32 wild boars have been found dead in Morieux on the Brittany coast in northwest France, not far from the tourist destination of Côtes d’Armôr. Green algae, which has already led to beach closures, is being pointed to as a likely culprit as dead boars wash up on France’s coastline (a map is here at Rue89). Speculation remains opens about how the algae got there, with environmentalists pointing the finger at the nitrates in fertilizers used in intensive pig, sheep and dairy farming in Brittany, says the Guardian.
The algae drying up on the Brittany coast is ulva or sea lettuce and is not itself harmful, says the Los Angeles Times, but that changes after it washes up on land and dries. As it decomposes, the algae gives off a foul odor and toxic gas — most likely hydrogen sulfide, which the bodies of the dead boars are being tested for — is trapped beneath its crust. Breaking the algae’s crust releases a smell like rotting eggs. It’s dangerous stuff, notes the Los Angeles Times:
In 2009 a 27-year-old horse rider fell unconscious and his horse collapsed after slipping on the algae on a beach at Hillion in Brittany. The animal was believed to have died after inhaling gas released by the weed. The rider, a local veterinarian, was rescued from a yard-high pile of rotting algae.
An inquiry is still underway in the death of a man who suffered a heart attack while transporting rotten seaweed in a truck in 2009.
Environmentalist Gilles Huet says that one theory in the boars’ death is that they may have drunk water containing the algae. Police officer Philippe De Gestas points out that the animals did not die by drowning.
The French newspaper Le Monde has published a front-page editorial, Green Algae: The Unbearable Denial, stating that the French government, under the influence of agricultural lobby groups, has been de-emphasizing the role of pollutants in creating the toxic algae. Visiting Brittany this month, French president Nicolas Sarkozy has defended the farmers, saying that it would be “absurd to point to them as guilty”; he has dubbed those criticizing the use of nitrates to be “environmental fundamentalists.”
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Photo of a wild board (sanglier) by dynamosquito