Mallorca: paradise in peril

Is the new raft of legislation enough to protect the island's fragile eco-system?

Cala Deià

When one thinks of Mallorca, it is its unspoilt beauty that will usually first spring to mind. From the majestic mountainous Sierra that lines its rugged northern coast to its numerous swathes of gorgeous golden sands and impossibly picturesque coves, it has long been held up as an example of nature at its finest. But this beauty is undeniably coming under huge pressure from the upsurge of popularity the island has experienced in recent years.

Tourists are obviously nothing new to Mallorca, in fact the island was seen as one of the pioneers of mass tourism that began in the 1950s. And to cash in on the boom, unfettered development of some areas led to a proliferation of clusters of unsightly high-rise hotels. While the impact of these were more aesthetic than environmental, strict laws were eventually put into place to put the brakes on these coastal architectural eyesores.

The threat facing the island now is less immediately visible, but potentially much more damaging, and one that requires equally uncompromising measures. Footfall through Palma airport reached new highs in 2017, having handled a staggering 13.9 million passengers, while last year also saw 46 million overnight hotel stays on the island. The native population of barely a million practically triples in size over the peak summer season, and with it more plastic waste, more cars on the roads, and higher demand for energy, all contributing to placing the island’s environment under huge strain.

But while in the past the authorities have come under fire for environmental inaction, there have certainly been some encouraging developments. Firstly, this year saw the doubling of the tourist eco-tax – or the Tax for Sustainable Tourism – as well as extending it to cruise ship passengers. In theory, this should dampen demand while providing more funds to tackle the effects of tourism.

Sa Calobra Beach

Earlier this year, the Balearic government also put forward a manifesto to essentially ban all fossil fuel cars entering the island by 2035 (at least those driven by non-residents) while also regulating towards the subsidy of electric vehicles. Other eco-friendly transport plans include the extension of the tram service to the airport, plus several new railway links.

Most dramatically, the island’s governing council has approved the first bill aimed squarely at putting an end to the “indiscriminateuse of plastics on Mallorca. The ambitious legislation, which has been referred to the Parliament, aims to effectively ban the use of any single-use non-biodegradable plastics by 2020. It also stipulates that, while much has been invested into recycling services on the island of late, within two years all municipalities will be required to guarantee the service of recycling centre to all residents.

While all of these proposals are unquestionably laudable, they are longer-term solutions to an issue that is all too immediate. And with up to 80% of the island’s economy generated by tourism, the balance between maintaining the livelihood of its inhabitants while protecting the island’s environment is a fine one. Ultimately, the responsibility of the conservation of Mallorca has to lie with all of us. Whether we were born here, are long-term residents, or temporary visitors, we each need to examine how our lifestyle and behaviour is impacting the island.

We all play a part in safeguarding the future of its precious, and fragile, natural beauty.