Spanish officials slammed for spraying beach with bleach to protect children from COVID-19

Dunes in Zahara de los Atunes natural reserve, Spain

Officials in a Spanish resort town have apologised after spraying a beach with diluted bleach in an attempt to protect children from COVID-19.

The village of Zahara de los Atunes in Andalusia – which is known for its picturesque beaches – sent tractors to spray more than two kilometres of its coast with a bleach solution, just a day before Spain allowed children out of their six-week lockdown for the first time.

A European epicentre for the COVID-19 pandemic, Spain has recorded at least 25,428 deaths due to the virus. The government had imposed lockdown measures in mid-March, which were loosened in late-April to allow children under the age of 14 to go outside for up to an hour per day.

But environmentalists say the move was “absolutely absurd” and has caused “brutal damage” to the local ecosystem.

“The beach is a living ecosystem. And when you spray it down with bleach, you’re killing everything you come across,” María Dolores Iglesias Benítez, who heads an environmental volunteer group in the Cadiz region, said.

According to multiple reports, the beach and its dunes are protected breeding and nesting places for migratory birds.

Iglesias, whose organisation works to protect local beaches and the birds that live there, said she had seen at least one nest with eggs destroyed by the tractors.

“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 told Spanish media.

“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.”

The Provincial Delegation of Sustainable Development of the Junta de Andalucía is now considering fining the local authority of Zahara de los Atunes for its action.

Its president, Agustin Conejo, admitted that it was “a wrong move” to bleach the village’s coast and said that he would assume the fine, if it materialises.

“I admit that it was a mistake, it was done with the best intention,” he told Spanish news outlet El Pais, adding that the idea was to make the beach safe for children in preparation for the lifting of coronavirus lockdown measures.

The spraying controversy has also attracted the attention of Greenpeace Spain, which drew comparisons with recent comments from the United States’ president, Donald Trump, on whether the injection of cleaning products could combat COVID-19.

“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,” Greenpeace Spain wrote on Twitter.

Featured image: iStock/merc67

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