In a ludicrous attempt to combat the coronavirus, Spain bleaches an ecologically important beach

April 30, 2020 • 9:15 am

You can argue about which pandemic precautions taken by national governments are superfluous or overreactions, but this one definitely falls into the last class. The BBC reports (click on screenshot):

This is a really boneheaded move, especially in light of the site’s ecological importance (see Adam Rutherford’s remarks below). The BBC says this:

Zahara de los Atunes, near Cadiz, used tractors to spray more than 2km (1.2 miles) of beach with a bleach solution a day before Spain allowed children out of lockdown for the first time.

Environmentalists say the move caused “brutal damage” to the local ecosystem.

Spain has been badly affected by the coronavirus, with 23,800 deaths.

It recently announced a four-phase plan to lift its stringent lockdown measures and return to a “new normality” by the end of June.

María Dolores Iglesias, who heads an environmental volunteer group in the Cadiz region, said she had visited the beach at Zahara de los Atunes and seen the damage for herself.

She said the bleach “killed everything on the ground, nothing is seen, not even insects”.

The beach and its dunes are protected breeding and nesting places for migratory birds and Ms Iglesias said she had seen at least one nest with eggs destroyed by the tractors.

. . .Local official Agustín Conejo admitted it was “a wrong move”.

“I admit that it was a mistake, it was done with the best intention,” he said.

Mr Conejo said they had wanted to protect children who were coming to see the sea after six weeks in confinement.

The Andalusian regional government is now considering fining the local authority for its action, El Pais newspaper reports.

Had they asked the government, or any scientist or rational physician, they would have been told that there is no danger in people contracting coronavirus from a beach itself, particularly one that has been closed down for several months. Yes, you can get it from other people on the beach, but bleaching a beach is not going to help that.

Think of all the animals killed by this ridiculous move.  Biologist, geneticist and writer Adam Rutherford, who spent some of his formative time as a biologist on that beach, and reported this article to me, gave me permission to quote his email, which he signed “In despair”:

Jerry, here’s a thing that might grind your gears. Steve Jones has been running a field trip to a little village on the very southern coast of Spain for second-year undergraduates for decades now, called Zahara de los Atunes. You can see Africa on a clear day. It’s a place where they have fished tuna for centuries as they migrate in and out of the Med using this brutal but effective technique called Almadraba.

I went in ’95; it is the highlight of the evolution undergraduate experience at University College London: field work on Aquarius, mark-recaptures on beetles, various snails, and our first taste of our own research projects – mine was a rather naive observation of how manipulating floral symmetry affected pollinator visits (and I continued on symmetry in stalkies for the next couple of years). More important, as I’ve said dozens of times, learning statistics on the roof of a hotel on the beach with a beer, is by far the best way to make it stick. I’ve been back twice now when travelling round Andalusia.

Steve will fill you in on the details. Anyway, the Spanish authorities bleached 1.2 km of the beach to combat coronavirus. Absolute batshit insane lunacy.

I knew of that course well. It was originally co-taught with Nick Barton before he moved to Edinburgh; and the course had a terrific reputation. Steve Jones, emeritus professor at UCL, snail researcher, author, and one of my collaborators on fly work, added his own comment about the bleaching of the place where he taught:

It strikes me as a potty idea. They probably killed a few hundred thousand snails, and perhaps ten times as many beetles (we used to do mark-recapture experiments to count the numbers, which were always huge, with most of the animals below the surface). I can’t imagine that the spray did much good to the lilies, cistus and other flowers we did experiments on, but this is the Mediterranean/Atlantic spring, and I think that the plants will bounce back pretty quick. Most of it seems to have gone onto the dunes, with lots of migratory and nesting birds at this time of year (it’s a major fly-way across from Africa). One thing it will not damage will be the coronavirus for that has its reservoir in people and not on sand.


35 thoughts on “In a ludicrous attempt to combat the coronavirus, Spain bleaches an ecologically important beach

      1. The immediate comparison in media was to his ideas on using bleach on the virus in places where no bleach should go.

        1. And, I should add, where the bleach is not effective (no virus respectively hidden inside cells).

  1. The title: “Spain bleaches an Ecologically Important bleach.” The second “Bleach” should read “beach.”

    1. Well, there is no need to be offensive with this kind of generalisations.
      As a Spaniard myself, I am shocked by the news and I know many (I dare say most) of my fellow countrymen would never do that.
      By the way, the title itself “Spain…” is a bit biased, since the malfeasants are some moronic officials of a local government, rather than the national Government.

