The Natural Heritage of Andalusia has 500,000m² of different rehabilitated dune ecosystems in the Townland of Marbella, between Marbella East and Cabopino.
2003 – NATURAL MONUMENT “DUNAS DE ARTOLA”, CABOPINO – 200,000m²
2015 – THE 9 DUNES SYSTEMS WERE DECLARED “ECOLOGICAL RESERVE-DUNAS DE MARBELLA” – 223,303,68m²
The sand dunes systems on the coastal zones of Marbella are remnants of the primeval sand dune cord, which, in the past, extended along the coastal strip of Marbella’s seashore. Together with the sand dunes of Artola at Cabopino these are the best preserved dunes in the province of Malaga.
We are talking about a succession of dune formations which, since the middle of the last century have changed profoundly. The dunes were treated very badly and were divided up unnaturally to satisfy the needs of the building boom. The current massive development of beach bars that unfortunately has been allowed, most of them inside dune limits, hasn’t helped. This dune ridge extends from the mouth of the Rio Real river to Cabopino harbour.
They represent a natural enclave within the Mediterranean dune systems, forming a barrier parallel to the coastline and the and urban developments. In the future they will act as a barrier against rising sea levels and will protect the buildings in the areas along the dune boundaries. All dune areas have vegetation specially adapted to sandy substrates but each is distinguished by its uniqueness in the different soil formations.
Mixed in with the native flora are typical scrub and shrub species of the Mediterranea basin such as:Stone Pine (Pinus pinea), Juniper (Juniperus phoenicea), Wild Olive (Olea europaea), Mastic (Pistacia lentiscus), Black Hawthorn (Rhamnus oleoides) and Palmetto (Chamareops humilis), together with Cork Oak (Quercus suber), the Evergreen Kermes Oak (Quercus coccifera), Broom (Retama sphaerocarpa), Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) and Thyme (Thymus).
The dunes typically have three different ecosystems: the first line is formed by mobile sand dunes that protect it from erosion caused by the wind and serves as the habitat of species such as Sea Holly (Eryngium maritimum), European Marramgrass (Ammophila arenaria) and the sea daffodil (Pancratium maritimum).
These species retain the sands dragged by the wind and enrich with organic matter the soil of the second eco-system, the semi-fixed sand dunes. Here is where species such as the goldilocks (Helichrysum stoechas), Toadflax (Linaria pelisseriana), Sea Wallflower (Malcolmia littorea), the Cotton Weed Plant (Othanthus maritimus), the Sea or Cretan Trefoil (Lotus creticus) and many more can get a foothold.
Finally we have the fixed dunes, which are inhabited by large-sized woody plants such as the Pine tree, the Mastic tree or the wild Olive tree, etc.etc.
These dunes are ideal habitats for different species of birds such as the European Greenfinch (Carduelis chloris), the Chaffinch (Fringilia coelebs) and the European Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) and other small animals such as the Red-tailed spiny-footed Lizard (Acanthodactylus erythrurus), the rabbit or the European hedgehog. The shooting and/or capture of birds of the Finch family is forbidden everywhere on the dunes from East Marbella to de “Dunas de Artola” Natural Monument in Cabopino. The Ministry of the Environment issues the relevant decrees on a yearly basis.
In recent years threatened species such as as the Snowy Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus) and the Thekla Lark (Galerida theklae) have returned as different habitats and ecosystems recover.
One of the threats to these sand dunes are the invasive alien species. These plants were introduced into the dune ecosystem a long time ago either by accident or intentionally and are characterized by invading and choking the native species to their eradication, will lead to a significant loss of biodiversity. Ever since the Pro Dunas Association has come into being, grubbing out and/or eradication programs have been taking place annually.
The Pro Dunas Association is very active in the conservation and protection of the dunes and their unique morphology. Its objective is the recovery and rebalancing of the different ecosystems.Environmental recognition has been awarded (September 2015 – Resolution by the Environment Ministry of the regional Government) by the Constitution of the ECOLOGICAL RESERVE – MARBELLA DUNES in the municipality of Marbella (Málaga). In virtue of the Art. 11 of the decree 23/2012, 14th February, the conservation and sustainable use of the flora and fauna and its habitats are now regulated.
