2. Definition of coastline and limits of the beach

Before we talk about beaches, we should talk about coastal areas.

Coastline from an environmental perspective

The coast is a transition place between sea and land, a boundary determined by intense processes of exchange of matter and energy. Two types of coast can be differentiated: erosion coast (cliffs) and sedimentation coast (beaches, sandy areas and coastal wetlands). Erosion coasts are coastal areas where the surf acts violently wearing away the surface. The matter detached from them is moved by the waves, tides and sea currents to areas of lower energy (sedimentation areas), in which it settles forming the beaches.

An erosion coast (northern cliffs)
Stretch of sedimentation coast

While coasts of cliffs present a low biodiversity, the dune systems and coastal wetlands are remarkable in the case of Menorca, since they constitute one of the richest ecosystems of the island as far as diversity and uniqueness of the species living( in) there is concerned.

Natural Park of S'Albufera des Grau lagoon

The shoreline from a technical point of view
Coastline from a legal perspective: The dominio público marítimo terrestre (DPMT): Maritime Terrestrial Public Domain

The shoreline from a technical point of view

In general terms, the shoreline is the line on the Earth’s surface that defines the limit between sea and land, although it is often an ambiguous concept because of variations in sea level caused by tides, storms or general variations in sea level occurring throughout Earth’s history. From a nautical cartographical point of view, the coastline is a double line made up of a high tide line (the highest level reached by the sea due to tides, green line) and the low tide line (lowest level of the sea due to tides, blue line). This double line defines the transition area between the land and the sea where tides are visible. In those areas where tides cannot be observed or where the land is too vertical (rocky areas or cliffs, red line), this double line becomes only one.
In the Mediterranean, tides are virtually unnoticeable, therefore the strip between high and low tide is very narrow or sometimes overlaps.

Coastline representation

Coastline from a legal perspective: The dominio público marítimo terrestre (DPMT): Maritime Terrestrial Public Domain

The Spanish Maritime Terrestrial Public Domain (hereinafter DPMT) in Administrative Law is the group of public domain areas made up of the territorial sea, inland waters, natural resources of the exclusive economic area and of the continental platform, as well as beaches and coast.

Distribución jurídica de aguas. Fuente: Legislació Marítima. Grau en Enginyeria Nàutica i Transport Marítim. UPC. Autores: RODRIGO DE LARRUCEA, J.; LAPUENTE, J. M.; MONCUNILL, J.

The DPMT origins date back to Roman Law. The Spanish Constitution of 1978 establishes that the law must govern the public domain system taking into account the unseizable, unalienable and everlasting principles (section 132.1). The Spanish Coast Act (Ley de Costas) 22/1988 defines and demarcates the territorial area that constitutes the DPMT and determines certain legal rights for a stronger protection of the Maritime Terrestrial Public Domain. The purpose of this law is to secure its public nature and the preservation of its natural characteristics by combining the requirements of development with the preservation need. The Spanish Coast Act 22/1988 was repealed by the act 2/2013 regarding the protection and sustainable uses of the shoreline, which provided legal security in order to guarantee the protection of the shoreline and the preservation of the maritime terrestrial public domain.

Apart from the area that belongs to the DPMT, the law establishes that the land attached to the shoreline that does not belong the public domain is affected by a series of rights:

  • Protection right– 20 m measured from sea to land from the lower limit of the shoreline: it provides protection to the coast.
  • Right of passage - from 60 m and up to a maximum of 20 m, measured from sea to land from the lower limit of the sea shoreline: it allows the free passage of people along the coast.
  • Right of access to the sea: it guarantees the public right of way and free access to the sea.