Mutant algae spreads from French coast

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The Independent Online
THE FRENCH government faces legal action over its mysterious failure to combat a mutant weed, or green algae, that is threatening to choke the marine life of the Mediterranean.

A consortium of fishermen, environmentalists and diving enthusiasts has lodged a formal complaint with the government watchdog over the failure of Paris - despite several international pledges - to take any action to check the spread of the "killer algae".

To draw attention to what campaigners insist is an ecological catastrophe, a 48-year-old Gaullist MP, Pierre Lellouche, dived to the bottom of the sea off Menton yesterday to investigate the relentless sub-aqua march of the mutant algae, Caulerpa taxifolia. Mr Lellouche has tabled a draft law, which would force the French government to wage an intensive war against the weed.

The algae, a mutant form of a tiny tropical organism that has thrived and grown much bigger in the colder waters of the Mediterranean, was first noticed off Monaco in 1984. It has since spread in great profusion along France's Mediterranean coast from Marseilles to Menton and a further 80 miles east along the Italian coast. Isolated colonies of the weed, which chokes native marine flora, have been identified off Sicily, Majorca and Croatia.

Ecologists argue that, unless checked, the algae could permanently alter the natural balance of the Mediterranean and devastate the fishing and tourist industries. Still unclear is what can be done to fight the algae but environmentalists say it could be checked by introducing a species of marine slug.

Mr Lellouche said: "If France does not take severe control measures, it will be [legally] attacked by neighbouring countries whose coasts are now colonised."

The algae was first identified on rocks in the sea below theoceanographic institute in Monaco. Although no definite proof is available, the supposition is that it escaped - or was accidentally dumped - from the institute's laboratories.

At the time, the institute's director was the late Jacques Cousteau, the diving pioneer and film maker who with his yacht Calypso became an internationally celebrated defender of marine ecology.