Coronavirus: Outrage after Spanish town sprays bleach on beach ‘to protect children’

Disinfectant has ‘killed everything on the ground, even insects’, environmental activist claims

Kate Ng
Thursday 30 April 2020 11:40
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Coronavirus in numbers

Authorities in a Spanish coastal village have apologised after a bleach solution was sprayed on a beach to “protect children”, causing reportedly devastating damage to its ecosystem.

A 1.2-mile stretch of beach in the village of Zahara de los Atunes was sprayed with the disinfectant using tractors in an attempt to kill off coronavirus.

Environmental officials in the southern Andalusia region have now opened an investigation into the incident following fears that protected animal species may have been badly affected, local website el Periodico reported.

Daniel Sanchez, a delegate from the regional agriculture ministry, said the tractors may have damaged the eggs of migratory birds which nest in the dunes at this time of year. Zahara de los Atunes could face a fine of up to €60,000 (£52,000).

Environmental activist Maria Dolores Iglesias told Spanish media she had visited the beach and that the bleach had “killed everything on the ground, nothing is seen, not even insects”.

She said she saw at least one bird’s nest with eggs that had been crushed by a tractor.

“Bleach is used as a very powerful disinfectant, it is logical that it be used to disinfect streets and asphalt, but here the damage has been brutal,” she was quoted as saying.

“They have devastated the dune spaces and gone against all the rules. It has been an aberration what they have done, also taking into account that the virus lives in people, not on the beach. It is crazy.”

After being badly hit by the coronavirus pandemic, Spain is looking to lift its lockdown measures and announced a four-phase plan to allow residents to return to normality.

Zahara de los Atunes official Agustin Conejo said the bleaching had been carried out in anticipation of children who would visit the beach after six weeks of quarantine, but admitted it was a “wrong move”.

He told broadcaster Canal Sur: “I recognise it was an error. But it was done with the best of intentions.”

The authorities in Zahara de los Atunes has been sharply criticised by environmental groups for their actions.

Greenpeace Spain compared the incident to the wild suggestion made by Donald Trump that injections of disinfectant should be investigated as a potential coronavirus treatment. Mr Trump later claimed he was being “sarcastic”.

The organisation tweeted: “Fumigating beaches with bleach in the middle of bird-breeding season or during the development of the invertebrate network that will support coastal fishing … is not one of [Donald] Trump’s ideas. It is happening in Zahara de los Atunes.”

Two environmental groups have said they will file a complaint about the incident in court, seeking to charge the authorities with an ecological crime.

The Agaden-Ecologists in Action and Trafalgar Volunteers said in a statement that the actions of the authorities had “endangered the species that inhabit or transit [the beach], causing serious damage to the ecosystem of the area”.

They added: “Faced with this nonsense, we also appeal to common sense and sanity so that the rest of the coastal municipalities of the province of Cadiz, from Sanlucar de Barrameda to San Roque, do not copy this destructive model that brings more damages than benefits.”

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