Birds mysteriously die in the Magdalene Islands

According to initial analyses, the birds that pollute the beaches of the Magdalen Islands archipelago have not died of bird flu, but that does not reassure two elected officials who are also urging governments to act as quickly as possible to clean up the beaches.

• Read too: Avian influenza cases confirmed in the Magdalene Islands

The avian flu epidemic hits Quebec hard. According to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, the disease has been detected on four commercial farms and three small farms in the province since April 22.

The consequences can be dire. Thus, Canard du Lac Brome had to slaughter at least half of its 350,000 animals. The company employs 300 people.

Last week, two cases of flu were identified in wild birds in Gaspésie. At the same time, the carcasses of many birds, mainly northern geese, began to litter the beaches of the Magdalen Islands.

The situation does not seem to be improving and affects the entire territory. Three residents referred to the Record photos of dead birds on the island of Havre-Aubert, Havre-aux-Maisons and Grosse-Île.



A dead bird in Grosse-Île.

Photo courtesy of Janet Dube

A dead bird in Grosse-Île.

“It’s like that everywhere. I’m from the Islands. I live opposite [la plage] I’ve been walking here every day for over 15 years and this is the first time this has happened. It’s very sad,” said Myriam Vigneau of Havre-aux-Maisons.

“For over a week, there were several hundred on the beaches, dead or dying. They are also found along roadsides, even at a gas station. A government observer estimates that more than 500 died. Other species also seem to be affected, such as cormorants, gulls, alcids (puffins, guillemots) and ducks,” says Joël Arseneau, deputy for the Magdalen Islands for the Parti Québécois.



The corpse of a cormorant on the beach of Bassin on the island of Havre Aubert.

Photo courtesy of Louise Matte

The corpse of a cormorant on the beach of Bassin on the island of Havre Aubert.

And if bird flu was immediately suspected, the first reports do not point in that direction.

“MAPAQ informed me today (Monday) that the analyzes of the first specimens of gannets did not point to avian influenza. It’s quite intriguing. But are we basing ourselves on birds caught in the Magdalen Islands or those in Gaspé?” asked Arseneau, who still hasn’t got all the answers.

The mayor of the municipality of Îles-de-la-Madeleine, Jonathan Lapierre, also had this information.

“We had discussions with biologists that the few specimens sent showed no signs of avian flu. Is it something in the water, in nature, a drastic change in the climate? There are several hypotheses under analysis,” he revealed.

Mr. Lapierre is surprised at the number of geese that have died. “We don’t have a large colony near the Islands. They tend to be on Île Brion and Rochers-aux-Oiseaux. And suddenly we found them here [morts].”

Joël Arseneau highlights the concerns of the people of his riding in the face of the extent of the phenomenon.

“The population is concerned about the cause of mortality on the one hand, and because the cleanup has not yet been done. the communications [des autorités] are not clear about the risks to humans”, he laments.

The deputy read a disinformation message on the internet that said that avian flu kills between 40% and 60% of infected people.

According to the Quebec government website quebec.ca, “avian flu poses a low risk to the population, the virus is rarely transmitted from birds to humans. There is no sustained human-to-human transmission (…) The symptoms of a human case of flu are generally similar to those of seasonal flu”.

In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) listed a single human case compared to 38 million infected birds.

Despite everything, the watchword of the authorities is not to approach the carcasses.

“Avian influenza remains a notifiable disease due to its effects on livestock. And even if it was some other cause, there is something going on. You have to clean it for hygienic reasons due to the abundance of carcasses,” says Mr. Arseneau.

The latter is particularly concerned about the only egg producer on his mount if the contamination spreads to his breeding.

The presence of domestic and wild animals near the carcasses also worries Arseneau, who until today (Monday) has been walking in circles to clean the beaches.

“Neither MAPAQ, the MFFP or the Communauté maritime des Îles (the equivalent of the MRC) intend to clean up the banks. The Environment Ministry could also have a role to play, but its only supervisor is away from work and has not been replaced. And the Canadian Wildlife Health Network has no responder in the Magdalen Islands,” he explained for the first time on Monday morning.

Listen to Benoît Dutrizac’s interview with Jonathan Lapierre on Radio QUB:


Mr. Arseneau then learned that the Urgence-Environnement group had been hired to clean up.

“I still don’t know when and how. MAPAQ taught me and the file is now the responsibility of the MFFP”, explained the deputy.

Jonathan Lapierre also recalled the fears of the population. And he said he was powerless to clean up the banks in the current context.

“Public Health asks citizens not to touch the birds, we cannot leave our employees blind without knowing how to recover them. We’re having trouble finding employees to open our sites and maintain our roads. We are short of manpower. We are talking about a vast operation, to cover 300 km of beach and collect each of the dead birds. It’s outside of normal waste management,” he says.

And the disposal of carcasses and elements that may be contaminated also causes headaches for the mayor.

“Do we bury them? I have a water table in the basement, is there a danger of contamination? We don’t have an incinerator, we can’t have an open fire. We need experienced people to dispose of these carcasses,” Lapierre said.

But the chosen one wants first of all to know the origin of these deaths.

“Every day there is more and more. Starting tomorrow (Tuesday), we will put pressure on the government to determine the cause”, concluded Jonathan Lapierre.

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