Spanish official apologises for spraying beach with bleach

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An official in southern Spain has apologised for spraying the local beach with diluted bleach in an attempt to protect residents from Covid-19.

The picturesque fishing village of Zahara de los Atunes sent tractors equipped with sprayers along part of its beach last week as officials readied for the release of the country’s children after six weeks of confinement.

Spain has been among the countries hardest hit by coronavirus, with more than 23,800 deaths. The government imposed lockdown measures in mid-March, and this week the measures were loosened to allow children under the age of 14 daily outings of up to an hour.

Spanish coronavirus deaths – graph

The decision to disinfect the beach has incensed environmentalists. “It’s totally absurd,” said Maria Dolores Iglesias Benitez. “The beach is a living ecosystem. And when you spray it down with bleach, you’re killing everything you come across.”

Iglesias Benitez heads a local association that has been active in protecting the area, which serves as a nesting ground for the Kentish plover as well as several species of migratory birds.

With humans barred from the beach for the past six weeks, she had hoped the number of nests in the area would double this year. “Now I’m worried that the tractors crushed the eggs,” she said.

Her group has lodged complaints with local authorities, attracting the attention of groups such as Greenpeace Spain.

“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, in reference to the US president’s recent musing on whether the injection of cleaning products could combat Covid-19.

An official with the regional government in Andalucia said it was looking into the attempted disinfection amid claims that the local officials and business association that carried it out did not have the necessary permissions.

One municipal official, Agustin Conejo, said his actions had been motivated solely by a desire to protect children. “I recognise it was an error,” he told the broadcaster Canal Sur. “But it was done with the best of intentions.”

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