Find Us


Up to 5m of beach are disappearing from this Spanish coast every year: Is climate change to blame?

People walk along the beach after storm Gloria battered Spain's eastern coast in Torremolinos, Spain in 2020.
People walk along the beach after storm Gloria battered Spain's eastern coast in Torremolinos, Spain in 2020. Copyright AP Photo/Manu Fernandez
Copyright AP Photo/Manu Fernandez
By Rosie Frost
Published on
Share this articleComments
Share this articleClose Button

Human activity from construction along the coast between Torremolinos and Málaga laid the groundwork for this erosion to occur.


Construction and climate change are eating away at one stretch of the Spanish coast at an alarming rate.

Between 2016 and 2022, the Arraijanal-San Julián coast between Torremolinos and Málaga receded up to 45 metres.

The Spanish government has said for decades that the country’s coastline suffers from the “generalised process of coastal regression”. But the extent of the problem on this part of the Costa del Sol puts the situation into focus.

So much so that the General Directorate of the Coast and the Sea has declared it “a situation of serious regression”. For this to happen the beach must have regressed by five metres each year for five years and be deemed to be unable to recover to its previous state naturally.

According to the Ministry of Ecological Transition, this specific stretch of coastline has lost more than 200,000 square metres of beach during this time period. Initially made vulnerable by human action it is now being eroded by climate change.

Climate change and construction are eroding Spain’s beaches

Urban development, including the construction of marinas, housing, golf courses and the diversion of rivers, laid the groundwork for this erosion to happen.

Particularly in the Mijas municipality of Malaga, the government has blamed the degradation of sandy beaches on seasonal commercial establishments like beach bars.

The consequences of climate change - “an increase in the intensity and frequency of extreme [weather] events and a rise in sea levels” - are also impacting the coastline, according to an official analysis. The number of storms in the area has increased and by 2022 the waves crashing into the shore were between three and four times higher than the recorded average.

Together these factors mean that along this stretch of the Spanish coast, between 1.5 and 4.5 metres of beach are being lost each year. In some areas this erosion is as much as 5 metres.

In total, between 2016 and 2022 there are some parts of the coast that have receded 45 metres. Others have fared better but just three of this region’s 27 sections have lost less than 10 metres.

Why is coastal erosion a problem for Spain?

The Spanish coast is home to 39 per cent of the country’s population with a relatively high density - 429 people per square kilometre. This makes coastal erosion a major problem for the more than 18 million people that live there, with beaches acting as a natural barrier against wind and rain.

Tourism, which is a major part of Spain’s economy, also relies on its coastline but the development it brings is also contributing to the erosion.

Patching the damage is costing the Spanish government tens of millions of euros each year. Sand has to be brought in from elsewhere to fill up the beaches for the summer tourism season. This sand is then, once again, pulled away by erosion - sometimes at a faster rate than it can be replaced.

A study conducted by a group of European researchers, including scientists at the University of Cadiz in Andalusia, recently found that half of the world’s sandy beaches could disappear this century. They say the main cause of this widespread coastal erosion is climate change.

Share this articleComments

You might also like