Coronavirus: Outcry as Spanish beach sprayed with bleach

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The beach and dunes at Zahara de los Atunes are breeding sites for protected birds

Authorities in a Spanish coastal resort have apologised after spraying a beach with bleach in an attempt to protect children from coronavirus.

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.

“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.”

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Media captionChildren in Spain have been allowed outside for the first time in six weeks

Ms Iglesias said that because of the lockdown, wildlife had been thriving on the beach.

“The beach has its own way of cleaning itself, it was not necessary,” she said.

“They do not think that this is a living ecosystem, but a lot of land.”

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.

Greenpeace in Spain drew a comparison with controversial statements by US President Donald Trump, who suggested that injecting patients with disinfectant might help treat coronavirus.

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Media captionMr Trump made the comments at a government briefing on Thursday

“Fumigating beaches in the middle of the breeding season for birds or the development of the invertebrate network that will support coastal fishing… is not one of Trump’s ideas. It is happening in Zahara de los Atunes,” it tweeted.