The greatest impact on seabirds ever recorded due to an oil spill
Bird protection associations took care of saving the oiled birds, an aspect of the spill which was little accounted for in the Polmar Plans. They made efficient use of a consistent part of the flow of volunteers, organising oiled bird collection along the coastline and manning a network of bird clinics. 58 species of seabirds were taken to 14 care centres in France, 1 in England, 10 in Belgium and 10 in Holland. The guillemot (Uria aalge) accounted for 82 % of the victims.
Some associations adamantly rejected any relation with TotalFina. Others sought or accepted its support. In one way or another, oiled seabirds were cleaned, fed and, for those which survived, later released. However, the toll was very high: at the end of June, the League for the Protection of Birds reported over 63,000 oiled birds collected. By 4 September 2000, a total of 2,150 birds had been freed, 61,403 had died and 53 were still convalescing. The associations tried to account for dead birds directly sent to cremation. The task of estimating the number of birds that died at sea and that did not reach the coast then remained, to assess the impact in the short run of the Erika's pollution on the bird population.
From 20 December, IFREMER carried out sampling on shellfish farming sites. They were to constitute the reference oil contamination index before the arrival of the pollution. In January, the French Agency for Food Safety (AFSSA) made the following recommendations:
- Shellfish production or harvest zones should be closed on the basis of visual observations of the contamination.
- Follow-up of shellfish contamination should be carried out on the basis of the analysis of 16 Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAH) usually measured in shells, in the framework of the National Network of Observation of the marine environment quality (RNO).
- The concentration reference value should be assessed at 500 µg/kg (total of the 16 Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons) and the concentration limit value (beyond which shellfish were declared unfit for human consumption) on a level ranging between 2 and 5 times the reference value. The factor 2 (1,000 µg/kg) was chosen by the Ministry of Agriculture and Fishing.
In addition to these recommendations, IFREMER set up a network for the follow-up of shellfish contamination, to support administrative measures for the management of the production zones, in the four regions concerned (approximately 80 sampling points).
In Finistère, the levels of contamination seldom exceeded the reference value of 0.5 ppm fixed by the Agency for Food Security (AFSSA). In Morbihan, the values were at times intermediate between the reference value and the concentration limit of 1 ppm (except in the heavily polluted sector of Belle-Ile). The highest concentrations, exceeding the limit value of 1 ppm, were found in shells in Loire Atlantique and on the island of Noirmoutier (Vendée).