The Government created a working group to define, until December 31st, the human carrying capacity and determine the conditions for access and visit to the Benagil Cave, on the coast of Lagoa. The group will also “evaluate the possibility of creating a single access fee”, that is, a payment.
The working group, which is coordinated by the Commission for Coordination and Regional Development (CCDR) of the Algarve, is made up of twenty entities, including seven State Secretaries, the Chamber of Lagoa, Turismo de Portugal and the Tourism Region of the Algarve, among others.
Access to this natural cave, especially during the summer, is true chaos. As you can see in the video that we published in this article (see below), there are boats of all sizes and types entering the immense cave, but also jet skis, canoes, kayaks, people on paddle tennis or on inflatable mattresses, bathers swimming , even children with armbands, creating situations in which “there has never been a catastrophe by miracle”, as he told the Sul Informação the mayor of Lagoa.
There are vessels, maritime-tourist or private, that come from the nearby beach of Benagil or Carvoeiro, but also from more distant areas, such as Ferragudo, Portimão, Lagos, Albufeira or even Faro. Boats line up, by the dozens, at the entrance to the fragile cave.
The Benagil cave – which is locally known as Algar do Zé Rodeira – was once considered as one of the most beautiful in the whole world, appears in all tourist guides, appears on posters and promotional videos... but always as if it were a paradisiacal place, with no one. However, the reality is quite different and for years there has been talk of the need to regulate access to that sensitive area of the coast
For this very reason, mayor Luís Encarnação, in his declarations to the Sul Informação, was very pleased with the order published today in Diário da República, creating the Working Group.
«Recently, when the RTA president took office, I insisted to the Minister for the Environment on the need to create rules not only for the Benagil cave, but for the entire stretch of coastline from Praia da Marinha to Praia de Benagil. We have to put everything on the same scale, because the problems are the same».
However, for now, the study of access to the Benagil cave is only progressing. José Apolinário, president of CCDR Algarve, the entity that will lead the working group, defended, in statements to our newspaper, that, «when you want to do everything, you do nothing».
«Everyone understands that there must be regulatory measures and that the load in that location must be reduced. There are compromises that we have to reach, weighing up the fact that it is one of the most beautiful and most visited spots in the world and the fact that it is necessary to guarantee the safety and environmental preservation of that cave, he added.
Apolinário defended that, for now, it is necessary to take «small steps», in an issue that involves numerous entities – at least the twenty that make up the working group. In the opinion of the president of CCDR Algarve, it is necessary «to have above all commitments and self-regulation».
Recalling that, in Portugal, there are already similar measures imposed on another jewel of the coast, the Berlengas islands, Apolinário also highlighted that the working group will «try to build a proposal, perhaps in phases, but with concrete measures, that guarantee environmental preservation and security".
The mayor of Lagoa said that the creation of the working group to study only the case of the Benagil cave did not leave him «completely satisfied, but it is a principle, it is the starting point for starting to look at this issue».
«We are aware of the chaos that Praia da Marinha and Benagil has become, subject to great pressure. It's not just the boats that come by sea, there are dozens of kayaks, canoes, paddle boards that leave the beach, with aggressive sales», underlined Luís Encarnação.
«The Municipality, alone, does not have the powers to resolve these serious problems. But we have not given up and this order from the Minister of the Environment is the result of our request and insistence».
For the mayor of Lagos, there is no doubt that «the Benagil cave and this whole coastal area do not have the capacity to receive all those who want to visit them. It is necessary to create an order, define load capacity, create rules».
The Lagoa Chamber, which is part of the working group, is therefore very interested in making its “contribution”.
“Our concern is that we are killing the goose that lays the golden eggs. Marinha beach and the Benagil cave are icons not only of the Algarve, but of the country», stressed Luís Encarnação.
«The problem is that these areas are transformed into the opposite of what tourist advertising shows: instead of being a paradise, they are the real chaos».
The working group, in addition to the twenty entities that compose it, according to the joint order, may also «invite other entities whose contribution is considered relevant».
The deadline for presenting the “conclusions and their proposal” ends on December 31st.
Objectives of the Working Group:
a) Fix the human carrying capacity for access to the Benagil Caves, considering their sensitivity and stability and the security conditions to be guaranteed to people and goods;
b) Define the forms and conditions of access to the Benagil Caves;
c) Define the type of vessels authorized to access the Benagil Caves, as well as how to proceed with this access, namely, length, breadth, draft, maximum capacity, type and activity, speed and other procedures to be carried out by the vessels;
d) Define access control mechanisms to the Benagil Caves;
e) Evaluate, propose and develop measures to reinforce security in accessing the Benagil Caves;
f) Evaluate, propose and develop mechanisms for monitoring and controlling compliance with the established human carrying capacity limit;
g) Evaluate the possibility of creating a single fee for access to the Benagil Caves.
Who is part of the Working Group?
a) a representative of the Office of the Secretary of State for National Defence;
b) a representative of the Office of the Secretary of State for Tourism, Commerce and Services;
c) a representative of the Office of the Secretary of State for the Sea;
d) a representative of the Office of the Secretary of State for the Environment;
e) a representative of the Office of the Secretary of State for the Conservation of Nature and Forests;
f) a representative of the Office of the Secretary of State for Local Administration and Territorial Planning;
g) a representative of the Office of the Secretary of State for Fisheries;
h) a representative of the Commission for the Coordination and Regional Development of the Algarve;
i) a representative of the Intermunicipal Community of the Algarve;
j) one representative of the Municipality of Lagoa;
k) a representative of Turismo de Portugal, IP;
l) a representative of the Algarve Tourism Board;
m) a representative of the General Directorate of Natural Resources, Safety and Maritime Services (Fisheries and Sustainability);
n) a representative of the National Maritime Authority;
o) a representative of the Portuguese Institute of the Sea and the Atmosphere;
p) a representative of the Institute for the Conservation of Nature and Forests, IP;
q) a representative of the Portuguese Environment Agency, IP;
r) a representative of the Portuguese Association of Congress, Tourist Animation and Events Companies;
s) a representative of the Association of Tourist Animation Companies of the Algarve – Algarve Anima;
t) a representative of Docapesca – Portos e Lotas, SA