As beaches fill up for summer, Gibraltar’s ‘embarrassing’ sewage problem still remains murky territory

“It’s embarrassing in this day and age that we are still pumping our raw sewage into the Mediterranean,” insists Gibraltar Social Democrats (GSD) MP Trevor Hammond

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COASTAL VIEWS: Sandy Bay

THE wind fans the waves relentlessly, whipping them up into a frenzy as I peer out over Sandy Bay’s golden crescent beach, with Africa in the hazy distance.

As the tide slowly retreats, a small pile of muck and grime and obligatory litter is left in their wake on the shoreline. And it sometimes smells, according to locals.

This is one of the most popular sunbathing spots on the Rock, as well as home to the residents of Both Worlds apartment complex fronting the bay.

It is also home to wildlife including birds, skinks, scorpions and, of course, the famous monkeys.

Just a five-minute drive around the headland at Europa Point, I stood in disbelief watching literally tonnes of raw sewage being pumped into the same body of water.

SEWAGE: Pumped into the ocean
SEWAGE: Pumped into the ocean

Sickly brown and fanning out towards the other legendary Pillar of Hercules across the Straits, it is very much a stain on the dark underbelly of the Rock.

For a nation that prides itself on its economic indices, not to mention its green credentials, this comes as quite a conundrum.

“It’s embarrassing in this day and age that we are still pumping our raw sewage into the Mediterranean,” insists Gibraltar Social Democrats (GSD) MP Trevor Hammond.

The opposition environment chief rolls his eyes about the issue, that quite frankly stinks.

“Gibraltar has never had a sewage treatment plant,” he explains as we peer down at the murky deluge, which is surrounded by shoals of feeding fish.

“There was no real obligation to have one in the past without EU regulations. But now we have arrived at a point where it’s inexcusable not to have one.”

And worst of all, it’s not just organic waste that is being ejected from the bowels of the Rock. Add vast quantities of non-biodegradable matter – wet wipes and the chemicals used to clean our houses like ammonia and bleach which also get flushed through the system – and you’ve got a truly foul brew sullying the water.

I see bits of white matter floating further away from the brown sludge – the detritus that doesn’t
degrade and poses a threat to marine life or gets washed up on the nearby beaches.

Hammond continues that the fish are feeding on this yucky cocktail, which will end up passing toxins through the food chain. And he explains that on a windy day like this, the waste is dispersed quicker and is far less visible, so I can only imagine what it’s like in calmer conditions.

“I’ve seen it spread out in a slick trail far out to sea when the waves aren’t so strong, so

UNIMPRESSED: Hammond
UNIMPRESSED: Hammond

it’s not inconceivable to think that it is travelling to nearby beaches like Sandy Bay,” continues
Hammond.

Sandy Bay looks idyllic, with flocks of gulls bobbing about on the cobalt waves. It’s a peaceful spot with wonderful views.

So it makes me wonder why Both Worlds residents aren’t kicking up a stink about the scummy situation just around the corner from their waterfront.

“People certainly need to be made more aware of it”, says Hammond, who has vented his frustrations on several occasions about the delay to the current government’s 2011 manifesto promise to build a treatment plant.

“They haven’t even awarded a contract yet,” he says angrily. “We could forgive them for the delay if there was more transparency about why it has taken so long,’ he says.

It’s all murky waters, in his opinion. And he is concerned that locals are too worried about parking their cars than pollution like this.

SITE: For the proposed plant
SITE: For the proposed plant

One thing for certain, Hammond isn’t the only one nosing out the putrid problem, and Gibraltar isn’t the only offender, to be fair.

Gibraltar’s Environmental Safety Group (ESG) has made a planned treatment plant one of its core objectives, but claims that the sewage generally discharges in ‘deep and fast moving currents’ so the Rock’s coastal waters are not affected.

A spokesman added that water quality around beaches is regularly monitored and that safety is paramount.

Perhaps, somewhat oddly, the group seemed keener to deflect attention onto sewage contamination from Spain, via a pipe in La Linea off Western Beach, which is, of course, also of concern, particularly with summer about to kick in.

And then comes the muck-slinging, with the government, when approached by the Olive Press, criticising the GSD’s own poor record on sewage, having done nothing to solve the problem in 16 years of power.

It insists it is still committed to building a sewage treatment works just above the current outflow, although looking at evidence this week, not much is happening.

“We are not in a position to comment further,” added a spokesman.

But ultimately pointing fingers resolves nothing – it’s up to those in charge to make sure that the project is not placed on the back shelf after the UK leaves the EU, says Hammond.

But seeing – and smelling – is believing and the GSD vows to continue to raise a stink until the foul problem is finally flushed away.  

 



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