Queen Sofía spends Saturday picking up rubbish from Alicante beach
‘QUEEN Mother’ Sofía has been at it again: Clearing up after civilians.
The ordinary citizen goes to the beach to chill out and catch the rays, but the wife of Spain’s first King in the democratic era goes there to sweep up cigarette butts and pick up discarded crisp packets and drinks cans, armed with a selection of bin-bags.
She does take a summer holiday every year without fail in her Mallorca villa, Marivent, but outside of this, Queen Sofía (pictured, centre) sees more of beaches wearing rubber gloves and bent double with handfuls of other people’s rubbish than she does relax in the sun.
Time-travellers from earlier centuries would think the tables had turned, but the 21st-century European aristocracy is passionate about social equality and caring for the environment – and King Felipe VI’s mum and former Queen Consort still spends nearly every waking hour working for the charities she founded, supports, or is patron of.
And as her track record shows since her husband King Juan Carlos I abdicated in 2014 – meaning she could have officially retired and was already a decade overdue for doing so – this charity work does not just involve PR.
There’s plenty of that since a ‘Royal visit’ to a non-profit organisation’s branches is excellent advertising for their cause and drums up donors and volunteers, but Queen Sofía’s involvement has long included getting her hands dirty, donning trainers and khakis, rolling up her sleeves and getting stuck into some manual graft.
Due to turn 83 in just over a month’s time, HRH Sofía has every legitimate excuse for spending life with her feet up, but would never dream of using any of them.
And although she never attracts or seeks publicity for her super-human efforts, the Greek-born second cousin of the UK’s Prince Philip unwittingly shows the world just how hard the Royals in Europe actually work – long past State pension age and typically seven days a week.
In past months, Queen Sofía has been seen on a beach in the province of Málaga and in a Madrid nature reserve joining in ‘clean-up days’, but this time she headed for the Costa Blanca, spending her Saturday morning stuffing rubbish bags on Alicante city’s Almadraba beach.
Her eponymous charitable foundation works closely with environmental organisation SEO/BirdLife and with its joint campaigns, together with national recycling firm Ecoembes, on its regular volunteer clear-up sessions in natural enclaves.
SEO/BirdLife and Ecoembes launched a project encouraging members of the public to give up a little of their time to clear a square metre of litter, and through it, has organised five Spain-wide ‘clean-up weekends’.
The latest targeted 248 coastal areas – beaches and the countryside bordering them – and sea-beds, involving qualified divers, including La Barrosa (Cádiz province), Bogatell (Barcelona), Teresitas (Santa Cruz de Tenerife), La Carolina (Almería), La Caleta del Estacio (Murcia) and the Cala Blava in the Balearic Islands.
During the previous clean-up, volunteers, plus the Red Cross, removed 4.6 tonnes of rubbish from Spain’s beaches – over 20,500 items of refuse – thanks to around 2,170 people, Royal and non-Royal, giving up part of their day.
Clean-ups are also jointly organised by the sea conservation charity Oceánidas, whose volunteer scuba-divers recover underwater waste up to around 60 metres from the shore.
Queen Sofía spoke to several of these in Alicante, including brothers Jorge and Raúl Rodríguez, who told her they had found ‘massive amounts of plastic bags, tins, cans, remains of disposable gloves and pieces of metal at a depth of around four metres (13 feet).
Much of the rubbish that winds up in the sea started out as litter inland, dropped in streets and parks, and carried by the breeze – in fact, it is not unusual for plastics dumped as far as 12 kilometres from the nearest beach to end up on the seafloor.
Litter collected up during these cleaning sessions is duly separated for recycling – Queen Sofía was seen taking blue bags, for paper and cardboard, and yellow ones, for plastics and aluminium, to the Red Cross tent for inspection and labelling.
She attracted compliments, gratitude and greetings from passers-by and sunbathers, as well as from Alicante’s mayor Luis Barcala and his tourism councillor Maricarmen Sánchez, both of whom attended the beach-cleaning.
Published thinkspain.com 28 September 2021