Zahara de los Atunes Beach Sprayed With Bleach, Prompting Backlash

A metropolitan police officer clears a couple of tourists who slept on the beach after closing the access to La Mar Bella beach in Barcelona, Spain.
David Ramos / Getty Images

Zahara de los Atunes, a small fishing village in Spain’s Cadiz province, is the site of controversy after officials sent in tractors last week to spray a bleach solution across more than a mile of beachfront, BBC reported. The act was an attempt to disinfect the area, well known for its beautiful, sandy beach, against the coronavirus. This decision came just one day before the move to allow children out of their strict lockdown.

Since then, locals and environmentalists alike have criticized the decision, as it will likely cause significant damage to the fragile beach and dune ecosystem. It is an ecologically important habitat that provides a home to a wide variety of creatures and is protected as a breeding and nesting ground for many threatened migratory birds.

An Arctic Tern sits on it's nest.
  Dan Kitwood / Getty Images

According to the BBC report, Maria Dolores Iglesias, the head of a voluntary environmental group in Cadiz, paid a visit to Zahara de los Atunes to assess the damage caused by the disinfectant. Where wildlife had reportedly been thriving during the lockdown, she found that the bleach had killed everything on the ground, leaving nothing behind. She also reported that the nests of protected bird species had been destroyed by the tractors, damaging the eggs residing within. After seeing the damage first hand, Iglesias condemned the local authority’s decision.

“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.”

“Taking into account that the virus lives in people, not on the beach, it is crazy,” she added.

As The Guardian reported, Spain is among the countries most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, with more than 23,800 deaths since the first case was confirmed there at the end of January. As a result, they have had to take serious measures to control the spread of the virus. The government imposed a nationwide lockdown in March but is now implementing a four-step plan to relax the current measures. Children under the age of 14 will now be allowed outside for up to an hour, meaning they may soon return to their local beaches.

Following the backlash they received, Zahara de los Atunes officials have been forced to apologize, stating that they simply wanted to protect the children who would be returning to the beach after six weeks of confinement.

Agustin Conejo, one of the municipal officials behind the decision to spray the beach, has expressed his regret over the matter.

“I recognize that it was an error. But it was done with the best intentions.”

Regardless, the Andalusian regional government is now considering fining the local authority. They are reportedly looking into claims that local officials and the business association involved did not have the appropriate permissions to carry out the disinfection in the first place.