Summary of the project :
Malaga Province relies heavily on tourism. In 2015, the Costa Del Sol saw 10.6 million visitors, bringing 11.5 billion euros to the area. The preservation of the beaches is key issue to the local economy. Dredging and distributing sand on beaches is a yearly ritual to maintain their economic viability. The Spanish local authorities have commissioned a study to find alternative maintenance solutions which are “adequate” for the replenishment of the beaches but ultimately unsustainable. This project aims to look at the current environmental conditions that affect the beach profile and how possible environmental change may worsen the situation. Beach profiles and sand quality are heavily dependent on the environment and human activity. Significant changes in climate, e.g., higher annual rainfall and storms could deplete the beaches beyond economical repair. Measurement of beach profile using distance and angle measurements along the three transects from the sea shore to the end of the beach. We split the beach into segments using ranging poles to show where the angle of the slope changed, using a clinometer. Beach width was measured from the sea shore to the end of the beach. Historical beach widths measured using Google Earth. Beach sand sampling was done using graduated sieves. Samples were taken from two locations on a tourist beach in Marbella. The samples were placed into sealed plastic bags and labelled. The samples were then mixed with water which was syphoned. The sand was dried and sieved. A sand shaker was used to separate the samples based on particle size. The mass of the sediments was measured and the percentage of the total sample calculated. Plastic contamination was separated by hand from each sample and weighed. Secondary Weather data was downloaded from the State Meteorological Agency - AEMET.
Main results :
Along the tourist beach transects, the pattern of sand distribution was very similar. This pattern is consistent with the smaller particles being pushed higher up the beach by wind and waves, with the larger coarser grains deposited closer to the water on the San Pedro beach. There was very little change in this pattern over the three month period. However, the Marbella Beach had a different distribution which may be related to its industrial use and location in close proximity to a dry river bed. Small quantities of plastics were detected on the touristic San Pedro beach, while there were more plastics on the industrial Marbella Beach. This could be due to the river bed as it was heavily contaminated with plastic, which could be washed onto the beach during heavy rain. The sand on the Costa del Sol beaches is replenished due to sand loss from erosion, caused by seasonal weather and wave patterns. Erosion is a natural process but can be accelerated by human activity and potentially by climate change. The problem of plastic pollution is further exacerbated by the fact that dredging of the port area to improve access to shipping after heavy rain often provides the raw material to replenish the tourist beaches. This could only act to further contaminate the beaches with micro plastics.
Actions to help lessen the problem :
This project not only benefited our local community but also our international community. We have had a lasting impact on our school environment as well, encouraging teachers, students and parents to contribute to the theme of the project: protecting our environment. We were fortunate enough to be allowed the opportunity to set up a weather station at the top of our school which will provide and download data regularly. This way we can identify the changes in the weather patterns and discuss why the changes have occurred. We are also looking forward to having light and UV sensors. We are going to link our station to twitter so this information is immediately available to our community. Furthermore, we have encouraged our school Eco Committee to reduce the plastic waste consumed in our everyday lives. We have created a plastic-free canteen by swapping plastic cutlery to reusable cutlery. We have inspired change within our peers by encouraging regular attendance at beach cleans with both family and friends; organised by Plastic Free Seas. This has been particularly motivated by our finding that even in the apparently clean and well groomed beaches there lurks measurable amounts of micro plastics. Although we could not correlate the total rainfall with a decline in beach width we have highlighted a number of avenues of future research. We want to look at the correlation between beach width and number of days of extreme rainfall. We also are planning to continue the project next year by modelling the past rainfall so we can predict future rainfall in our local area. A number of students are also using our data as a primary or secondary data sources for IGCSE course work and IB studies. The legacy of this project has been to increase the awareness of climate change in our school and local community, to inspire the study of our environment and see it in a global context and finally to enthuse young people to take action as individuals and a community to negate the effects of climate change.
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