1 – DUNE AREA “RESERVA DE LOS MONTEROS”, Río Real-Reserva de los Monteros
These beautiful dunes cover approx. 15,000m2 and can crest at a height of 2 – 4m. They run parallel to the beach for about 400m and reach inland towards the different developments for about 30 – 40m. This dune environment is located between the mouth of the Rio Real stream and different residential developments near the Realejo stream.
It is made up of three sections: Palm Beach, Los Monteros Playa and Ignacio Coca. The flow of the dune crest has been interrupted by the installation of the Palm Beach restaurant. In 2012 the Coastal Authorities carried out a comprehensive mechanical grubbing of the first section of the dunes and cleared the area of invasive alien plants which, because of their predatory power, had completely displaced the native flora. We then started on rehabilitation by reintroducing native shrubs such as: Juniper (Juniperus phoenicea subsp. turbinata), Mastic (Pistacia lentiscus), Black Hawthorn (Rhamnus oleoides), Wild Olive (Olea europaea), Stone Pine (Pinus pinea), Cork Oak (Quercus suber), Kermes Oak (Quercues coccifera), Broom (Retama sphaerocarpa), Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) and Mediterranean Dwarf Palm (Chamaerops humilis).
Volunteers from the Pro Dunas Association look after this reforestation by watering at least once a week until rooting is guaranteed which is usually a period of two years. School children from the Secondary IES Sierra Blanca-Marbella school, who have taken on the patronage of this first section of the dunes, also help on a regular basis with its maintenance.
2 – DUNE AREA “LA ADELFA” in Bahía de Marbella
This is an interesting dune environment because of the variety of native wild flora and small fauna which have found in it their preferred habitat. It covers approx 45,000m2 and crests at a height of about 2 – 4m. It is about 1,000m long and runs parallel to the beach, reaching inland towards the residential developments for about 30 – 50m.
This dune area is located between the Realejo stream and the Los Monteros residential development. It was saved from destruction in 2004 by the Pro Dunas Association. It was the first dune environment to be saved. Repeated reforestations with native shrubs were necessary for a successful recovery and rehabilitation of the dune. The following native shrub species have been introduced: Pine (Pinus pinea), Sabina (Juniperus phoenicea turbinata subsp.), etc.
Thanks to the intensive care lavished on them by the volunteers from the Pro Dunas Association during the first three years, the small plants have evolved perfectly, creating a bio-habitat uniquely suited to a sandy environment and as a result, small wildlife and birds, especially finches, have been attracted to it.
A rigorous control over potential resurgence of the invasive alien species is maintained annually. School children from the ECOS-Attendis school have sponsored this dune area and carry out annual Maintenance Days.
3 – DUNE AREA “EL ALICATE”, El Alicate-Las Chapas
This small dune formation covers approx. 8,000m2 and runs for about 200m parallel to the beach. It is located between the Siete Revueltas and Alicate streams – more specifically between the Los Canos and the Los Sardinales beach restaurants. It is between 30 – 40m wide and covers the area between the beach and the Right of Way. Since 2013 this essential rehabilitation project has been in the planning stage but the work itself depends on the various administrative bodies.
The Pro Dunas Association is preparing for the eradication of the huge reed bed on the dune by mechanical grubbing out of the reeds (Arundo donax) over the 2015-2016 winter season. Other invasive plants such as Pitas (Agave americana), false Mimosa (Acacia saligna) and Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus) will receive the same treatment.
Once the dune has been reclaimed, reforestation with native shrubs can go ahead. To stop motor vehicle access to the dune and to guarantee its survival, wooden railings which allow for pedestrian access to the beach, as well as wooden stakes interconnected by sisal rope between the beach and the dune will be put in place.
4 – THE “BARRONAL DE LA MORENA” DUNE in El Rosario-Las Chapas
This dune is one of the most beautiful and original dunes along this stretch of the Marbella coastline. It covers about 36.000m2 and currently crests at about 5 – 8m. It is approx. 200m long parallel to the beach. It has clearly defined deep valleys together with crests of about 200m in a north-south direction. This dune stands out because it is perpendicular to the coast. It nestles between the Las Chapas and Playas Andaluzas developments. Its ecosystem (geosigmetum) belongs to the original line of dunes that covered the area between Marbella and Cabopino.
