[Translation of the post in isoladiminorca.com by Gloria Vanni]
When chance becomes necessity.
My connection with Carlos Coll Pons happened by chance, when I felt the need to delve into some of the reasons behind my choice to live in Menorca. Nature, climate, sea, quality of life, sustainability, protected environment are the factors that made me love it at first sight. My love then increased but you get to a point where you need other confirmations and answers.
For example, how did Menorca managed to protect 60% of its territory? What does it mean to be Biosphere Reserve of Unesco?
Silverio, Italian friend of mine in love with Menorca, introduced me to Carlos Coll Pons. Since January 2018 he is Chairman of GOB, the apolitical charity of environmental responsibility active in Menorca since 41 years ago. Of this organisation, many people know (only) the fighting and almost contrarian spirit. The goal of this interview is exactly to understand the less-know features of GOB. Carlos seems like a person able to take himself seriously to an appropriate degree. We met on a Saturday in his old family farm and we chatted under the attentive eyes of his wife Deborah Hellyer, who was British Honorary Consul in Menorca for 23 years.
Let’s proceed orderly. Carlos, why does GOB have an image of being strident and claim-making?
«The media need titles that catch attention and, therefore, GOB often only appears as a fundamentalist. In reality, GOB is a global proposal of sustainability and respect of environment, without exaggeration. It organizes more than 100 activities per year, such as “Farm Stewardship”, project of environmental conservation through responsible agricultural management. The “Green Filters” project to tackle the water pollution problem. The “Wild Animal Hospital” in Lithica. And more: the garden centre for autochthonous plants, treks, seminars, environmental education in schools. All activities aim to protect the environment and are supported by volunteers».
Can you describe more the “Land Stewardship Project”?
«The Menorca territory mosaic is the basis for our being Unesco Biosphere Reserve since 1993. Responsible agricultural management is vital to many Mediterranean species. The “Farm Stewardship Project” started to fight field abandonment and excessive ground exploitation. Both would create loss of biodiversity. We make agreements with farm to choose sustainable productions. At the moment we have 24 “farms in custody”, some very small. We offer technical know-how and they undertake to follow sustainable protocols and to be “agronatural.
Some of them grow Menorca’s most ancient wheat; some breed the red cow, a Menorcan autochthonous species, very strong even if it produces less milk than the black and white one, the Friesian; some grow local varieties in danger of extinction; some produce ancient cheeses. The products and specialties are then sold in Mahon, at the farmer market Agromaó (every Sunday from 10.00 to 14.00 at C/ S’Arravaleta and Carrer Nou) and at the Claustre del Carme shop, open Mon-Sat from 10.00 to 13.30 and managed by volunteers».
More than 1,340 members and approx. 400 volunteers: numbers of GOB at December 2017. To volunteer, is it mandatory to speak Catalan/Menorcan and is there an obligation to attend?
«We have Spanish, English, French and Italian volunteers, no obligation of language or hours. Each one is free to perform in line with his/her availability, deciding what he/she can do for the island. To be Unesco Biosphere Reserve is not just a title, it’s a responsibility. We must keep working on sustainability and combine progress with conservation and respect of environment. To do it, GOB needs all its members and volunteers. The annual membership fee can be deducted from tax at 75%; 60 Euros, for example, means a cost of 15 Euros».
What is the “Wild Animal Hospital” in Lithica, close to Ciutadella?
«It’s a hospital for animals. Since 1998 we host wounded wild animals. We assisted more than 14 thousand owls, turtles, hawks, hedgehogs, birds of prey… The centre is managed by European volunteers, boys and girls of the “Erasmus Plus” programme who stay with us for one year. In the winter we organise programmes of environmental education in schools. In the Summer, July-September, it’s open to visitors. In the reproduction period, in June, we organise the adoption campaign of little birds who fall from the nest. At the end of July, on Monte Toro, we release the adult birds: a wonderful event, an homage to volunteers. It is possible to adopt a square metre of the centre and contribute to its maintenance: 50 Euros per year are sufficient».
Please describe “Es Viver”, the garden centre invented by GOB
«It’s near the airport (behind the Mestral of Caritas), open to visitors Friday and Saturday from 10.00 to 13.30. The goal of the GOB garden centre is to increase gardening that is environmentally respectful and easy to maintain. It has fruit trees from Menorca’s autochthonous varieties, aromatic plants for cooking, water plants for water treatment systems, certified ecological earth; also, a wide range of organic plant protection products based on vegetable, animal and mineral extracts, to take care of one’s garden in a natural way. It also offers services of design and construction for sustainable gardens with low maintenance costs, reconversion of normal gardens and much more. Es Viver is also managed by volunteers».
What is GOB’s position about the Endesa power station in the port of Mahon?
«Water and energy are the top issues of our activity in 2018. We would like to have 100% renewable energy in Menorca one day. Our goal is to replace diesel with natural gas produced by anaerobic decomposition of organic material. At the moment, the Endesa power station is our only source of energy, unfortunately, as it generates 60% of CO2 emissions».
Last question, Carlos: GOB is in favour of less tourism in Menorca?
«No, GOB is for a different tourism. To promote the island not just for sea, sun and beaches in the summer. Menorca is alive all year long and we want to communicate and share other projects. Projects of circular economy related to sustainability, protection of diversified agriculture. Projects that need the help of privates and volunteers who are the mind, the soul, arms and legs of GOB».
At the end of our interview I am already member and volunteer and I am sure of one thing: most of GOB is what is not seen. The less known aspects are essential. GOB is volunteers of every age working on cutting, collecting and cleaning fields around a farm, whom I met on a Sunday morning. They are the pioneers who defend what makes Menorca special like no other place in the Mediterranean. Persons who believe (like me) that less is more, that less is sexy !
Who is Carlos Coll Pons
Born in Sant Lluis (1950), starts working at 13 in a food shop. At 17 he opens his first food shop in Es Castell and, at 21, with a Spanish and an English partner, he opens the first supermarket in Mahon. At 30 he starts working in a bank, until retirement. Volunteer since he was a kid: altar boy, then Chairman of Spanish Red Cross for 20 years and at GOB in charge of volunteers until he became Chairman. Best wishes, Chairman!