      1. It was not even the Cadiz provincial Government or the Andalusian regional Government, just the local town authorities. I found the title very surprising too.

        1. ““I admit that it was a mistake, it was done with the best intention,” he said.”
          My mom, a thoughtful woman, had the following view: “The roads in hell are paved with good intentions”
          The high surface temperatures and UV levels of beaches, not to mention the large surface-area to volume ratio of sand and voracious interstitial meso- and microfaunas, make them one of the most virus-free habitats on earth. However, I would be careful picking up a discarded plastic cup.

          1. It’s been scientifically established that a strong UV light administered internally will reduce the danger of coronavirus.

            As long as the person to whom the UV light administered internally is Donald Trump.

            And by “administered internally” I mean “shaved right up his arse”.

  2. Good grief, words fail me. The name of the official who issued the apology, Mr Conejo, translates as “rabbit”, which is appropriate for Bugs Bunny Day.

    1. Interesting. I wonder if the English “coney” is derived from the Spanish “conejo”? Actually they are probably both derived from something older, like Latin, and then had separate tortuous routes to the present.

      It’s also reminiscent of “cojones,” sort of the opposite of the disposition commonly attributed to rabbits through history.

      1. Male conejos with cojones are noted for being
        prolific reproducers. I’ve known of some rabbit breeders who enjoy observing this behavior.

        I’m sorry that Sr. Conejo did not think to seek expert advice before cleansing his beach of all life.

  3. Not good. One positive thing about this episode, the person responsible unequivocally admitted that it was a mistake. That doesn’t happen very often, particularly with authority figures.

  4. I hope that Sr. Conejo, a local official with big, floppy ears and nothing in between them, will become a figure of fun in Spanish cartooning. Some millenia ago, my wife and I were guests of a family friend in Galicia who kept conejos, as quite a few Spaniards did at the time. I can report they were delicious.

  5. That’s a mother-of-all-facepalms moment right there. What the actual hell? That guy’s gonna lose the next election in a heartbeat.

    Just strange that this idiocy didn’t come from Dump directly. My brain did a double-take for a moment on that one.

  6. As a spanish myself, I would align with the complains about the title. Spain is a very big unfair generalization, it was a single official from the local administration who was responsible for this. Me, and 99% of spanish people had nothing to do with this. I cannot say it objectively is, but it actually feels hurtful. Just think what as when Trump does something and it’s told as “America screws with X”, and he’s the fucking president, not some local official.

    And being, I think, an exageration, you could take on account the political situation in Spain. The government is acting to the best of everyone’s knowledge, is actually letting himself be informed by scientifical advisors, and despite errors, one can objectively be satisfied.

    The opposition parties are just not helping, the level of political confrontation is actually scaring me, because for moments the next step just seems to be coup or civil war.

    The rigth wing parties are just oposing everything, they dont care if they contradict themselves. Just imagine Trump, Pahlin, and the best of the best of the Tea Party in the opposition and using every political institution, public appearance or whatever to do their thing; that’s just happening now in Spain.

    As for regional nationalist parties, they don’t seem to be contrary to any measure itself, but just seems they don’t want to be seen collaborating too much with central government, that would make them “less nationalist” or whatever. Well, Catalonian president Torra, and some in his government, had actually made some disgusting remarks too.

    Of course, the title of your post has nothing to do with this, but just so you know in which context it’s read from spain.

    1. I sympathise with your annoyance. It obviously wasn’t ‘Spain’ (acting as a country or a government) that did it.

      The BBC just said ‘Spanish beach …’ which is accurate and doesn’t give that misleading impression.

      Might as well say ‘USA recommends drinking disinfectant’ – well it was their elected leader that said it 😉


      1. Now let’s be fair to the Orange Menace. He didn’t say drink it. He said inject it! He’s not that stupid!

    2. Just to be clear, I am complainint about Jerry’s wording of the title. He even talks on the first lines of “measures taken by central governments”.

Leave a Reply