While the name "estuary" sounds somewhat grandiose, it’s really not the case. In Zarautz we call this stretch of water “kanala”, perhaps because of the walls channelling the river mouth, which were built in the early 20th century.
Here the tide flows with same force, mixing salt and fresh water. It drags in an enormous amount of material, stone, sand, etc. With so much muddy water, so much daily disorder (twice salty, another twice fresh, followed by dryness) there is no good habitat for plant species, although the same cannot be said of the animal life, various species of which abound. Opportunistic species like the seagulls gather together in large groups, turning their beaks to the wind to preen their feathers. The wading birds run up and down the shore dipping their bills into the sand for food. The voracious grey mullet colonizes these turbulent waters, eating everything it finds. Remains of shells indicate the existence of crustaceans.
Godwits, worms, snails, sand fleas, etc., all typical inhabitants of the estuary, often leave visible traces of their having been present in the sand.
The area lying between the north of the beach and the left-hand side bank of the Iñurritza river is one of the most extensive dune systems in the province, covering around 177,200 m2, most of which are now occupied by the Golf Club installations.
A recently created walkway permits us to visit the dunes and observe their plants, and, if we’re lucky, offers the chance to spot its various inhabitants.
The dunes are extremely fragile formations, given that the vegetation there is easily ripped out at the roots by the wind, which can cause destruction of the habitat.
The plants living on the side of the dune, which faces the sea, can suffer a great deal from the inclemency of the weather.
All of the dune's flora vegetation and fauna have to withstand extreme conditions and a difficult life. They have taken a great many years of evolution to adapt to a harsh, almost desert-like way of life, with strong sunshine during the day creating difficulties in fens of water retention and a near constant salty wind battering the fine grains of sand against them.
The plants have had to develop a variety of reticular systems in order to extract humidity from deep bellow of the sand; they prepare their leaves to retain water like sponges, or turn them into little channels carrying drops of dew directly to the stalk of the plant.
The various creatures inhabiting the dunes: birds, reptiles, amphibians and small insects have also adapted to the difficult conditions of the ecosystem, and so some of patience is needed to spot and observe them, given that most of them are perfectly integrated to the land. If you come across them, don’t frighten them, just take a snapshot of them as a souvenir.
The Iñurritza marshlands, while covering only a small area of land, contain all of the essential elements of such an ecosystem. They are currently in the process of recovery and we hope that they will be fully restored as soon as possible. People change, as do attitudes, and the area which only a few years ago served as rubbish dump known as "zubiondoko zakarreta" is now taking on a different appearance.
The marshland vegetation is very special and, despite not being particularly varied, offers extraordinary riches given the scarcity of ecosystems inhabited only by plants which, having adapted to withstanding the changing of the tide and the salt residue deposited on the mud, have also had to adapt to an inrush of fresh water. The marshland vegetation plays an essential part in the biological cycle of both, the estuary and of the marshland itself and is vital for the variety of fauna living in the area.