Experts have already warned in official studies about the impact of the sludge brown algae Rugulopteryx okamurae in the Straits of Gibraltar and are worried about the “serious ecological impacts” if it gets a foothold in nearby areas of the Atlantic and Mediterranean. In Marbella and Estepona, the local council is spending thousands of euros on daily work to clear the beaches for holidaymakers before dawn breaks and admits the seaweed is being “stock-piled”, waiting to go to a local landfill site. And worried fishermen are calling for a solution as many can’t take their boats out because all they dredge up in their nets is the filthy seaweed which can give off a foul smell if left to rot.
It’s estimated that 4,250 tonnes of the seaweed has already been taken off beaches along the Costa del Sol and tourist bosses say it is doing nothing to enhance the reputation of the resorts as it lies like a blanket on the sand.
A Malaga university expert has summoned a meeting for September 23rd 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.
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. There are already signs that it is spreading to Huelva.
Head of the Costa del Sol shoreline study group at the University of Malaga, Francisco Franco told Sur in English: “We’ve proved that Rugulopterix okamurae is growing at a faster rate than we expected.”
And in an interview with another Spanish newspaper, Félix López, Professor of Ecology at the University of Malaga said: “In a very short time it has happened to occupy more than 100 kilometres of coastline and also at a speed that until now has not been described in any other species. We have gone from having nothing to thousands of tons in three years. It’s outrageous.”
Another expert said: “A single plant can form hundreds of tiny plants that are capable of colonising other environments.”
Mayor of Marbella, Ángeles Muñoz said they had brought in tractors and extra staff after “facing unforeseen situations such as the appearance of algae on our coasts, which have been withdrawn and stockpiling for subsequent transfer to the landfill.”
In July alone, she confirmed more than 750,000 kilos of algae had been removed from the coast of Marbella. The upmarket area of Puerto Banús has also been affected. Most of the removal work is being done between 4am and 11am to avoid the tourist rush.
“This seaweed of Asian origin is affecting the Strait of Gibraltar, the Bay of Cádiz and neighbouring towns such as Estepona,” said Marbella’s councillor for cleaning, Diego López.
Experts point out that money is being wasted because as soon as the beaches are cleared one morning, it has returned by the next day and the clearance starts all over again. Estepona council has confirmed it has had to bring in extra resources.
The Fishermen’s Association of Marbella says the livelihood of more than 25 boats has been affected so far, with an economic loss put at 400,000 euros.
The Andalusian Government is still waiting for the Central Government to declare the seaweed an invasive species “as soon as possible” in order to “work together” in the search for a solution.