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Global Warming to Wash away Beaches, Warns Spanish Study

The fight for space on Spain's beaches looks set to grow fiercer over the next four decades as the sand starts to disappear under a rising sea that also threatens to flood beach-side homes, according to a Spanish environment ministry report.

Spain's beaches are expected to shrink by an average of 15 metres (50ft) by 2050 as global warming causes sea levels to creep up while stronger waves and currents eat away at the coastline.

In some of the worst hit resorts, unprotected beaches could vanish altogether while salt water washes into holiday homes, the authors warn.

"I wouldn't buy a house in La Manga," said the report's coordinator, Professor Raúl Medina, referring to an area in the south-eastern region of Murcia popular with British holiday-home buyers.

"It is a bad investment because I doubt that my children would be able to use it," he told the newspaper El País.

Global warming is melting the icecaps and raising sea levels around Spain by 2.5mm a year. By 2050 that will mean a 12cm-15cm rise, with northern Spain's Atlantic coast suffering most.

The Mediterranean coast, where many resorts already have to truck in sand each spring, will lose an average of around 10 metres of beach by 2050.

Hotel owners in the southern Costa del Sol have already asked for permission to bring in their own sand as beaches begin to shrink. The report also recommends that sea walls be raised in some Spanish ports and that planning permits for beach-side buildings take into account the changing shape of the coastline.

It also warns that some of Europe's most important wetland sites will be hit.

The Albufera of Valencia and the delta of the River Ebro as well as the Dóana national park in south-west Spain - one of Europe's biggest nature reserves - will all suffer the consequences of rising water levels and higher salinity.

"It will be even worse by the end of the century, when a lot of today's children will still be alive," warned the ministry's top climate change official, Arturo Gonzalo.

As climate change quickened, he said, so too would the rate at which sea levels rose. "The sea level will have risen between half a metre and a metre by the end of the century, and up to 50 metres of beach will disappear in some areas."

The warnings came as Spain's sweltering summer showed little sign of abating this month. Twenty cities have posted record monthly temperatures in the first week of the month, with the north-western city of Ourense recording a temperature of 41.4C (107F).

Farmers in Murcia, meanwhile, gathered to pray for autumn rains to prevent a third consecutive year of drought. Some 2,000 farmers asked the Virgin of Fuensanta, Murcia's patron saint, for rain.

Rainfall over the year up to September was 15% down on the average. The previous year had been 21% down, Spain's meteorology institute reported.

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2006