This is not just alarming the fisherman but also the scientific community. José Carlos Garcia, a researcher for the Marine Biology Laboratory at the University of Seville says the growth of the algae is “ meteoric and completely unprecedented.” Adding, “ we have not found any precedent of a bioinvasion that has been so explosive.”
Félix Lopez, a professor of ecology at the University of Málaga explains “The Sargassum invasion in Mexico and the Ulva invasion in China are larger, but they did not spread as quickly as here.” Both experts are part of a group of scientists who have offered their help to the authorities to find a solution to the problem.
The Rugulopterix Okamura algae, native to the warm waters near Korea, China, Japan and the Philippines, is believed to have arrived in the Strait onboard a ship from one of these regions. Due to the fact that it is similar to local species, it went undetected for a while.
Its attack is unprecedented, on arriving in Spain it has relentlessly expanded and destroyed local algae species and occupied space normally used by marine animals. Not only has it affected the fishing industry and the biodiversity but also the tourism industry, as the coast is being blanketed by rotting algae half a metre deep. 2,800 tons of algae were collected in just six weeks from the beaches of Estepona. Tarifa, on the other hand, is still getting away lightly with only approximately 600m of the beach being affected. Yet, €10,000 needs to be spent to remove the algae and dispose of it. However, that is not the end of it, “It’s Groundhog Day. You take it away one day, and the next day it’s back again,” says Tarifa Mayor Ruiz Giráldez.
The spread of the algae is the result of several factors according to Félix López but none more so than the actual fishermen who have been unknowingly causing the algae to release millions of spores every time they return them to the seas after getting trapped in their nets. Other factors include having no predators, being able to attach to rocky ground, crabs, and even other algae up to 25 metres deep. They have also benefited from the wastewater being released into the sea,
Plans of attack:
All experts involved agree that an eradication plan needs to be implemented as well as research into the species from different angles to get a better understanding of how to fight against it. In the short term algae removal from the sea and beaches are being considered. But long term, they must find a way of stopping the algae from spreading.
Meanwhile, Ruiz Giraldez and Fernandez have asked for financial aid from the regional government of Andalucia and the Central government to alleviate the losses for the fishing industry and the unanticipated cost of cleaning up the coastline.
The heads of the regional environmental department and the Ecological Transition Ministry have been involved in several meetings to learn about the growth of the algae. And the Ecological Transition Ministry has also created a special emergency team made up of representatives from Andalusia, Ceuta and Melilla – to initiate the process of including the algae in Spain’s list of exotic invasive species.
Until this happens, Fernando Fernandez – the regional government’s delegate for agriculture – says “nothing can be done.” Something that should happen by the end of the year according to Carmen Crespo, the regional head of agriculture. Manuel Haro from the Marbella Federation of Fishermen’s Association is worried that it might be too late. “If we cannot work until then…many families are going to have a really tough time”. Half of the fleets have been moored for over a month as their nets have been consumed by the algae.