Leading Mallorcan biologist and environmentalist Xavier Pastor. | JAUME MARTI


Xavier Pastor has spent his life fighting to protect the environment. Coming from a family with a maritime and fishing tradition, the Mallorcan is a biologist, oceanographer and ecologist and he was one of the founders of Greenpeace Spain and president, as well as vice president, of the organisation Oceana for the defence of the seas. He was one of the pioneers of the environmental struggle in Spain.

After graduating in biology from the University of Barcelona, he worked as a scientist at the Spanish Institute of Oceanography, participating in numerous fishing research campaigns.

In 1984, he was one of the founders of Greenpeace Spain and contributed to the creation of branches of the organisation in Italy, Greece, Turkey, Tunisia and Malta, as well as directing various Greenpeace campaigns in the United States before joining Oceana.

Today, he is retired but continues his work on a voluntary basis acting as a bridge between Balearic environmental organisations, such as Miralles, which he praises for their work in sharing their findings with the general public and not just the scientific world, and large public and private institutions. This is in a bid to bring everyone together in the fight against climate change, his main focus being on the Balearics and the islands’ marine environment.

This week, against the backdrop of the COP27 summit in Egypt, he told the Bulletin that the fight against climate change has reached its tipping point.

“I fear we’ve left it too late, there is still so much work to be done to help poorer countries to meet the targets set out, while some of the world’s largest polluters are lagging with regard to giving their full commitment to the cause.
“We are going to have to learn to live with climate change and how to manage it. It can be slowed and the impact reduced but there is no turning back now,” he said.

“As we’ve seen over the past week, climate change makes the Mediterranean among the world’s fastest warming seas – with temperatures rising about 20% faster than the global ocean average. Marine plastic pollution has increased tenfold since 1980 and it is estimated that more than 10,000 tonnes of waste is dumped into the Mediterranean every year”.

Scientists already warned in 2015 that from an ecological and marine monitoring perspective, the case of the Mediterranean was of particular interest in terms of plastic pollution. This semi-enclosed basin, with restricted water outlets, is one of the most polluted regions worldwide and the situation has only worsened.

“The problem is that as much as 80 per cent of the plastic in Balearic waters and the western Mediterranean comes from north Africa - Algeria in particular and to a lesser extent Tunisia and Morocco.
“Much of the waste is either dumped in the sea or flows into the sea down rivers and then gets caught in the currents which bring the plastic into the Balearics.

“This has got to be addressed. Politicians cannot sit back and ignore the problem because it is alien to the Balearics. We need to be talking to and working with these countries and looking at ways in which we can help resolve their waste treatment systems to reduce plastic pollution in the sea.

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“I was involved in a major campaign some 30 years ago in Gibraltar, where most of the waste was dumped straight into the sea, causing serious damage to the marine ecosystem. We managed to solve that, and a similar approach needs to be taken to the damage being caused by north African countries which neither have the money nor the know-how for finding a solution. Perhaps they are not fully aware of the threat they pose to the Mediterranean, be it ecologically or socially.

“That said, under pressure from environmental groups, the Balearic government has achieved some success. The expansion of the marine reserves is extremely positive and the way in which they are managed is very good. Take Cabrera, for example, it is the largest and best managed natural marine reserve in the western Mediterranean and we’ve seen fish stocks grow rapidly over the past ten years; the same can be said for El Toro and the Malgrats. So, with better management, countries and regions like the Balearics, which have the funding, the technology, the expertise and the desire to protect the environment, can make a difference. But unfortunately, poorer and less developed countries are lacking and that’s where we need to get engaged,” he said.

But macro and micro plastic pollution is only one of the problems facing the marine environment in the Balearics and the Mediterranean.
As the world warms, marine heatwaves are expected to become more frequent, according to the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Climate change has already helped to drive the annual number of ocean heatwave days up 54% in the period from 1925 to 2016, a team of international scientists found in 2018.
Scientists say the Mediterranean could suffer at least one long-lasting, severe heatwave every year between now and 2100, according to 2019 research in the journal Climate Dynamics.

“Both the sea and land are getting hotter, just look at what we went through this summer in the Balearics, plus we’re in desperate need or rain. Rising sea temperatures and an increase of CO2 in the sea are a danger to marine life, plus we have rising sea levels which are already leading to the erosion of our beaches, while on land, temperatures are gradually becoming unbearable.

"I guess there is a flip side to every crisis. Within the next ten years, may be less, the Balearics will become uncomfortably hot for tourists from northern Europe. We’re already witnessing an explosion in tourism to countries like Scotland, Iceland and Scandinavia and that could lead to a reduction in tourists in the Balearics, something I’ve been pushing for for the best part of 30 years. The islands can no longer cope with the human footprint left by mass tourism. They’ve been suffering for decades, so nature may help create a more balanced tourism industry in the Balearics and help reduce numbers,” he said. “It’s a natural contradiction in a way.”

“One perfect example is the fact that the islands’ sewage plants, especially in Mallorca, can’t cope with the amount of waste. The plants were built some 30 years ago and back then worked extremely well. Now they can’t, which is why every time is does rain, the beaches get polluted when the sewage systems overflow. Thankfully, they are being replaced and upgraded with EU investment, but it has been a long time coming,” he said.

“But while nature may help create a more balanced tourism industry in the Balearics, it will drive visitor numbers up in northern European countries. This will have a negative impact on their environment and ecosystems. It’s a vicious circle and one that is impossible to stop.

“I guess for the younger generations, the impact is perhaps not as extreme. For people of my generation, for example, we remember, we know how Mallorca and the Balearics were thirty or forty years ago. We’ve witnessed what we’ve lost, how things have changed and the impact climate change has had on the region.

The younger generations have not seen the drastic change and the impact climate change and mass tourism have had on the region so, and it’s understandable, they don’t grasp the urgency of taking radical action.

“With regard to the Balearics, I am pushing for the greater use of renewable energy, solar and even wave power. I’m trying to persuade all the institutions, be they the airport, hospitals, schools, large companies, to go solar, go renewable and generate their own power. If we’re facing a drought, turning to the desalination plants is not the answer because they are powered by very expensive means and emit vast amounts of CO2, so it defeats the whole object. Any action we take now has to be to try and harness climate change.”