Swallows, pigeons and hedgehogs replaced gulls, gannets and seagulls at the care centre. Since this summer, the LPO station (League for the protection of birds) on Ile-Grande in the Côtes-d’Armor has been welcoming new residents. However, seabirds have not deserted the pink granite coast. But since July 13, the shelter no longer supports them, thus complying with the recommendations of the health authorities.
A heavy decision but made mandatory by the avian flu epidemic which is currently raging. Wreaking havoc on poultry farms, the virus has also been decimating colonies of seabirds in northern Europe since the spring. In France, the epizootic first affected gulls, seagulls and terns in Hauts-de-France in May before the Normandy coasts were also hit in June. The epidemic has affected Brittany since July, where a large number of dead seabirds have been found on the coast.
A carnage among gannets
“We are facing an unprecedented event this year,” said Romain Morinière, director of the LPO station on Ile-Grande. If the virus is not new, the circulating strain is this time much more pathogenic and incurable and the episode much longer than usual. “It also affects a dozen species, including seabirds, which is quite unprecedented,” says the head of the ornithological station.
A veritable sanctuary for wildlife, the Sept-Iles archipelago is paying a heavy price for this epidemic. Nesting on Rouzic, one of the seven islands of the archipelago, the colony of northern gannets is particularly bruised. “Hundreds of crazy nests are empty, more than a hundred corpses litter the colony and hundreds of birds are reported dead at sea and on the shores,” laments Pascal Provost. Curator of the Sept-Iles nature reserve, he witnesses, destitute, this sad spectacle. “The mortality is observable in the eyes of all at sea on the colony,” he says.
“We can only see the damage”
For the past few days, the LPO station has also been inundated with calls from boaters or local residents notifying them of dead or dying gannets on Rouzic Island or on the coast. In the middle of the nesting period, the situation is all the more alarming. According to a count made between July 5 and August 16 in a control area of 102 nests with breeders, 80% of the chicks died. “A very unusual and abnormal situation because reproductive failures mainly take place during the fortnight of May and in June”, underlines Pascal Provost.
Faced with this slaughter, these nature lovers can unfortunately do nothing. “We can only see the damage,” sighs Romain Morinière. However, its teams remain mobilized on the ground. “We take care of other species of birds at the center, taking great care to avoid the spread of the virus to other species,” he says. If a dead bird is discovered, the authorities recommend not to touch or pick it up. The discovery of corpses must however be reported to the town hall of the place of discovery or to the French Office for Biodiversity.