Mar Menor: deep story of a disaster

Category: Best data-driven reporting (small and large newsrooms)

Country/area: Spain

Organisation: Datadista

Organisation size: Small

Publication date: 10 Nov 2019

Credit: Ana Tudela, Antonio Delgado

Project description:

This investigation shows how the Mar Menor, a coastal saltwater lagoon Spain -Western Mediterranean’s largest saltwater lagoon- was polluted after three decades of laws being broken, half-truths about where irrigation water came from and an underground chaos of canals, desalination plants and discharge points that was first fostered and then left to grow without control. We show in exclusive the situation of the thousands of legal water wells that extract water from the Campo de Cartagena aquifer and official statements recognizing part of the problem. 

Impact reached:

All the investigation, interviews, multimedia and web development was done by the two founding journalists of Datadista. Eldiario.es and La Sexta TV as collaborated only for spread the story and gain more impact. Twelve hours after the publication of the investigation thousands of dead fish washed up on Mar Menor. This circumstance helped to amplify our work beacuse we explained the real reasons for this environmental disaster in front of the official regional government version.

The investigation had more than 162,000 unique visitors and more than 250,000 pageviews during the first five days en Datadista.com and in special version for eldiario.es. Two news pieces based on this investigation had broadcast four times in La Sexta News (Octubre 12 and 13) with an audiencie between 826,000 and 1,217,000 spectators each. @Datadista Twitter acount had 1.7 million impressions 42,363 interactions during the first seven days. More than 8,587 Twitter accounts have published links to the report on eldiario.es and datadista.com, some from famous users like the singer Alejandro Sanz, the Spanish actor Santiago Segura or the author of international bestsellers Arturo Pérez Reverte. Sum of RT for this tweets are more than 22,216. On Facebook we had 38,253 shares, comments and reactions. This work has been recognized by the GIJN (Global Investigative Journalism Network) as one of the eight best research in Spanish in 2019, the only one of its annual selection made in Spain.

Techniques/technologies used:

This journalistic investigative is based on the analysis of data from public bodies, access to documentation obtained from our own sources and requests for public information. We have also had access to complaints, reports and transcripts of declarations at judicial headquarters. During this research we have interviewed more than thirty sources that have given their testimony in interviews recorded in audiovisual format and off the record. 

We used web-scraping to catch thousands of official documents and public contracts to do an analysis of the work done in the last decades by administrations such as the Segura Hydrographic Conference. We have analyzed the public accounts of dozens of large agro-industries, farmer groups and their international subsidiaries that are being investigated by justice for contaminating the lagoon. We have also analyzed data documents leaked with thousands of water wells and agricultural plots in the Campo de Cartagena area with geographic information tools (QGIS).  We have used After Effects, Premiere, Photoshop and illustrator to develop the videos and animations. In web development we have used HTML5, CSS3 and Javascript (jquery and other dozens of libraries). For the visualization of some interactive graphics we have used Flourish.

What was the hardest part of this project?

We have had to go back many decades to be able to investigate and understand all the causes that have contributed in an interrelated factors to the pollution of the lagoon. We had to read and analyze thousands of official documents, interview more than thirty sources and make half a dozen requests for information. We have obtained part of the oficial data information through leaks, because the administrations, although they are obliged, have not provided the required information. With all the key documents and data we have been able to demonstrate the lack of regulation and inspection by the administrations of the farmers of the Campo de Cartagena, many of them large exporting agricultural producers to Europe and the United Kingdom. The lack of regulation and inspection has contributed to the pollution of the lagoon. Administrations have allowed farmers to exploit he water resources, digging illegal wells and canals that ruined the quality of subterranean clean waters.

What can others learn from this project?

This investigative reporting was difficult and complex to explain to audience because their have to understand very well technical aspects of the functioning of ecosystems, legislative normative at European, national and regional level to know demonstrate how the administrations really did not do their control work. To solve this we have used a visual narrative that allows users to understand at first look the main problems, how this situation has been reached and then ther can to be able to deepen into each story. For this we have used resources based on videos with short interviews, video animations, clear visualizations, satellite images and web animations. We have also made a thread on Twitter to help understand the main headlines of the story. (Project link 5 and 6 ). Because we are very small organisation media, to achieve a greater impact and reach a greater audience, we have reached an agreement with two Spanish national media (eldiario.es and La Sexta TV) to republish and cover the main conclusions of the investigation.



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