Tabarca, also known in Spanish as Nueva Tabarca or Isla Plana, is an island located in the Mediterranean Sea, about 4 nautical miles from the port of Santa Pola and 12 miles from Alicante. It is an island that is administratively classified as a rural departure from Alicante. Its dimensions are 450 wide by 1800 meters long, being its highest point 15 meters above sea level.
The modern history of the island begins in 1768 when, after the liberation of seventy-nine families from the island of Tabarka (located 300 meters from the Tunisian coast) from the slavery of the local regime, they were taken to the island to live there. A house was built for each family, as well as a protection wall and other military elements. Tabarca was initially defended by the Spanish army, but in 1854 the permanent military troops of the island were withdrawn. It is in the second half of the twentieth century when tourism takes center stage and fishing is abandoned as the main economic activity of the island.
Tabarca was recognized in 1964 as a Historic – Artistic Site and later as an Asset of Cultural Interest, as well as geological, biological, historical, urban planning and gastronomical.
The population decreased very notably, counting with almost 2000 inhabitants in 1780 until the 57 that reside at the moment. The economy is based almost 100% on tourism today, reaching about 10,000 tourists on the busiest days of summer. The island is divided into two parts, one urbanized and the other rural, as it is an area of special importance for birds and nature reserves. In the urbanized part, the large central plaza stands out, driving the planning of the streets in two axes, one East-West and the other North-South, from which the other streets are developed following an orthogonal framework parallel to these axes. Transport is carried out mainly by boat, except in cases of emergency, in which a helicopter can reach the island using the futsal field as a heliport. The regular transport service is covered by several private companies of catamarans of great capacity (at a price of about € 15 per passenger) with schedules that depend entirely on tourism seasons, in addition to some fast pneumatic boats, also private, which give greater flexibility but at a higher price. The island is located in the center of the 1400 hectares protected by the marine reserve. The function of this reserve is to preserve the flora as well as the fauna.
The medical services offered are very scarce; in summer, a doctor resides in addition to the post of the red cross that attends on the beach. In winter, attention is given by telematics. For any urgency or medical specialty, islanders have to travel to Elche (40 minutes travel) or Alicante (1 hour). The security services are covered by the local police of Alicante, in addition to the guards of the reserve and marine patrols of the civil guard. Tabarca does not have a school, so students have to travel to Santa Pola. The management of urban solid waste is carried out by transporting them in a boat daily to Santa Pola (where they are treated in a plant). In turn, wastewater is treated by screening and secondary treatment by active sludge, and then expelling the resulting product 400 meters from the coast through a pipeline.
Tabarca has been targeted by the critics of the inhabitants in the city of Alicante. The poor supply of transport, as well as its price and the minimum public services have been a historical claim by the inhabitants of the island. It should be noted the criticism of the construction of 19 bungalows in the southwestern part of the island, with a modern look, totally outside the island’s architectural tradition; 6 of them were declared illegal in 2003, so the houses were demolished in 2016.
The most important modernization works have been the rehabilitation of the wall (begun in 1980 and continued until today) and the church, that has been able to reopen its doors in 2016 after 13 years. In 2017 another important work was approved, the construction of several pumps and pipes through which the wastewater from the island can be transported to the city of Santa Pola, in order to treat the waste correctly in the water station residuals of said city.
The massive tourism that every summer receives the island is in my opinion a serious problem. Issues such as waste management are very complicated to perform; the poor environmental conscience of tourists means that a precious natural environment can become a garbage dump that greatly harms the lives of protected species. The deficient transportation services, medical or educational, make the island a place where developing a normal life is complicated. Works such as the expansion and improvement of the current port would be a great help to the residents, and monetizing the berths in it would be a good compensatory measure for the marine reserve. The construction of the bungalows is in my opinion an aberration for the landscape; its modernist style is completely separated from the typical aesthetics of the houses of the island.
The conclusions that I have been able to draw from this study is that the mismanagement of tourism, as well as the indiscriminate granting of building permits, can make a great environment take a turn for the worse.