An unexpected paradise for wildlife emerging from a catastrophe

Storm Gloria caused widespread devastation but a surprising positive consequence for biodiversity is found in its wake

An aerial photo of the Tordera delta and lagoon (image courtesy of local council)
An aerial photo of the Tordera delta and lagoon (image courtesy of local council) / Cillian Shields & Guifré Jordan

Cillian Shields & Guifré Jordan | Barcelona

January 24, 2021 09:52 AM

Extreme rainfall and heavy winds from Storm Gloria in early 2020 caused flooding and destruction across the country. Farmland and crops were ruined, roads, bridges and infrastructure were destroyed, and in total, four people in Catalonia lost their lives. 

But a year on from this catastrophe, an unexpected consequence of the storm has seen a burgeoning habitat for flamingos, ospreys, freshwater turtles, otters, and many more species of wildlife growing out of the disaster. 

A delta at the point which the Tordera river meets the Mediterranean Sea has existed for many years, but over time and with increased human activity in the area, the delta had fallen into a deteriorated state. Its formation is a result of the river’s natural flow carrying sediment to the river mouth. 

When in January 2020 the river’s banks burst due to Storm Gloria, a huge amount of vegetation, sand, and sediment was dragged here, massively speeding up the delta-creation process. 

Flourishing biodiversity

The strong winds also helped a sandbar to form, giving the opportunity for a lagoon of fresh and saltwater to arise. “[A result of the storms] has been the formation of a lagoon with thriving biodiversity like never before, and a return to a situation that many of us had dreamed of but none of us had seen,” the mayor of Blanes, Àngel Canosa explained to Catalan News.

As a result of the lagoon formation and sediment, sand, and vegetation suddenly brought to the delta, wildlife is thriving. 

Environmental consultant Pere Alzina explained to Catalan News that the area now offers “more space, food, quietness, overall more of a habitat for many different species of birds, fish, and reptiles” that either call the Tordera Delta their home, or a fruitful stopover point on their migratory path around the world. 

Most of these sensitive species, Alzina explains, have been observed in the area before. However what’s remarkable about the last year of the delta is that the exotic birds and aquatic creatures have been spotted in larger numbers and more frequently, and the duration of stay for birds on migratory paths has increased a lot.

Conservation efforts

The local councils of Blanes and Malgrat, separated by the river Tordera, have agreed to care for this natural phenomenon, and as such have prohibited bathing in the waters here to encourage the wildlife to thrive. 

A fence has been erected to keep people out. However, recent months has proven this fence an insufficient barrier to keep curious explorers from entering and gradually harming the habitat over time. 

“In spite of all the sanctions we put, unfortunately, people will still break the law,” mayor Canosa laments. “Our obligation is to make sure the delta is respected, and if we have to fine trespassers, we will.”

However, Alzina doesn’t believe that the protections currently in place, such as legally defining the delta as a ‘protected area’, don’t go far enough, and that further, more substantial, measures need to be carried out in order to preserve this natural space for as long as possible. 

“If a space is "legally protected," but every day you've got thousands of dogs and hundreds of people inside, legally it's protected, but in reality, it's not,” Alzina dismisses. 

For his part, Canosa recognises the inadequacies. “We have to work harder at educating and raising awareness [about conservation of the delta].”

Both the environmental expert and authority figure agree; it’s clear that this positive surprise that sprung from the devastating Storm Gloria can only survive if the local community and visitors are aware that keeping this treasure is in their hands.