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Free Dunes: a fight born in Portugal for the Troia Peninsula

Thousands of grains between the Atlantic Ocean and the Sado River estuary form a sandy expanse more than 25 km long: the Troia Peninsula, in Portugal. Formed by lagoons, marshes, and dunes, Troia is a unique biodiversity reserve that carries rare natural features.  


However, the natural beauty of this place has attracted, in recent years, a large number of mega constructions, such as luxury hotels, golf courses, and resorts. In addition to the ecologically sensitive areas with very specific fauna and flora, the construction of such structures requires a quantity of water beyond what the region can provide.  


In this context, a movement emerged in 2020 that is fighting against the urbanization projects in that area: Free Dunes or Dunas Livres in Portuguese. Created by two biologists, a forestry engineer, and an architect, the movement's main goal is to prevent luxury tourism that affects the environmental protection of the Costa Azul area and to make sure that environmental laws are properly enforced.  


Personally involved with the Troia Peninsula, they founded the "Free Dunes" movement to question the legality of the project, both environmentally and economically. Catarina Rosa, a biologist and one of the founders, seeks through the networks what she calls "spreading the word," the goal is to let everyone know what the social, historical, environmental, and cultural value of that area is.  


"We want to preserve something that is important to everyone. And by everyone, I'm including non-human beings as well. We also realized that there are many of the species that live there are protected by European law in places where mega-developments are projected. So, from there, we also got into the legal part, Catarina confessed.  



With the help of a large group of people, both locals and people who currently live there, the movement gets the help it needs to know what happens there on a daily basis. For next summer, the purpose is to promote demonstrations, artistic movements, and protests and to get out of the virtual environment. For Catarina, it also means not maintaining "couch activism." 


Catarina's account raises an important question: what is the real value of these works? It seems that beyond the millions of euros invested, the biggest price will be for the natural lands lost, and the animals and species that will be affected.  



Tourist pressure increases every year 



Another question that "Dunas Livres" asks is: will this project benefit Portuguese citizens in any way, or is it totally geared towards tourists? This is because that area is already largely dominated by places geared toward visitors. According to Catarina Rosa, one of the arguments used by the Grândola Chamber for the projects is employability.  


However, one must take into account that establishments such as resorts and luxury hotels often generate seasonal jobs. That is, on the one hand, it is true that they would be contributing a few pairs of jobs, but for how long? Catarina points out that such employability can be precarious.  


The blue coast from Tróias to Melides has gradually become an area of intense real estate and tourism pressure. This means that people are paying more and more to be there, and the offers for the remaining locals to sell their houses for high values are also increasing.  


Another concern is the privatization of beaches that should belong to everyone. With the mega constructions, many beaches will have exclusive access to the guests of the luxury resorts, and there is a social question to be debated here: whose right to enjoy the beaches?  


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