of the Mar Menor lagoon. Within days, the toll had climbed to more than five tonnes of rotting carcasses littering beaches. The stench was apparently unbearable.
Scientists blamed decades of nitrate-laden runoffs for triggering vast blooms of algae that had depleted the water of oxygen – essentially leaving the fish suffocating underwater
This summer, as dead fish continued to wash up on the shores of Mar Menor, the regional government banned the use of fertilisers within 1.5km of the lagoon, hinting that blame for the crisis lay solely with the wide expanse of agricultural fields that border the lagoon. The central government was more direct, accusing local officials of lax oversight when it came to irrigation in the fields.
But nobody mentioned the pig farms that have proliferated in the past decade in the Mar Menor catchment basin.
In 2019, a report by Spain’s environment ministry estimated that these pig farms – which at the time counted nearly 800,000 animals – could be responsible for 17% of nitrogen in the Mar Menor aquifer.
Drone photography and satellite imagery of the area, collected in September by reporters working on the new investigation, appeared to show pig waste spilling out of slurry ponds, dumped on nearby land or stored in large holes in the ground.
The investigation’s findings echo the environment ministry’s 2019 report. In visits to 10% of the slurry pits in the Mar Menor basin, more than 90% were found to have not met regulations that waste from pigs must be stored in enclosed waterproof ponds, the report noted.
“Major deficiencies have been detected in the facilities to store livestock waste … the waterproofing is almost non-existent, allowing waste to leak directly into the ground and resulting in the contamination of the aquifer,” it added.
The number of pigs in the region of Murcia has soared to record levels, mirroring a rise in farms and slaughterhouses across Spain. More than 56 million pigs were slaughtered across Spain last year, 3 million more than in 2019, and rocketing demand for exports has Spain poised to overtake Germany as the EU’s top pork producer this year.