'Unprecedented' loss of sand on Barcelona beaches after Easter storms

Spanish government considers declaring an emergency on Catalan coast to speed up recovery

Les Filipines beach in Viladecans, after the Easter storms
Les Filipines beach in Viladecans, after the Easter storms / AMB
Cillian Shields

Cillian Shields | @pile_of_eggs | Barcelona

April 3, 2024 10:42 AM

April 4, 2024 09:58 AM

Beaches near Barcelona are in a state of "maximum fragility" after storms over Easter, the Barcelona Metropolitan Area (AMB) has warned. 

On some beaches, including Montgat and Badalona to the north of the Catalan capital, and Viladecans to the south, there has been an "unprecedented" loss of sand, in some cases measuring up to 25 meters in width. 

Storm Nelson also caused landslides and damage to some equipment. 

La platja del Pont del Petroli de Badalona, després del temporal de Setmana Santa
Pont del Petroli beach in Badalona after the storms / AMB

AMB's Daniel Palacios, who oversees the metropolitan area's beaches, said that there has been an increase in south-westerly storms, which used to be less frequent on the Barcelona coast: 

"This configuration of wind and waves has a much greater impact on the beaches because their morphology is based on a maritime climate of easterly systems." 


Specialists at the AMB say that climate change is causing "abrupt oscillations" in seasonal patterns, which has implications for beach management: "Preparations for the high season overlap with the arrival of strong storms." 

The scenario is repeated at the end of the high season: "Summer stretches into autumn and maritime storms are tending to arrive more prematurely." 

Rethink use of coastal spaces

Gonzalo Simarro, a civil engineer at the Marine Sciences Institute, believes that it may be worthwhile reconsidering the long-term use of beaches and coastal spaces. 

As Barcelona's beaches are "artificial," constructed with sand brought in mainly from central Catalan coastlines, they are costly to maintain and will always continue to lose sand

"These beaches are not stable so they keep losing sand," Simarro explains to Catalan News. He points to the "huge regeneration" project that Barcelona undertook in 2010 to fill the city's beaches with sand again, and 14 years later, authorities are facing the same question again. 


"We have data because we have cameras looking at the beaches over the last 20 years so we have daily shorelines of Barcelona’s beaches and they’re getting narrower," Simarro points out. "Bogatell beach, for instance, in the last 14 years has lost 20 meters of width, on average."

The scientist believes that maintaining Catalonia's beaches as they look today "is going to be too expensive." Authorities are already considering other solutions, he says, new ways of conceptualizing how people enjoy coastal spaces. 

Some of these ideas involve platforms for people to enjoy the seaside without sand. "For instance, keep the best beaches, the easiest ones [to maintain], and others just lose them because they are too expensive," Simarro ponders. 

However, all such ideas are only drafts and not concrete plans as of yet Simarro points out.

When asked about potential future solutions, Simarro believes that "you have to think about different solutions for every different place." For some places, "you just have to forget about the beach," while others will be worth putting the effort and resources into saving. "It depends a lot, each place has to be studied differently."  

Spanish government considers declaring emergency 

The Spanish government is considering declaring an emergency on the Catalan coast to speed up recovery efforts at beaches. 

The government's delegate in Catalonia, Carlos Prieto, met sub-delegates and other officials from Barcelona, Tarragona and Girona on Tuesday evening to assess the situation caused by Storm Nelson. 

An emergency could be declared via a resolution from the Secretary of State for Ecological Transition. 

Prieto gave assurances that summer tourism "will not be harmed" by the effects of the storm.