There are varied ecosystems in this dune depending on the proximity to or distance from the sea and it is of great interest because of the development of different indigenous flora and small fauna. There is a lot of Juniper (Juniperus phoenicea subsp. Turbinata), Mastic (Pistacia lentiscus), Wild Olive (Olea europaea), Mediterranean Fan Palm (Chamaerops humilis) and 2 Stone Pine (Pinus pinea).
This dune area attracted a huge amount of interest in 2009 because the Pro Dunas Association got the citizens mobilized to fight for the survival of nearly half the unique and original dune environment which was about to be destroyed by an upcoming development. Some eminent professors backed up the case for the preservation of this dune because of the paleo-biogeographic information it contains.
Regular maintenance sweeps are organised by Pro Dunas to ensure the eradication of invasive plants such as Highway Ice plant (Carpobrotus edulis), false Mimosa (Acacia saligna) and Reeds (Arundo donax), so that the vegetation can develop in an untamed manner. Students from the Colegio Alborán have sponsored this magnificent environment and help every year with the maintenance program.
In the near future elevated pedestrian walkways on both sides of the dune will allow access to the beach while respecting the vegetation and fauna habitat.
5 – The “ARENAL” DUNE in Costabella – Playas Andaluzas, Las Chapas
This is an outstanding dune area covering approx. 9,000m2. It has two independent crests with a height of between 4 – 5m high. It is approx. 200m long, parallel to the beach and is about 30 – 50m deep, depending on which section we are talking about. This dune environment is to the west of the “Bono’s Beach” restaurant and between the “El Arenal” beach restaurant and the access path to the beach from the Playa Andaluzas development.
Both sections are recovering. The school children of the Secondary IES Salduba School in San Pedro Alcantara have sponsored this beautiful dune and they keep it free of the invasive alien species Highway Ice plant (Carpobrotus edulis). In 2015 they reforested the first stretch with native shrubs such as: Mediterranean Fan Palm (Chamaerops humilis), Juniper (Juniperus phoenicea subsp turbinata.), Mastic (Pistacia lentiscus), Broom (Retama sphaerocarpa), Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) and Thyme (Thymus). Volunteers from the Pro Dunas Association are looking after the tiny plants, watering them manually once a week to ensure they root properly.
In the second section we eradicated Pitas (Agave americana), some false Mimosa (Acacia saligna) and some stands of African Fountain Grass (Pennisetum setaceum) to let the local flora develop naturally.
Wooden stakes interconnected by sisal rope have been erected around the dune area to increase its protection. Thanks to this initiative, the native dune plant par excellence – the European marran grass (Ammophila arenaria) is developing beautifully, anchoring the crest of the dune.
6 – DUNE AREA “REAL DE ZARAGOZA”, Las Chapas-Elviria
7 – DUNE AREA “LA VÍBORA-OESTE”, Las Chapas-Elviria
This dune environment belongs to the dunes of yesteryear. The building boom which dumped its rubble there has left but a shadow of the original dune, about 250m long with a crest and valleys of approx. 3m in height and 50m in depth between the beach and the housing developments. Originally this dune linked up with the Víbora stream and continued on to Marbella. Currently its development is interrupted by the Beach House Beach-Restaurant and the access to the beach from the La Víbora car park.
This dune area will undergo a thorough reclamation over the winter of 2015 and spring of 2016. Pro Dunas is scheduling eradication days to get rid of the invasive alien species Highway Ice plant (Carpobrotus edulis) with volunteer groups and/or students from a local school. In the flat land behind the dune crest a grubbing out of the False Mimosa (Acacia saligna) and Reeds (Arundo donax) invasive species will be needed.
The Pro Dunas initiative foresees installing wooden stakes interconnected by sisal rope on the perimeter of the area, between the beach and the dune itself.
8 – DUNE AREA “LA VÍBORA-LAUREL”, Las Chapas-Elviria
This is a beautiful, unbroken dune system. It is close to 6m high and acts as bulwark against the advance of the sea and as a protection against the winter storms or currents. It covers an area of about 22.500m². It is approximately 450m long and reaches back 50m to the various urban developments. Two beach restaurants: El Laurel and Perla Blanca squeeze this dune in. The dune perimeter is protected by wooden stakes interconnected by sisal ropes.
