AFP, published on Friday, September 16, 2022 at 12:25 p.m.
On the immense expanse of sand facing the English Channel, a gull staggers. Its right wing is dragging on the ground, a symptom of a dazzling avian flu on an unprecedented scale, which is not only decimating farms, but also entire colonies of protected seabirds.
Several hundred kilometers to the southwest, on the Breton island of Rouzic, dead gannets litter the coast. By tens.
Avian influenza, a seasonal flu that usually strikes in autumn and winter, led to the slaughter of nearly 20 million farmed poultry in France between November and September, a record number.
In addition to the fact that it raged out of season, the epizootic also hit protected marine species this year, such as sandwich terns and gulls in the Somme or gannets in Brittany, with potentially devastating consequences.
“In France, this is the first time that there has been such a mortality in wild birds”, assures AFP Anne Van De Wiele, coordinator of health actions at the French Office for Biodiversity.
“It happened in full brooding, when the chicks are vulnerable and very contaminating”, continues this training veterinarian.
– Paralysis –
In Marquenterre Park, in the heart of the Bay of Somme, the discoveries of corpses, “by the dozens”, began in mid-May, explains Philippe Kraemer, who is on duty there. “We first thought of pollution at sea.”
“Our colleagues from Pas-de-Calais also found deaths and searched for botulism, in vain. As a result, we asked for analyzes for avian flu. And every week, from May to July, we had 100% positive”, he continues.
In the bay that leads to the Norman chalk cliffs, black-headed gulls, herring gulls and sandwich terns frolic by the hundreds, taking advantage of the low sun and the mud freshly discovered by the tide.
But some seem abnormally apathetic. A tern, recognizable by its black crest on white plumage, flies sideways, clearly affected by the onset of paralysis. A gull drags its crazy wing.
“In 48 hours, he will probably be dead,” laments Mr. Kraemer.
The neighboring municipalities have organized themselves to collect the corpses in order to avoid contamination. The French Office for Biodiversity recovers it from time to time, to monitor the geographical evolution of the disease and protect farms.
“We are in full swing, it’s a race against time,” explains Ms. Van de Wiele.
It is difficult to measure the extent of the damage to the most endangered species: “It depends on the impact of the disease on breeding adults,” she explains.
– “Sorry” –
For terns, gulls or seagulls, several thousand corpses were found for each species. Among the Gannets, almost half of the birds seem to have succumbed.
“It started in early July, with the discovery of a first corpse, at the top of Rouzic”, in the archipelago of Sept-Îles, says Pascal Provost, agents of the League for the Protection of Birds (LPO).
The island, which normally houses up to 19,000 pairs of birds, is now completely contaminated.
During the half-hour journey that separates it from the port of Ploumanac’h (Côtes-d’Armor), not a Gannet in flight, or even on the water, as it is customary to see. at this time of year.
An “unpublished” and “discouraging” spectacle for Mr. Provost and his colleague Armel Deniau, flabbergasted by the speed of the epizootic.
“It will be next year, when the colony is resettled, that we will have a real idea of the loss of numbers”, specifies Mr. Deniau, deeply worried about the disappearance of “this jewel of our national biodiversity”.
In the meantime, “faced with the grouped mortalities observed in wild birds on the northern coast of France since May 2022”, the Ministry of Agriculture called on September 5 for “reinforced vigilance” and the application of the rules. of biosecurity.