Airport Proposal In Portugal. An Environmental Disaster In The Making

A new airport has been given approval by the Portuguese Environment Agency (APA) on wetlands in the Tagus Estuary.

The level of investigation into the impact of this scheme during the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) has been deemed inadequate. José Alves, a researcher from the Centre for Marine and Environmental Studies at the University of Aveiro (UA), where he is also a lecturer in the Department of Biology, and who has studied migratory birds in the Tagus Estuary, as well as in the Arctic and West Africa, described it as ‘highly deficient and in some places erroneous’. Yet the proposal was still accepted and given the green light on the 21st January this year.  Alves has highlighted three areas where the EIA has fallen short.

Firstly  the international importance of the area has been greatly underestimated in the assessment, which focused on local impact and has ignored the fact that many thousands of visiting birds such as Black-tailed Godwits use the site both as wintering and stop over point meaning it will have a large, international, regional impact on the entire flyway. Both populations of Black-tailed Godwit, which is Near Threatened, will be affected if the airport goes ahead, those breeding in Iceland Limosa limosa islandica and those that breed in Europe L. l. limosa alike. The wintering population of Black-tailed Godwits in the estuary is around 50,000. In addition to these there are, among others, 12,000 Dunlin Calidris alpina, 6,000 Pied Avocets Recurvirostra avosetta and around 2,000 Grey Plovers Pluvialis squatarola.

The second point that Alves highlights is the fact that the data they have used to make this assessment is hopelessly out of date. The data used in the document were collected in scientific studies performed 10 to 15 years ago, and are limited to a small number of species, there has been no collection of data about the distribution and effective number of birds using the Tagus Estuary in the present day.

The third shortcoming refers to the noise impact study. The EIA assumes that tests done using air horns will exactly replicate the reaction of the birds to the noise of a jet aircraft. The air horns blast for short, three-second burst and at a fixed decibel output, the aircraft will impact for longer and at a varying level of decibels. In addition, the study states that 60 decibels of sound does not cause disturbance to the birds which means that the areas where disturbance has been deemed to occur are wrong. The previous study, on which this study is based, found that this level of noise does constitute a disturbance.

In Wader Quest talks we heavily criticise the development of a sea wall at Saemanguem in South Korea, and stress that these major developments are a disaster as far as our waders are concerned. Here we are though, now talking about just such a disaster, not somewhere in the developing world, but right here in the heart of Europe, where this sort of destruction is supposed never to happen due to checks and balances being put in place. If those checks and balances are woefully inadequate, like this EIA, then how can we have any faith in the overseers of this sort of decision will make the right, informed decision?

Find out more and get involved. The British bred Black-tailed Godwits, into which the RSPB and WWT are investing so much effort in restoring as a breeding bird in the UK through their joint headstarting project, will be directly and negatively affected by this proposal.

Read José Alves’ argument in greater detail here:

Petition in Dutch here:

Petition in English here:

Wadertails blog: