9. The maintenance and cleaning of beaches in a biosphere reserve

The purpose of the maintenance and cleaning service of Menorcan beaches is to guarantee that the island's beaches have well-preserved ecosystems where a rich biodiversity is found. They also must preserve the environmental and landscape features that contributed to the declaration of Menorca as Biosphere Reserve and meet the best conditions of hygiene and cleanliness for both the locals and the visitors to enjoy them.

The declaration of Menorca as Biosphere Reserve in 1993 was a turning point for the conservation of the beaches of the island. In 1998 a study was carried out to determine the environmental condition of beaches and coves of Menorca. A year after this study was completed, in 1999, a pilot plan was designed for the comprehensive management of 10 beaches and coves of the island, and in 2000 the island's council (Consell Insular de Menorca) along with all the city councils created the Joint Service for the Cleaning Plan of the Shoreline of the island of Menorca, as a tool to manage the coastal areas.

Currently, this service takes care of 136 units from beaches, to coves and platforms or bathing areas. These are divided into three types:

  • A TYPE- 30 units. Beaches and urban coves, related to urban areas, with easy access and with several tourist and leisure services available on the beach and the surroundings, and generally visited often.

  • TYPE B- 29 units. Unspoiled beaches and coves with good access, both for cars and people on foot, not far from roads or public ways, with no tourist or leisure services and rather frequented.

  • TYPE C - 77 units. The rest of beaches, coves and swimming areas rarely or never frequented, with no access by car and far away from any road or public way.

Beach typology

The main actions performed by the beach cleaning services are focused on the removal or residues, generated by the users of the beaches or coming from the sea, as well as the removal of an excess of Posidonia oceanica leaves.

The method used for a comprehensive cleaning system can change depending on the type of beach, as well as the action frequency:

Periodical cleaning services
Other services

Periodical cleaning services

The cleaning criteria to ensure that the beaches of Menorca are still a tourist referent national and internationally and also that preserve their fragile natural balance, are:

  • To perform an economic and sustainable cleaning.
  • To carry out maintenance tasks in low season.
  • To prioritize manual collection systems.
  • To reduce the impact of a massive removal of Posidonia seaweed. In those cases where it is necessary to use machinery to remove the Posidonia seaweed, to use suitable machinery adapted to the environment.

According to these criteria, manual cleaning is the least aggressive method regarding the environment and is used on all types of beaches. The cleaning staff collects Posidonia seagrass either manually or using rakes, as well as pine tree leaves and artificial residue deposited both on the beach and on the associated dune systems.

Manual cleaning also includes the emptying of the bins located around the beaches. The installation and removal of bins is gradual, coinciding with those months with more human presence on the beaches. Bins are installed only on Type-A beaches in high season months. For two and a half months in the summer, these bins are emptied every afternoon. There are 168 bins in all distributed around 26 beaches.

Management of the Posidonia oceanica is one of the most sensitive measures on the beach cleaning agenda. The Posidonia seagrass plays a relevant role in preserving beaches from storms and erosive weather phenomena; Posidonia leaves detach from the plant in autumn and settle on the beach, which helps to protect them in winter. In summer, when storms are infrequent, the cleaning staff removes the Posidonia seagrass deposited on the beach to let users enjoy the area to the fullest.

Due to an abundance of Posidonia leaves on the beach sand, and although manual removal of leaves is the least environmentally aggressive method, there are some beaches, generally A-type and occasionally B-type beaches, in which mechanical cleaning is necessary, particularly at the beginning of high season. In these cases the cleaning is carried out with great care as to ensure that any resulting damage or sand removal is the minimum possible. Some of the measures undertaken to reduce the impact of heavy machinery working on the beach are:

  • The sifting depth is from 5 and 15 cm.
  • Sifting is avoided when the sand is too humid or compact.
  • The area where waves impact the beach is not sifted.
  • A 3-metre strip is respected in those areas with dune systems associated.
  • Posidonia seagrass is only removed in high season months, when storms are scarce.
  • In any case, the initial actions carried out in high season leave a barrier of Posidonia seagrass as protection against any storms.
  • The machinery used does not have porous pincers to prevent the removal of sand.

The collected Posidonia is placed in specific areas to dry, and is subsequently stored in other areas or returned to the sea. The different uses of Posidonia seagrass once it has been removed from the beach are: agricultural (73%), returned to the beach (10%), restoration of dune systems (6%) and flattening of beaches (11%).

Other services

Apart from the removal of human residue and Posidonia seagrass, the cleaning services carry out other actions to ensure the proper state of Menorcan beaches. Among those are:

  • The removal of dead animals, for instance large cetacean stranded on the beach, whose putrefaction compromises the hygienic conditions of the beach.
  • Special cleaning actions due to the massive arrival of velella (By-the-wind sailor jellyfish) (Figure 9.2.) (large amounts of jellyfish brought in by the wind and sea currents, usually in spring).

Figure 9.2. Example of By-the-wind sailor jellyfish.

Environmental educational and awareness campaigns. As we all know, the best way to keep our beaches clean is to not get them dirty in the first place, and to be aware of their delicate nature facing external effects and the importance these beaches have both for us and for the island's economy.