In 2012 the work of recovery and rehabilitation began to rid the dune of the invasive exotic plants with which it was overgrown. Later, reforestation took place over a period of time. Secondary school students from Marbella and Mijas schools used it for environmental education classes as they planted small native shrubs such as: Sabina (Juniperus phoenicea subsp. turbinata), Mastic (Pistacia lentiscus), Black Hawthorn (Rhamnus oleoides), Wild Olive (Olea europaea ), Cork Oak (Quercus suber), Kermes (Quercues coccifera), Mediterranean Fan Palm (Chamaerops humilis).
School Children from the Platero College (Primary) in Las Chapas have sponsored this interesting environment. Volunteers from the Pro Dunas Association continue to look after the small shrubs and an interesting biodiversity is already developing.
9 – DUNE AREA“LAS GOLONDRINAS”, Las Chapas-Elviria
This dune area is located between the Laurel and Tony’s beach restaurants, is still in the process of recovery and rehabilitation. The environment belongs to the ancient dune system. At the moment the entire surface is very degraded because of the huge urbanistic pressure it came under in the recent past. It is about 250 m long with a height from sea level of between 3 – 4 m.
In 2014 a first grubbing out of the False Mimosa (Acacia saligna) and Giant Reeds (Arundo donax) was carried out to facilitate the growth of wild native flora. The installation of a pedestrian boardwalk on the Right of Way is already projected. Following that, the planned recovery and reforestation with native shrubs will get under way and will be programmed by Pro Dunas.
The Pro Dunas initiative provides for the placement of wooden stakes interconnected with sisal rope around the perimeter of the dunes, between these and the beach.
The “Colegio Alemán John Hoffmann” in Las Chapas-Elviria sponsors this environment and works with Pro Dunas on annual environmental days to wipe out the Highway Ice plant (Carpobrotus edulis).
10 – “THE ARTOLA DUNES” NATURAL MONUMENT, Cabopino
The Artola Dunes were declared a Natural Monument in 2003 because of their significant natural value with an intact ecosystem and varied biodiversity. This dune environment is 20,000 m² and even today testifies to how the natural coastline of Marbella looked not many years ago.
This privileged region has three types of dunes. At the beachfront the dunes are mobile and because of their rippled surfaces can easily be spotted. The second line forms a natural barrier with inactive but mobile dunes, covered with shrub vegetation and by indigenous flora of great interest. Farthest from the sea are inactive, fossil dunes, with a narrow band of dense Stone Pine (Pinus pinea) as well as common shrubs such as Juniper (Juniperus sabina supsc. turbinata), Mastic (Pistacia lentiscus) and wild Olive tree (Olea europaea), typical species in the Mediterranean area which provide shelter and food for birds and small animals as well as for the typical Mediterranean scrub.
The interesting dune vegetation includes specific dune species such as European Beachgrass (Ammophilia arenaria) and Sea Holly (Eryngium maritimum). There are clumps of Bitter Chamomile (Helichrysum stoechas) and a myriad of wild flora which varies from season to season. The Sea Daffodil (Pancratium maritimum) blooms in all its glory between the most dry months: July and September.
Pedestrian walkways guarantee the total protection of the area, protecting it from constant trampling by members of the public thus allowing the natural development of the native flora. The tower known as La Torre de los Ladrones at the edge of Cabopino Harbour is 16 m high and was formally used as a military watchtower. Its origin seems to date back to Roman times and it was rebuilt over the centuries by both Arabs and Christians. This beacon has been declared of Cultural Interest and is kept in good condition.
Pro Dunas will continue to maintain the dunes with the help of school groups. Schools from other Provinces are welcome.
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Asociación ProDunas Marbella
The Association works tirelessly for the defence and preservation of the unique ecosystems that survive in the natural sand dune environments in the Province of Málaga; promotes the protection of native flora and small wildlife; promotes recovery, rehabilitation and conservation of interesting biodiversity of sand dunes areas in the municipality of Marbella.