"Green Algae" and Pollution in Brittany

Today, I heard on the radio that there is a huge conference in Chicago about cancer. They mentionned that one child out of three born this year will develop cancer in his/her life, sooner or later.

Four main causes. The first one is environmental. The second one is linked to tobacco. The third one, to alcohol. The fourth one, to prolonged exposure to the sun.

The first cause and the fourth one are obviously linked. It seems quite easy to fight the second and third causes.

I have already written a few pages about pollution in Brittany and the heavy toll it takes on people’s lives.

Cancer and Alzheimer are considered to be epidemics here. To be specific, most of the cases there are known to be linked to environmental problems.

Agriculture is not really regulated. Since it is very intensive, farming requires a lot of fertilizers, weed-killers, fungicides, insecticides, growth substances and pesticides.

Impossible to leave out the intensive farming of pigs and poultry.

All this pollutes ground water in a rather frightening way.

During the past thirty years, a very visible type of pollution has appeared. We call it «marée verte» since it is caused by the «algues vertes». (green waters as opposed to oil slick - «marée noire» in French)

The «algues vertes» known as «Ulva» do not pollute unless their growth is altered by the nitrates discharged into the sea by the rivers heavily polluted because of the very intensive farming.

This has been getting worse during the past ten years.

I take most of my pictures outside, in the wild. And I have worked a lot on the foreshore and around mussel beds. It is a long story I’ll tell you one of these days.

There is a place I love not too far away from our home. It looks like a huge beach at low tide except that people farm mussels there. So it ends up looking like a crazy forest, filled with stakes where mussels grow.

My first encounter with «green algae» there was very surprising.

I usually work barefoot whenever it is warm outside. It’s easier for me to walk along the foreshore and inside the mussel beds.

Boots (which I do wear when it gets cold) tend to overload me. And since I’m already carrying a very heavy equipment...

So I go barefoot.

My first green algae were beautiful. The sea was slowly ebbing away. Fresh algae up to my ankles. Green over the golden sands. Pure magic.

I had no idea what I was getting into. By the time I was through taking pictures, the sun was much warmer. It was hot, very hot. A very strong smell was coming from the algae, no longer green but turning into a sickening brown mush while they were drying under the sun.

I started feeling really sick and nauseated and so sorry I was not wearing boots.

My beautiful magic green carpet had turned into a sickeningly slippery and stinking quagmire.

Visible pollution in action. Quite impressive.

Those green seaweeds are growing on inorganic nutrients (nitrates in Brittany mainly from pig farms). As soon as they start to decay, they produce sulfuretted hydrogen, all this within a couple of hours at low tide.

Since my first encounter, I have a very strong relationship with those «algues vertes». A love and hate relationship.

I love them because they can be beautiful. They sure add a new dimension to the landscape. They float ashore leisurely and come to rest on the sand. Their green color is amazing. And they are almost ethereal and translucent.

Then I hate them. They are a sure sign of nutrient pollution. They rot away very quickly. Then they turn very ugly. They are terribly dangerous.

This pollution kills. Not insidiously. Instantly. It can be a matter of minutes for some dogs or even a horse once down into the trap like last summer.

Two years ago, a worker died after spending a few days gathering them and taking them away to be buried in a field. Too much sulfuretted hydrogen in his lungs... and a bad heart.

The «algues vertes» invade our beaches (not all of them, though) as soon as the water gets warmer. They tend to disappear when fall arrives. But they come back, again and again.

They have been present in Brittany for the past thirty years now. And nobody knows how to fight this pollution.

So nowadays, as early as May, you’ll see tractors on some beaches and people gathering weeds, green weeds twice a day, day after day until the summer is over.

People in Brittany are not growing some kind of lettuce on the beach. They are trying to keep up with pollution our consumer society is breeding, we are breeding, you and me.

I’d like to end this story with a very positive touch but I’m pretty sure that our «green algae» in Brittany are only the tip of the iceberg.

*Good Night, and Good Luck*

1 comment:

Myrna said...

Wow. Very interesting, and kind of sad. The poor earth.