Tourist brochures of the Algarve in Portugal are full of the dazzling blue of the sea and multitudes of swimming pools for those who prefer to stay free of sand and salt. But any impression of abundant water is false. Water is an acute issue here and the impacts are starkly apparent at Cruzinha, A Rocha Portugal’s field study centre on the Alvor Estuary.
The ponds and reed bed are dry, the citrus orchard planted decades ago may not survive the summer, and there is barely any rainwater in the cistern. Humans at Cruzinha may not miss the usually abundant mosquitoes, but the creatures that depend on mosquitoes for food suffer from the scarcity. Tinder-dry, the risk of wildfires is ever present.
A Rocha has been in this little corner of southwest Portugal since 1983. Our long-term presence means changes to climate, biodiversity, air, soil and water have been carefully observed and deeply felt. For the team at Cruzinha, the situation can be hard to bear, particularly as it continues to be exacerbated by seemingly mindless agricultural policies – for example, approval of a rash of new avocado plantations which will drain the already dangerously low water table.
However, the atmosphere around Cruzinha’s big old oak table at mealtimes is cheerful as people share stories of their doings: the Waxbill team are excited to report catching an impressive 15 the previous night, there were otter tracks in the transect surveyed that morning and many beautiful moths in the trap below the house. Volunteers tackled invasive species in the garden and a board game is planned for after dinner.
There is no doubt the water situation is dire, but A Rocha has always chosen to live hopefully, in worship and obedience to God, creator of all. In a parched and dusty landscape, roots must go deep. Have no doubt, the A Rocha Portugal team have deep roots of faith. When the rain finally comes, they will still be holding on.