He Mar Menor, a coastal lagoon in southeastern Spain, is a place of contrasts. Its serene beauty, with crystal clear waters and picturesque landscapes, attracts tourists and nature enthusiasts alike. However, beneath this idyllic facade hides a darker reality: pollution threatens the ecosystem that makes the Mar Menor a refuge for migratory birds. In this article, we will explore the delicate balance between beauty and pollution and how it affects our feathered visitors.

The Beauty of the Mar Menor

The Mar Menor is a unique coastal lagoon separated from the Mediterranean Sea by a narrow strip of land called La Manga del Mar Menor. Its shallow waters, warm temperatures and abundant algae meadows create an ideal habitat for various species of birds. Migratory birds, such as flamingos, seagulls and herons, find refuge here during their long journeys between Europe and Africa.

The Immigration Stop

Every year, thousands of birds make a stop at the Mar Menor during their migration. The lagoon provides essential resources: food, rest and shelter, especially on the largest island, Barón Island, which has drinking water sources. For the graceful pink flamingos, it is a place to feed on brine shrimp and algae, replenishing their energy for the next leg of their journey. For gulls and terns, it is a safe haven to rest their weary wings.

The Dark Side: Pollution

Unfortunately, the beauty of the Mar Menor is marred by pollution. Here are some of the challenges migratory birds face:

Agricultural Runoff

Intensive agriculture in the surrounding areas contributes to nutrient-rich runoff. Excessive fertilizers and pesticides flow into the lagoon, causing algae blooms. In 2019 there was an episode where these blooms depleted oxygen levels, suffocating fish and disturbing the food chain, many species appeared on all the coasts of the Mar Menor. Migratory birds that depend on fish and crustaceans suffer as their prey dwindles.


Eutrophication, a consequence of nutrient pollution, leads to cloudy waters. The once clear lagoon becomes opaque, affecting the birds' ability to detect prey. Flamingos, with their specialized filtering beaks, struggle to find the tiny organisms they depend on. Reduced visibility also makes it difficult for diving birds to catch fish.

Toxic Contaminants

Heavy metals, pesticides and microplastics accumulate in the Mar Menor. These contaminants reach the food chain, affecting not only fish but also the birds that consume them. Toxic substances weaken the birds' immune systems, making them more susceptible to diseases during their arduous migrations.

Conservation Efforts

Despite the challenges, conservationists and local communities work tirelessly to protect the Mar Menor and its winged inhabitants:

Wetland Restoration

Efforts are underway to restore wetlands and buffer zones around the lagoon. These areas act as natural filters, trapping contaminants before they reach the water. Restoring kelp beds and marshes benefits both birds and the ecosystem.

Education and Awareness

Educational programs increase awareness of the importance of the Mar Menor. By involving schools, tourists and residents, we can foster a sense of responsibility and promote sustainable practices.

The Mar Menor, despite its challenges, remains a place of hope and resilience. As we face the duality between its beauty and pollution, we also find solutions and reasons to remain hopeful.