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Las Marismas del Palmones: A Unique Route Where the River Meets the Sea

Rosario Pérez | Photos: ©Fran Montes, ReachEtra

A totally distinctive location, where the river meets the sea, the Las Marismas del Palmones trail is, without a doubt, one of the Campo de Gibraltar’s most relaxing and leisurely routes which runs between the coast of Algeciras and Los Barrios. You’ll see an abundance of migratory birds, exotic plant species which thrive in salt and fresh water and maybe even some otters…

Las Marismas del Palmones is a picturesque route which can be enjoyed at any time of the year but is especially magical during warm summer mornings and afternoons, when the coolness of running water and the sea-breeze make for the perfect companions during your excursion.

On an information panel along the trail, the Andalusian Natural Spaces network explain that this marshland has been formed at the mouth of the Palmones River, which brings with it organic materials along the path. The 113-hectare location is made up of three distinct areas:

“A series of sand banks, with lengths close to a kilometre; a marsh, connected to multiple water channels and intertidal wells; and a waterlogged area which once was a dried up marsh”.

One of the most fascinating parts about this natural enclave lies in the fact that it has survived the test of time and human activity in Algeciras, a city which has undergone massive urban and industrial development, and yet no irreversible damage has been caused. However, increasing numbers of people are warning about the possibility of overdevelopment.

Las Marismas del Palmones Algeciras Los Barrios

The most unique aspect about Las Marismas del Palmones, when compared with other wetlands throughout the region, is its Mediterranean estuary (where the tide of the sea collides with the flow of the river) and its Atlantic characteristics.

The Ministry of the Environment explained that the sludge of the marsh is covered with a “tapestry of vegetation which has evolved to withstand the higher concentration of salt water, such as reeds, salicornias and rushes.”

The Marismas del Palmones is also an ideal location for bird watching, with a wide array of species flying through the area at any given time; particularly migratory birds crossing the Strait on their intercontinental journey between Europe and Africa.

You would do well to bring along a pair of good binoculars with you, especially at peak times of the year for what is now called “ornithological tourism”.

Las Marismas del Palmones is Renowned for its Ornithological Abundance

Las Marismas del Palmones Algeciras Los Barrios

As highlighted by the Junta de Andalucía, as well as other many environmental associations in the region, Las Marismas del Palmones is a “very significant” place for ornithologists, with over 350 species of bird registered – with many plovers, runners and herons to see.

But this is not just limited to spring and summer months, wintering migratory birds such as the spoonbill, the crabeater jackdaw, the osprey, common crane, frieze mallard and common goshawk also seek refuge here.

As for the resident mammals in the area, you’ll also see otters which are a highly protected species, and they can be hard to spot.

Within the intertidal zone, there is an wealth of vegetation such as mastic, myrtle and black hawthorn among other plant species which are typical for this type of habitat, such as red macroalgae, while, on the sand banks, there are coastal plants such as bulrush, spartina, Salicornia and sea thistle, as well as a species which is of great interest to botanists; ephedra.

However, ecologists have on many occasions denounced the practise of planting alien species, such as “cat claw”, in a bid to reduce sand loss into the sea, which have recently been outcompeting the local fauna. They have said that the proliferation of cat’s claw, which now occupies large areas, is “very worrying”.

A Protected Natural Area

Las Marismas del Palmones Algeciras Los Barrios

For all the reasons above, the Marismas del Palmones was added to the “Inventory of Protected Natural Spaces of Andalucía” in 1989, although initially only 58 hectares of 113 were listed as “protected natural spaces”.

In 2011, the Spanish Natural Resources Management Plan for this enclave was approved, thus protecting another 55 hectares, which then expanded the zone to the tidal marsh, the littoral cord and the so-called “secondary dune system”.

The declaration came into effect in November 2013 and the Marismas del Palmones was declared a “Special Conservation Area” and was incorporated into the Natura 2000 Network.

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