Government Subdelegate to Santa Cruz de Tenerife “There is a link between microalgae and discharges”

“There is no doubt,” says the Spanish Government’s sub-delegate to the Canary Islands, for Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Guillermo Díaz Guerra, who was himself a health inspector, “There is no doubt that there is a link between the appearance of microalgae and discharges of untreated water” in statements being reported today “due to pollution, microalgae is just a symptom of a disease.”

The Regional Ministry of Health has denied that the appearance of microalgae off Tenerife’s coast is in any way linked to discharges of fecal waters. This was also the opinion of Tenerife’s head of the Environmental Health Service, Luisa Pita, who said that these are different phenomena that are not related to each other and are causing much confusion among the population.

The rather shocking affirmation from one of Madrid’s primary central government representatives on the islands indicated, contrary to institutional statements from the Canary Islands’ Regional Government, that these micro-organisms feed on nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus or organic matter. 

Díaz Guerra stated that the state-owned Maritime Rescue boats have collaborated in the mechanical dispersion of these spots of pollution, since it falls within their competencies, but indicated that this is not the solution since it only deals with “a symptom of the disease, but not the root of the problem.”

He also reiterated that the central government is not responsible for the control of these discharges or their monitoring, although the state government has established regulations on the maximum content of discharges to the sea, saying that there should perhaps be tighter monitoring. Despite this, the Spanish state recently contributed €32 million euros for a treatment plant in Santa Cruz de Tenerife to try to mitigate the issue.

He is the highest ranking official to comment yet suggesting that algae blooms and fecal discharges, of sewerage waters from the islands, are in fact totally related.

Meanwhile Councilor for the Environment of the Cabildo de Tenerife, José Antonio Valbuena, followed the claims with a clear rebuttal saying “It is not only a lie, it is generating unnecessary social alarm, it is not worthy of the representative of the State in the Canary Islands,”

Futhermore, he pointed out that Professor of Biology at the University of La Laguna, Manuel Norte, has been clear in explaining that they are not microalgae, but cyanobacteria and do not require organic waste to develop. “Cyanobacteria is an effect of climate change, it is an effect [caused by] the remarkable increase of the temperature in the sea, of the warming of the terrestrial surface, therefore it is more effect of climatic change”, he quoted.

Emilio Soler a researcher for the Algae Bank of Spain (BEA – Banco Español de Alga), and attached to the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, defines the Trichodesmium erythraeum blooms as natural and very common in tropical areas.  .

The microalgae, which are not algae but cyanobacteria, have been studied in this centre since they appeared in 2004, and formally since 2012. “It is not a new phenomenon,” explains Soler, who points out that “it is very common in oceanic waters “, where they live 100 meters deep with other microorganisms.

Nevertheless, this sh*tstorm in Tenerife has been brewing for a while, and with British tabloids having this week widely reported on algae blooms in our coastal waters, even erroneously claiming tourist beach closures as a result, there will be a potentially high cost to pay if the islands’ institutions fail to demonstrate that are in no way culpable.  This could become a serious problem and very difficult to solve, as the islands themselves are solely responsible for the sanitation of their own waters.

Of course it could all blow over relatively quickly, certainly there are many in government and the tourist industry who would wish for wind change and a turn of the tide.

Critics and environmentalists have, though, been urging for a very long time for greater focus on sanitation regarding sewerage discharges, calls that they say have become evermore urgent with the exponential population growth on the islands, where the total populace has increased by more than half a million people in the last 10 years. Something was bound to give, and for now this crisis seems to be long from being behind us.

Editor’s note:

As this situation develops, so Tenerife is now the subject of investigations in to foamy waters near tourist beaches, and resort-complexes caught on camera discharging grey-waters in the middle of the night. Not to mention a politician and ex councillor for La Laguna who has claimed, with video evidence on Facebook, that untreated fecal waters are being discharged directly into the sea from underneath the million-euro-folly of an auditorium in Santa Cruz.

For the sake of everyone involved, we can only hope that this is a problem limited to oversights and bad practice on that island alone.  Ecologists and campaigners, however, say this is a symptom of a much wider issue, integrally connected to how sewage waters are dealt with across the archipelago, including on Gran Canaria.  Others, including those from the diving community, whose business it is to know safe waters, say this is a simple and naturally occurring event.

So it may be, or there may well be a serious problem to be faced; we need to know if there is, because we all know the prospective disruption to the economy, and our tourist image, could be significantly greater should the health of tourists appear to be seriously threatened.

Action needs to be taken and politicians need to stand up and show that they are dealing responsibly with the treatment of waters and their discharge from the islands.  If mistakes have been made, they must be recognised and rectified. Now.

Sources: Canarias En Red and La Opinion


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