Southern context: Algarve – Gulf of Cadiz

The coastline of the Algarve and the Gulf of Cadiz shows a remarkable landscape and environmental diversity, alternating zones of sea and marsh with extensive beaches, densely humanised, with stretches of landscape that remains almost unchanged in its natural characteristics. The area is influenced by important rivers such as the Guadiana, the Tinto-Odiel and the Guadalquivir, and there are important wetland areas with a wide diversity of habitats, such as coastal dune ridges, marshes, freshwater flow, and relevant areas for migratory birds. The Guadiana and Gulf of Cadiz areas have a wide continental platform. The continental shelf in the Gulf of Cadiz is limited by the isoline of 100 meters. It is of variable width, which is greater in the central area (30 km) and narrower close to Portugal (17 km). The flow of the Atlantic waters affects the oceanographic features of the surface waters in the Gulf of Cadiz and plays a major role in regulating circulation in the Mediterranean basin.The waters of the Atlantic and the Mediterranean meet in the Gulf of Cadiz through the Straits of Gibraltar. The waters have different hydrographical characteristics and produce highly valuable ecosystems, the ecological importance of which lies in the existence of a wide variety and spread of biotopes, with different communities, that further enrich the area.

Bathymetry and Hydrography

The Gulf of Cadiz is one of the most complex and interesting of the global ocean systems. On the one hand, it is the exchange and mixing zone between the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, producing one of the more decisive intermediate water masses for global ocean circulation, as the Mediterranean Water Current and Swirl. On the other hand, it is influenced by a northern branch of the Azores Current.

Social-economic Context

The coastal zone of the pilot area comprises major urban and industrial centres, most notably Faro and Portimão, in Portugal, and Huelva and Cadiz in Spain. Also noteworthy are areas of intensive tourism alternating with natural, rural and fishing areas, thus making it an area with many port capacities fishing and recreational.

There is a predominance of the services sector, including tourism and leisure, which have been recognized as the sector with greater dynamism. Tourism and leisure play a crucial role in creating wealth and employment by stimulating economic sectors upstream and downstream. Fisheries are very important in the area. Given the importance of local species in regional cuisine, they are one of the main anchors of tourism by the provision of a very significant source of high quality fresh fish. In addition, traditional fishing activities arouse great interest and are a tourist attraction in some areas. It is important to emphasize the relevance of small scale fisheries with respect to the provision of income in small fishing communities.

Main Coastal and Marine Activities

In the Algarve-Gulf of Cadiz area there is strong regional and local development associated with tourism and strong demographic pressure on coastal area. There is great intensity of use such as fisheries, shellfish and aquaculture, agriculture, port activity, tourism and recreation, gas activities and mineral extraction. The main potential uses under development are offshore wind farms, CO2 storage and cabling (Europa-India gateway). The intensity of uses and potential uses in the Guadiana area is high, so possible conflicts between them could be of importance in this area.

Given the state of most fish resources, aquaculture is an important alternative to the traditional forms of fish supply. Aquaculture establishments are located inland in the coastal zones of the pilot area, outside the areas directly affected by the tides, but close enough to the sea for its supply of water. These are intensive exploration establishments for species with specific requirements in terms of salinity and water temperature. The pilot area has natural factors favourable to aquaculture activities but production is still a relatively small part of the fish produced. The use of technologies in offshore aquaculture, particularly for the production of bivalve molluscs, is growing and their development is considered an alternative/complementary method of production which will relieve some of the pressure on traditional production zones.

Tourism is one of the main coastal activities and high demand has led to an intense occupation of the coastal strip. The excellent condition and high demand for the bathing practice, water sports and nautical leisure activities, allied to socio-cultural conditions, is a major attraction of the entire south coast of the Iberian Peninsula. The importance of natural values and protected areas, landscape and cultural has led to a growing demand in this area for leisure activities in contact with nature and the local values.As far as port activity is concerned, the large number of ports in the area should be noted. Most of these are fishing ports, although Huelva State Port stands out for its refinery and its main strength, bulk solid and liquid traffic. In short, the potential of the Gulf of Cadiz area focuses on developing aquaculture, nautical and recreational tourism, and the development of offshore wind energy.