Maro Cerro-Gordo cliffs / SUR

Beach in Andalucía is handed first 'black flag' in Spain for sun cream contamination

The environmental pressure group Ecologistas en Acción has analysed nearly 8,000 kilometres of Spanish coastline to award a total of 48 black flags to highlight the poor state of conservation of some beaches

José A. González
JOSÉ A. GONZÁLEZ

“We could have awarded many more” said the NGO Ecologistas en Acción in its latest report Black Flags 2022: a list that highlights the poor state of conservation of some Spanish beaches, caused either by pollution or mismanagement.

It has taken the environmentalists 365 days to analyse nearly 8,000 kilometres of Spanish coastline to award a total of 48 black flags. "One case of pollution and another of environmental mismanagement is reported in each place,” the NGO's report reveals. "This year, very similar problems to those of previous years have been collected," the report adds.

However, this is the first year that sun cream has been added to the list of pollutants. "They are a major problem," the NGO says.

The report by Ecologistas en Acción reveals that sun protection is important to protect the skin from diseases caused by exposure to the sun, but also "may contain substances such as endocrine disruptors, among others, which not only affect the health of human beings but also that of seas, rivers and lakes".

In the province of Malaga the NGO focused on the Maro-Cerro Gordo cliff protected area, although they point out that "this problem is general along the entire coast”.

Damage to sea life

A place that is home to sea urchins, octopus, clams, sea bream, rock crabs and microscopic algae. "The nanoparticles in these sunscreens, once ingested, affect their vital functions, either genetically or physiologically," they warn.

A review of a hundred scientific articles, carried out in Spain by research teams from the Balearic Islands, Catalonia, Valencia and Andalucía and published in scientific journals, detailing the results of studies carried out on ultraviolet (UV) sunscreens in sunscreen creams, consistently shows that UV sunscreens, once released into the aquatic environment, cause a considerable damage," they add.

"Every time a person covered in chemical sunscreens swims in a sea, river or lake, they leave part of these toxins in the water. And that multiplied by thousands of people as a result of mass tourism, like in the case of Maro-Cerro-Gordo, becomes a huge environmental problem," say the researchers.

Less toxic sun creams on the market

Many commercially available sunscreens contain benzophenone-3 or oxybenzone, "which is nothing more than a synthetic female hormone", warns the NGO. One of the most common and well-studied effects of endocrine disruptors in fish is that it affects their reproductive organs "The problem is that it causes reproductive damage and, as a consequence, population loss," they say. There are increasingly less toxic sunscreen alternatives available on the market.

Apart from the introduction of sunscreens, the reasons for awarding black flags on Spanish beaches remain unchanged. Fourteen 'black flags' have been awarded for discharges of untreated water, deficiencies in sanitation systems or serious water purification problems; 10 for urban developments, some of which enter the water; five for effects on biodiversity; 4 for polluting industrial activities close to the coast; four for unjustified dredging and port extensions; four for water-based activities or chemical pollution; three for coastal erosion and three for the accumulation of rubbish.

However, there is good news this year. For example a new water treatment plant in Barbate (Cadiz); the repair of the sewage pipe in Roquetas de Mar (Almeria) and the extension of the treatment plant or initiatives spurred on by social pressure carried out in the Mar Menor (Murcia). "These were included in previous years' Black Flag reports and their problems have already been solved, at least in the first two cases," the NGO points out.

"We welcome and are pleased with these improvements, but we must emphasise that these are actions that fall within the duties, competences and obligations of the administrations, and that there is still much to be done," warns Ana Aldarias, spokesperson for Ecologists in Action.