The mayor of Spanish coastal village Zahara de los Atunes has apologized for the beach being heavily hosed down with bleach in preparation for loosening the nationwide Covid-19 lockdown, insisting it was done to protect children.

Locals and conservationists alike were appalled at the sight of tractors spraying diluted bleach over the village’s beach last week, apparently in preparation for the easing of lockdown restrictions. But the town’s mayor, Agustin Conejo, insisted the spraying had only been done with the health of kids in mind.

Given that this has become a big scandal, I want to be very clear: I recognize that this was a mistake but it was done with the best of intentions,” Conejo told Spanish outlet Canal Sur. The newly-free kids, he pointed out, mostly “wanted to hang out at the beach.” He stressed that the cleaning agent had been diluted to only two percent strength.

The tractors were unleashed in preparation for the gradual removal of the restrictions that have kept the Spanish indoors for several weeks. Children under 14 have been permitted outside for up to an hour since Sunday. However, it’s not clear why after six weeks with no human activity the beach would require disinfecting, and local conservationists had harsh words for the village.

The beach is a living ecosystem. And when you spray it down with bleach, you’re killing everything you come across,” local conservationist Maria Dolores Iglesias Benitez told the outlet. The area is a nesting ground for Kentish plover and other migrating birds, and she had hoped to see the species take advantage of the absence of humans to build twice as many nests as usual.

Now I’m worried that the tractors crushed the eggs,” she said.

Greenpeace Spain was also furious, tweeting that “Fumigating beaches with bleach in the middle of the breeding season for birds or the invertebrate network that supports coastal fishing” would “destroy the tourist value of the coastline” and kill the local economy, marveling that it sounded like “one of [Donald] Trump’s ideas.” The quip was no doubt referring to a now-notorious, and likely misinterpreted, statement by the US president about “injecting” a disinfectant substance into the lungs.

An official with the Andalusia regional government told reporters that it was looking into allegations that the business association responsible for the spraying did not have the required permits to conduct the impromptu disinfection.

After six weeks in lockdown, Spaniards rejoiced in their newfound ability to enjoy the great outdoors this past weekend, flocking back to beaches and parks despite having one of the worst Covid-19 outbreaks in Europe.

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