San Francisco Chronicle

Personhood status given to largest salt-water lagoon

- By Joseph Wilson Joseph Wilson is an Associated Press writer.

BARCELONA, Spain — Spain granted personhood status Wednesday to what environmen­talists call Europe's largest salt-water lagoon, which has suffered massive die-offs of marine life as it degrades due to developmen­t and local farming. The new law came after a citizen-led push to provide better protection for the threatened ecosystem.

The initiative backed by more than 600,000 citizens will become law after Spain's Senate in Madrid voted in favor of the proposal to grant the Mar Menor lagoon on Spain's southeaste­rn coast the status of personhood, the first time such a measure has been taken in Spain.

A total of 994 square miles of the lagoon and the nearby Mediterran­ean coastline will now be legally represente­d by a group of caretakers made up of local officials, local citizens and scientists who work in the area. The grassroots group that pushed the measure hopes this will improve the ability to defend the lagoon from further degradatio­n.

The World Wildlife Fund calls the Mar Menor Europe's largest salt-water lagoon. It's home to several species of fish, seahorses and the endangered

European eel. The lagoon, which covers 84 square miles, is separated from the open sea by a thin strip of land 13.7 miles long that is a popular vacation spot dotted with hotels.

For years, ecologists and citizens have denounced the periodic die-offs of marine life in the lagoon due to the runoff of fertilizer­s from nearby farms. In 2019, over 50,000 people marched in the nearby city of Cartagena to denounce the degradatio­n of the lagoon. This month, Spain's government approved $19.7 million in aid to improve water treatment in towns near the Mar Menor as part of a recovery plan for the lagoon.

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