Seaweed problem grows as 4,250 tonnes is taken off beaches along the Costa del Sol

The recent rough seas brought the weed ashore in Marbella.
The recent rough seas brought the weed ashore in Marbella. / SUR
  • Local experts are bringing together councils to try to find a way to curb the invasive Asian species that may harm fishing and tourism

There are still no signs that a fast-growing non-native seaweed threatening the livelihoods of Costa fishing fleets and ruining the appearance of beaches for bathers is being brought under control.

A Malaga university expert has summoned a meeting for 23 September between Marbella and Estepona councils and the Mancomunidad shared-public-services body for the western Costa del Sol to try and work out a solution. This is in addition to studies being carried out by scientists in the national government to stem the spread.

The seaweed is native to Asia and was first spotted off Ceuta, North Africa, in 2016, believed to have been brought round the world on the bottom of a ship. However this year it has spread a lot on the west Costa del Sol, causing economic damage and increasing costs.

So far this summer, Estepona and Marbella council are estimated to have removed 4,250 tonnes from the beaches while shallow-water fishing boats in Marbella and Estepona have been forced to stay in port as all they are catching in their nets is the fast-growing plant. Now other councils are starting to get worried as the weed edges eastwards, growing on rocks offshore and getting swept onto the beaches when the sea is rough.

Head of the Costa del Sol shoreline study group at the University of Malaga, Francisco Franco, said, "We've proved that Rugulopterix okamurae [the seaweed's scientific name] is growing at a faster rate than we expected ."

Risk of a rotten smell

In Marbella and Estepona, the worst affected council areas, the seaweed is piled on beaches to dry before being taken to the district waste plant at Casares. Otherwise it can rot and cause an unpleasant smell. Mayor of Marbella, Ángeles Muñoz, said last week, "We've brought in tractors and extra staff to confront this unexpected situation."