Tourists have been warned to avoid blooms of toxic micro-algae that have been proliferating in hot weather in the sea off Spain’s Canary Islands.
Tenerife in particular is awash with visitors at this time of year but some of those having a dip in the Atlantic ocean have come out scratching themselves after brushing up against the tiny algae.
The spreading algae have produced a greenish-brown hue in the waters off some beaches in the tourist haven.
“Since the end of June we have seen episodes of massive efflorescence, or bloom, of microalgae, sometimes reaching as far as bathing beaches,” said Jose Juan Aleman, director of public health for the Canaries.
The algae are a type of bacteria, trichodesmium erythraeum, also known as sea sawdust, said Aleman.
“Its proliferation is a natural, temporary phenomenon which is going to disappear” in due course, he added, suggesting global warming was helping the algae spread.
The bacterium “contains a toxin which can lead to skin irritation, dermatitis, hence one must avoid coming into contact with it in the water and on the sand”.
With the islands last year welcoming more than 13 million foreign tourists, local authorities were keen to reassure sun-seekers.
“Generally it has not been necessary to close the beaches,” said Aleman.
However, AFP found that several have been closed to swimmers over recent weeks, including the popular Teresitas beach at Santa Cruz de Tenerife.
Marta Sanson, professor of plant biology at Tenerife’s La Laguna university, said that “ideal conditions are allowing proliferation of these micro-algae”.
Those include “an increase in water temperature” as well as a “dust cloud sweeping in off the Sahara which is rich in iron, a nutrient which micro-organisms like”.
A shark on a Spanish beach is a vividly terrifying image. The holiday idyll threatened by a sharp-finned deputation from the deep. This is no “snakes on a plane” fantasy. Potential disaster looms. There are children out there, for God’s sake. In a resort where the sand may be raked daily, and where a margarita is never more than a few euros away, such disruptive visions seem all the sharper.
Can’t somebody do something about it? The animal was eventually captured – and was found to be already wounded. It is a parable in a meme (to mix narrative metaphors): our infantile fear for our infants becomes the innocent animal’s death. In this case, via a harpoon – administered either before or after its visitation.
For beach-goers used only to virtual, CGI terror, glimpsed on their blue screens, the reality out of that ultimate blue-screen sea is actually somewhat pathetic. A thrashing fish, tomorrow’s steak, taking a long time to die, paying for its mistake in coming into contact with a predator it wasn’t expecting. I predict that we are only days away from reports of great whites off Cornwall – which usually turn out to be basking sharks, whose appetites extend to nothing bigger than plankton. How strange we are, faced with our fleeting pleasures, that they must be tinged with mortality.
The summer sees us reconnect to the sea, an element on which we usually turn our backs – either out of ignorance or trepidation. But we are not stupid. Our fear is not unfathomed. Beyond the possibility of drowning, and below that evanescent medium, any manner of terrors might lie – from stinging jellyfish to ferocious apex predators.
I swim every single day in the sea – throughout the year – in the murky Solent under the shadow, not of a beach umbrella, but an oil refinery. I like the juxtaposition. It conjures up images of the days before package tours when Greenwich and Tower Bridge boasted Thames-side beaches, and Hampton Court claimed to be London’s Riviera.
Wading out in the dark before dawn, as I did this morning, I often get bitten by fish. A nip on the ankles from a bass is no Spielberg scenario. No one’s going to need a bigger boat. But you’d be a fool not to take a shark seriously.
Unlike cetaceans, their rivals for apex position in the sea, sharks seek no connection with us. I’ve never felt so safe in the water as I have done when swimming near whales. Even when a pod of marauding, transient orca drove me out of the water in Sri Lanka earlier this year (after ramming and attempting to overturn our fishing boat), I could rationalise their behaviour as mammalian, sentient. Admirable, even. With sharks, it is a different matter.
Recently, a TV company from Barcelona thought it would make a good sequence if I swam in the city’s aquarium in the company of its sand tiger sharks. With whales and dolphins, one senses a mutual curiosity. But these creatures, sliding by, looked at me through glaucous, reptilian eyes. There was no focus there, no reaction. I felt that the only interest they had in me was in the paltry mouthfuls with which my puny, bony body might supplement their diet. Last summer in the truly, rather than mimetically deep waters of the Azores, from the prow of a Zodiac, I saw a hammerhead shark twisting and turning in the sea below me. Even though I was safely above, I felt an atavistic frisson, as if it might yet leap up at me.
It is our imagination – never less than a glorious thing – that is at work here. But also, perhaps, a subconscious sense of guilt. This same sublime ocean, always so out of our reach, is now poisoning those monsters. There will be more plastic than fish in it by 2050. Our only resident pod of orcas have been unable to rear a healthy calf for 23 years because of PCBs and heavy metals in the seas. And last week came the news that a rare Cuvier’s beaked whale stranded on the Isle of Skye – an image replete with so many levels of “purity” – was the first cetacean death to be definitively due to plastic: 4kg of ziplock and carrier bags.
