Last weekend Bretons took part in the annual Fete du Goemon - seaweed Festival near Esquibien in western Brittany. The festival re-enacts traditional means of gathering seaweed from the coast and burning it in open kilns to make fertilizer People dressed in traditional Breton costumes sheltering from the rain. The umbrella lady wears the 'coiffe' a traditional headress. Bretons are known for their culinary heritage of crêpes and salty galettes, apple cider, fresh seafood and fish, especially mussels and oysters. Their seafood platter is the typical gatronomic dish composed of an abundance of shellfish and crustaceans, served on a bed of seaweed. For centuries Britanny has been the gold standard for it's prized butter and salt, harvested by hand from it's sea salt beds. Brittany's rich Celtic roots are evidenced by their traditional music with pipes, harps, hurdy gurdy, organ and Celtic and mediaeval legends of Merlin the Enchanter, Tristan and Iseult and fetes especially their folk dances in line or pairs between young and old generations. However just days before this fears in Brittany over toxic seaweed were reignited after two wild boar were found dead on a beach. Conservationists say toxic seaweed has now spread to more than 200 sites along the Atlantic coast from southern Brittany to the beaches of Normandy. The amount of the foul-smelling algae collected from western French shores has doubled in a year.All the bays from La Baule, a top summer beach destination in the south to Granville in the Cotentin are now struggling to dispose of thousands of tons of Ulva lactuca - more commonly known as sea lettuce. Experts have warned that the algae poses a health risk because when it rots it produces hydrogen sulphide, which if trapped under a crust and suddenly released can prove as deadly as cyanide.
Anses, the French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health and Safety, has just issued guidelines for dealing with the green sludge, saying it must be picked up within 48 hours of reaching the beach before it can start producing gas. If not, in the worst cases, it can cause "loss of consciousness with cardiac arrest or coma." The seaweed has been multiplying abnormally fast due to the use of huge amounts of nitrates in intensive pig and poultry farming that can seep into rivers and end up in the sea. "This year, all the conditions have come together for a growth in green algae," said Alain Menesquen, an expert from the Ifremer marine laboratory. "The sun and warmth of May have allowed them to carry out photosynthesis, then the June rains brought all the nitrates they need to develop." By the end of June, some 25,000 square metres of seaweed had been collected from the beaches of Brittany, twice as much as last year. The worst affected area is Saint-Brieuc in the Cotes-d'Armor coast where about half of all the seaweed has washed up. The government launched an antitoxic seaweed plan last year after a horse died in 2009 from breathing in toxic fumes and the rider lost consciousness. Let's hope these Bretons gathered the sea weed in time. Cara - Tuesday