Rising seas threaten to sink homes in Spain

Rising seas are threatening to swallow low-lying shores in northeastern Spain, encroaching on the livelihood of locals like Marcela Otamendi.

(Marcela Otamendi) "We feel like we are the first climate refugees in Europe, and we don't like it."

Eery time there’s a storm, she fears her seaside restaurant and rice fields could be at risk of being washed away.

In recent years the Mediterranean Sea has encroached upon the land in the Ebro River Delta – a 124 square mile UNESCO Biosphere Reserve rich in wetland wildlife such as flamingos.

(Marcela Otamendi) "We have been here for 70 years and we belong to this land. Here, where the sea is now, we used to cultivate our rice fields. There was drainage, a road and some spectacular sand dunes with vegetation. It was awesome! This has already been swallowed."

In response, the Spanish government aims to buy 2,055 acres of private land in the Ebro Delta in what would be Europe's largest climate-related land buyouts to date.

It would include Otamendi's roughly 99 acres.

According to a preliminary protection plan, such purchases would expand a publicly-owned buffer - by up to 1,800 feet inland - along the coast where nature would take its course.

But the Otamendis and many locals and farmers like them refuse to let go.

They would prefer the government preserved the land instead….

and vow to fight the issue in court.

(Marcela Otamendi) "We are on the verge of nothing, with a plan made by the ministry. They will banish us."

The Environment Ministry told Reuters it had received more than 250 public comments about its plan and would take as many as possible into account.

The government predicts the sea will rise around 6 inches in the area by 2045,

and forecasts at least one beach could be gone by 2060.

The Ebro Delta's tip shrank by more than 2,000 feet between 1986 and 2016.

And the threat of extreme weather was crystallized further in January 2020 when storm Gloria flooded around 7,400 acres of rice fields.

Maria del mar Catala is the Director of the institute of Agrifood Research and Technology.

(SOUNDBITE) (Catalan) INSTITUTE OF AGRIFOOD RESEARCH AND TECHNOLOGY (IRTA) DIRECTOR IN AMPOSTA, MARIA DEL MAR CATALA, SAYING:

"The challenge is serious, it is one of the areas most threatened by climate change. The main consequence is that salinity increases because the sea level is rising. The delta is sinking and the supply of freshwater is declining. We must all work together to control and minimize these impacts."

These impacts have left Otamendi feeling like a stranger on her land which shrank by nearly a third since 1993.

But she prefers not to think about leaving.

(Marcela Otamendi) "We have the experience of other European countries. There's the Po delta. The Netherlands is doing sand management. We don't need to do more experiments. We know, we are clear. You may think we're crazy, but we don't want anything else that is happening in Europe. We know that we can be saved and we will fight for it."

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