The Ibiza Preservation Fund
By Jerry Brownstein
We all love the beauty of Ibiza and its surrounding sea, but these natural wonders are being threatened by over-development and an increase in mass tourism. About ten years ago a group of people with strong ties to the island saw this trend coming and wanted to do something about it. In 2008 they founded the Ibiza Preservation Fund (IPF) with the stated goal of preserving Ibiza’s exceptional natural environment. Since then IPF has become a fully registered Spanish Foundation with an Advisory Council of local residents that supports the Board of Directors. The original concept was to create a fund that would raise money from the people throughout the world who love Ibiza and care about its future. This money would be used to support environmental initiatives that would be carried out by organizations on the island. The key word is ‘support’ because the primary function of IPF is to coordinate the various groups that work on these matters, and to influence the policies that affect the ecology of the island.
This was an ambitious initiative, and it took a while to get going, but things really started to take shape when Sandra Benbeniste was hired to be the Executive Director in 2012. Sandra is originally from Barcelona, but she has lifelong roots here on Ibiza. Her family had a holiday house on the island and she spent many wonderful summers of her childhood enjoying the special beauty and feeling of Ibiza. At university she earned several degrees including a Masters in Environmental Law and Development. She started her professional career working both with NGOs and the United Nations in Central America and Mexico. Sandra returned to Spain in 2001 and over the next eleven years her work spanned various aspects of the environmental movement – sustainable development, corporate responsibility, community relations and responsible consumption. This wide range of knowledge and experience prepared her perfectly for the challenges she would face here on Ibiza.
Ibiza and Formentera have been important destinations for tourism for over forty years, but explosive growth in that sector during the past two decades has led to unsustainable levels of resource use and waste generation. Our natural environment is capable of sustaining the local population of about 150,000 people, but it comes under enormous pressure from the two million tourists who arrive during the summer season. This massive inflow of people in such a short period of time has created an unbalanced and unsustainable growth pattern that has had a tremendous impact on Ibiza’s environment. It generates a huge demand for land, water and energy that is far beyond the island’s capacity. This is the unfortunate trend that the founders of IPF were determined to do something about, but they were soon faced with a practical question: «With so many looming problems and limited resources... where do we start?»
Under Sandra’s leadership IPF has identified the main challenges and has begun to focus its efforts on the ones that are most urgent. Their participation in the events surrounding the proposed oil prospecting near Ibiza is a good example of how IPF works. When word began to spread about the drilling and its possible dire consequences for Ibiza’s environment, a unique combination of interests came together to protect our island. Of course environmentalists were at the forefront, but they were joined by powerful business interests – people who are often on the other side of such issues. This was a situation that almost all of Ibiza’s residents could agree on. Those who love a clean and healthy environment joined those who stood to lose a lot of money if our beaches and seas were despoiled. The energy to do something about this situation was powerful, but in the beginning most of us did not know where to put that energy. Several different groups had emerged to create protests and petitions, but for the average citizen it was hard to tell which group was which.
Remember that IPF was not created to single-handedly solve environmental problems. Their purpose is to support, encourage and help organize those who want to make a positive difference in that area. In this case more organization was needed to galvanize the many groups that were fighting against the drilling. IPF took a leading role in creating an umbrella group called Mar Blava (Blue Sea) that all of the protestors could rally around. It worked marvellously as tens of thousands marched in the streets and signed formal protest letters that were efficiently sent to the government in Madrid. It’s a long story, but this movement eventually led to the stoppage of the oil prospecting. That was a great victory, but the problem did not completely go away. There are still plans for other explorations in this area, and should oil prices once again rise to attractive levels, it is likely that we will need to raise our collective voices in protest once again... and IPF will be there to help us.
That was the major focus of IPF over the past two years, but they are also very involved in finding solutions to Ibiza’s mounting water problems. Having enough fresh water has always been a challenge here on Ibiza, but the island has historically recovered from its long dry summers during the wetter, less busy autumn and winter. However, during the past decade greater consumption during the tourist season has depleted the underground water table (aquifers) to such an extent that the natural rainfall has not been enough to refill them. In 2015 IPF supported a study of Ibiza’s water situation that was coordinated by the University of Baleares. Their research confirmed that our aquifers are heavily contaminated with seawater as a result of overexploitation, and it proposed recommendations for better water management. Sandra is working to raise awareness of what needs to be done to deal with this growing problem. She has been greatly aided in this effort by the volunteer work of Katherine Berry, who has created an excellent video and written articles that explain the situation to the public. (Two of her articles appear in previous editions of Ibicasa: 15/10/15 & 15/2/16). Following the model used for Mar Blava, IPF has created another umbrella group called Alianza por el Agua. This brings together representatives from Ibiza’s town halls, NGOs and business sectors to lobby for better water management.
In addition to these two major projects, the IPF is continually working on a number of other important environmental issues. Energy consumption has increased by almost 70% over the past decade – yet we make only minimal use of the 300+ days of sunshine that we enjoy. Even countries like Germany with very little sunshine are able to produce significant amounts of solar energy, so the potential here on Ibiza is enormous. The influx of tourism has also created a huge increase in waste products. Our current systems are not adequate to handle the increase, and untreated sewage is still being pumped into the sea at busy times. This is completely unacceptable. Forest fires are an ever-present danger that the public needs to be constantly made aware of. Protecting our coastline and countryside from over-development is another important aspect of environmental protection. These and many other situations are being monitored by IPF, and they always stand ready to support and encourage innovative and practical solutions to protect and improve the natural environment of the island that we love. •