Meanwhile, anthropogenic noise – in an environment that for almost all of its existence knew only the cracking of pistol shrimps or the echo-locating clicks of cetaceans – now drowns out all else: diesel-powered freight, seismic surveys for oil, military sonar. When the shipping lanes from the US east coast to Europe were closed in the days after the 9/11 attacks, scientists studying right whale vocalisations realised their subjects had stopped shouting.
There are deep irreconcilables at work here: what we want the sea to be (a resort for our dreams, the edge of otherness) and what we have turned it into (a cistern for our sins). Any water is a mortal place – as the families who lost their young men on Camber Sands last year know all too well. But the water is an immortal place, too, a place of magical transitions, for all species.
The dark shark slides into the clear warm water, laden with all of our presuppositions, all the vital disconnections between us and the rest of creation. It is dumb, stupid, dull-eyed, to our minds. But perhaps, in its dim, antediluvian memory, which predates ours by 400 million years, it thinks the same about us. And as fearful as we may be of it, our fear of its illimitable domain reminds us that we are still alive and kicking.
A blue shark caused panic on Saturday after being seen by bathers close to the beaches of Cala Major and Can Pastilla. The animal was captured on Sunday, with local media reporting that it was suffering from a head wound, possibly caused by a harpoon
Experts have captured a blue shark whose presence in shallow waters off the coast of Mallorca caused panic over the weekend and led to the evacuation of beaches on the Balearic island.
The animal was first spotted on Saturday as it swam close to the beaches at Cala Major and Can Pastilla, near the Mallorcan capital of Palma. Pictures showed the shark gliding through the water a few metres from bathers, who dashed to the safety of the shore.
Lifeguards raised the red flag, ordered swimmers out of the water and closed the beach after the sighting. Experts in motorboats then conducted a search of the area to try to find the shark.
By Sunday afternoon, it had been located and captured. A local paper, the Diario de Mallorca, reported that the shark had been found with a serious head wound, apparently caused by a harpoon. It was not clear if the shark was injured before or after it was spotted near the beach. Specialists from the Palma aquarium said the shark appeared to be dying and they were looking into whether it needed to be killed.
One witness posted an account of the beach incident on Facebook. “Everyone out of the water!” she wrote. “The lifeguards were shouting that the red flag had been raised here on the Cala Major beach and that there were three sharks – the smallest of which was a metre-and-a-half long.”
She added: “What a pity that they have to come so close because we’re destroying their ecosystem and they have to survive.”
Blue sharks, which can measure up to 3.8 metres and normally feed on fish and squid, have been known in rare incidents to circle divers and attack people. In July last year, one of the animals was blamed for biting the hand of a man who was swimming off the Costa Blanca in south-eastern Spain.
Poland’s environment minister, Jan Szyszko, whom green activists have criticised for allowing large-scale logging in the ancient Białowieża forest, has called for the woodland to be stripped of Unesco’s natural heritage status, banning human intervention.
Białowieża, straddling Poland’s eastern border with Belarus, includes one of the largest surviving parts of the primeval forest that covered the European plain 10,000 years ago. It also boasts unique plant and animal life, including the continent’s largest mammal, the European bison.
“The Białowieża forest was granted Unesco natural heritage status illegally and without consulting the local community,” Szyszko said in a statement, after having announced that “a complaint had been lodged with the prosecutor’s office” regarding the matter.
Szyszko said he found it contradictory for the forest to have Unesco natural heritage status – which bans any human intervention – and simultaneously belong to the EU’s Natura 2000 network of protected areas, which according to Szyszko allows the current logging.
The Polish government has said it authorised the logging, which began in May last year, to contain damage caused by a spruce bark beetle infestation and to fight the risk of forest fires. But scientists, ecologists and the EU have protested and activists allege the logging is a cover for commercial cutting of protected old-growth forests.
Szyszko would like to see Białowieża granted a different Unesco status – mixed natural-cultural heritage – “and not just natural because man’s activity is visible to the naked eye in this forest”, he said.
Greenpeace, whose activists chained themselves to woodcutting equipment this month to block the logging, immediately denounced Szyszko’s statement as “further manipulation”. The environmental group also said logging was in fact out of line with the Natura 2000 rules.
“This is an attempt by the minister to impose his own narrative,” said activist Katarzyna Kościesza of the ClientEarth environmental group.
Szyszko’s statement comes two weeks before the annual Unesco world heritage session, which this year will take place in the southern Polish city of Kraków. The forest gained the coveted “natural heritage” label in 2011.
Unesco has previously expressed concern over the logging, as has the European commission, which in April warned Warsaw that it could take legal action to halt the logging.