Beaches for Adoption: How One Spanish Island Is Protecting Its Coast

Illustration of people cleaning up a beach in Menorca

TripSavvy / Alison Czinkota

We're dedicating our July features to the world’s most beautiful and unique beaches and islands. With many travelers finally able to take the coveted beach vacation they’ve had to put off for over a year, there’s never been a better time to celebrate the sensational coastlines and calm waters that nab a starring role in our dreams. Dive into our features to learn more about off-the-radar beaches you should consider for your next trip, how one Spanish community came together to save its coastline, an ultra-exclusive Hawaiian island you might not have heard of, and game-changing beach hacks recommended to us by the experts.

Located in the crystal clear waters of the Mediterranean Sea, the Spanish island of Menorca has always been more interested in protecting its coast than some of its more developed neighbors, but that doesn’t mean the beaches stay immaculate. The summer crowds bring hoards of garbage left in the sand while plastic all the way from Spain’s mainland frequently washes up on the shore. The local government does its best to keep them free of litter, but the job requires an army of people. When your home is an island paradise, the beach is one of your most precious resources.

One local environmental organization came up with the idea to put up beaches for adoption. The Balearic Ornithological Group—or GOB for its initials in the local Catalan language—aimed to enroll groups of friends, classrooms, businesses, or even strangers to choose a section of coastline not just to clean up but to be wholly responsible for. 

“The idea is to clean, yes, but there’s already a public cleaning service,” explained Victor Carretero, one of the marine technicians and project organizers with GOB. “Volunteers have to go through a training session where we explain not just what to clean, but how to deal with signs in bad conditions, what to do if you come across an injured sea turtle, who to contact if you find an invasive species or a boat parked in protected waters,” and much more. 

An Explosive Response

The project's original goal was to get 100 volunteers to split into 10 groups, but the organizers at GOB were worried about the chances of meeting that target. As the program approached its launch in September 2020, Carretero and his colleagues hoped for the best. 

As it turned out, the best was much better than any of them expected. “On the first day, our email system collapsed from the number of responses,” Carretero says. “Within a week, we had 800 volunteers, and within two weeks, we had 1,200. Today we have over 1,800 and counting.” It’s an impressive figure, considering the number of volunteers comes out to about two percent of the entire population of Menorca. 

One of those groups is the Menorca-based jewelry company Vidal&Vidal. When the CEO charged his employee Iñaki Cucarella with forming a group of volunteers, over 90 percent of the staff was on board. “We’re all people from the island, so our efforts are focused on reusing, cleaning, and saving natural resources to conserve our environment,” Cucarella said. 

Another group immersing local volunteers in conservation doesn’t limit itself to just the shoreline. The local scuba company Binibeca Diving organizes seasonal excursions solely dedicated to removing underwater debris, allowing tourists and locals the chance to actually see the effects of litter on marine life. 

All-Star Dedication

As they started to clean, one of the things that surprised Cucarella most was how little care visitors had for the beaches. The group picked up drink cans, glass bottles, plastic containers, and even used toilet paper. Employees also couldn’t believe how much refuse washed up on shore from far away, like fishing nets, snorkeling gear, tarps, and even car tires. 

“Our biggest surprise,” according to Cucarella, “was seeing how, day after day, we barely made a dent in the huge quantity of mesoplastics and microplastics.” An important part of the volunteer training is focused on removing these so-called mesoplastics and microplastics, which are smaller than 25 millimeters and 5 millimeters, respectively. They have to be sifted out with a colander, and many of them are so small that most beachgoers don’t even realize that they’re there—until they start to look for them. “It’s sad realizing that after over 250 hours of work dedicated to cleaning just this one small space we’ve adopted, microplastics still keep showing up.” 

While many of the beaches are easily accessible, some groups go the extra mile for their adopted piece of coastline. Resident Mercedes Gomis has lived on the island since she was a little girl and jumped at the chance to adopt a beach with a group of local friends and their children, choosing one of Menorca’s most isolated coves, Cala Escorxada. It takes about an hour and 15 minutes of hiking to reach Escorxada, but the route along the cliffs overlooking the Mediterranean makes for a spectacular journey. 

Gomis has already seen the benefits of the project in her own family. “Teaching children to keep our planet clean is fundamental since they’re the future. My daughter is 7 years old, and [since starting this project], whenever we go out to the beach, to the countryside, or the city, she’s always picking up plastic and garbage she finds along the way.”

A Community Effort

Keeping the sea and the beaches clean is an important job, but everyone involved with the project agrees that adopting a beach has much bigger ramifications than picking up garbage. 

The volunteers agreed, especially when it comes to showing younger generations the importance of working together. Volunteers are encouraged to bring their kids, and Cucarella noted that seeing the children's participation and the seeds of their community activism at such a young age has been one of the most incredible parts of the experience. 

“We have to get to the root of the problem,” said Carretero, explaining the project’s official motto, "conèixer, estimar, cuidar,” translating to understand, love, and take care of. “Those who understand the beach also love it. And if they love it, they’ll end up taking care of it.”