Environmentalists and locals staged a protest last weekend on the beach at St-Michel-en-Grève in Brittany, after noxious algae killed a local vet's horse and very nearly did for him too.
Vincent Petit, 27, was dragged unconscious from a metre-deep patch of sludge, after his mount succumbed to fumes from the rotting greenery. According to Reuters, an autopsy confirmed the equine had fallen victim to pulmonary oedema caused by inhaling hydrogen sulphide produced by the decomposing greenery - the same deadly exhalations which last year saw off two dogs on a nearby beach.
Local authorities have been battling the green plague for a decade, with some towns spending up to €100,000 annually to combat the menace. Evidently this hasn't been very effective, because 70 beaches are affected this year to "unprecedented levels".
Environmental groups insist that the cause of the problem are nitrates washed down from local cattle, pig and poultry farms.
Environmentalist Jean-Frangois Piquot elaborated: "There is no doubt that farming is to blame. Brittany has 5 per cent of French agricultural land but 60 per cent of the pigs, 45 per cent of the poultry and 30 per cent of the dairy farms. As our rivers are not long, the pollution does not have time to clear before the water reaches the sea. It enters a closed bay and the sunlight produces the seaweed."
Andre Ollivro, spokesman for Stop the Green Slicks, told Reuters: "We demand that local authorities warn communities about the dangers, forbid the rearing of animals near to the coast and seek to install only organic farming in the area."
Petit's lawyer agrees that the powers that be must take ultimate responsibility for the algae beach landings, and said his client has launched an action against "an unknown person", as French legal procedure phrases it.
Experts, though, insist that while many of Brittany's beaches were indeed suffering the effects of algae, there was "no widespread danger threatening beach-users".
Jean-Francois Sassi, a scientist at the Centre for the Study and Evaluation of Algae, assured: "This is not a systematic problem, and there is no need for tourists to stay away from the region." ®