Spain is among the countries hardest-hit by the outbreak of COVID-19. Fortunately, the country has seen signs of recovery in recent weeks.
In the recently-announced four-phase plan, Spain plans to lift all lockdown measures by the end of June. Restrictions on children were already lifted, allowed them to play outside last week for the first time since March. But in one Spanish coastal village, measures to enhance the safety of beach-goers have resulted in international outcry.
On April 26, the day before Spain authorized children to play outdoors once again, the village Zahara de los Atunes near Cadiz, Spain, sprayed over 1 mile of beach with thousands of liters of disinfecting bleach. While bleach can kill the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, environmentalists say bleaching the beach was a step too far.
Local environmental leader María Dolores Iglesias Benítez assessed the damage herself. “It’s totally absurd. The beach is a living ecosystem. And when you spray it down with bleach, you’re killing everything you come across,” she said in comments made to UK news outlet Canal Sur.
The coastal dunes of Zahara de los Atunes are nesting grounds for many birds including the Kentish plover, which has special protection in Spain. “It is a very sensitive area where the plover breeds every year,” explained Daniel Sánchez Román, a delegate on the Cádiz Sustainable Development Board.
The Board had recently planned to fence-off the nesting areas of the dunes for the plovers. The fences were not in place before the unauthorized bleach-spraying tractors arrived. “Now I’m worried that the tractors crushed the eggs,” said Iglesias Benítez.
The destruction was entirely predictable. Bleach is indiscriminate in what it kills, leaving sensitive marine and coastal animals little chance to survive the attempt at disinfecting. Even worse, some say the bleaching of the beach was not necessary to protect beach-goers from the virus. “The beach has its own way of cleaning itself. It was not necessary,” explained Iglesias Betínez.
The environmental group Greenpeace was also quick to criticize the decision. “Fumigating beaches in the middle of the breeding season for birds or the development of the invertebrate network that will support coastal fishing and destroy the tourist value of the coastline…” the group tweeted.
Local officials say they regret the decision. “I admit it was a mistake, it was done with the best intention,” said Agustín Conejo, the municipal official in charge of the decision to bleach the beach. According to the news outlet El País, the Andalusian regional government is considering fining Zahara de los Atunes based on the damage assessed.