It’s no coincidence that many of the most popular vacation destinations contain beaches: Miami, Cancun, Santa Monica, and the list goes on. Lying back in the sand with a good book and a cool pair of shades seems like a pretty ideal scenario in which to escape your normal life.
However, sometimes these sunny tourist spots aren’t so uplifting. One popular beach in Brittany, France is actually quite the opposite. The locale has been associated with numerous chilling deaths over the years, and only now are officials learning the dark reality.
In 1989, one resident of Brittany decided to take an early morning jog along the beach. It was a beautiful, cloudless day outside. He figured it would be the perfect way to get some exercise while taking in the sunlight. What could go wrong?
Tragically, his jaunt didn’t go as planned. When he hadn’t returned by sundown, his panicked wife called the police. It wouldn’t be until the next day that the gruesome sight was discovered.
Officials soon found the jogger’s body — cold and lifeless. Curiously, there was one strange object laying beside him: a mass of what was described by local papers at the time as “seaweed.”
Flickr – William Murphy
While an autopsy was performed, results were kept hidden from the public, and so the cause of death remained a mystery. Unfortunately, this wouldn’t be the last death linked to Brittany beaches, and it certainly wasn’t the first either.
Back in the 1970s, dozens of horses and wild boars turned up dead, alarming residents. It was said that their demise had something to do with a certain pungent, slimy substance, but that was all just conjecture…
This strange event is why in 1989, after the jogger’s unnerving seaside death, one doctor made his suspicions known. The incident must have something to do with the “seaweed” found beside the man’s body, he insisted. However, his urgings fell on deaf ears, and the carnage continued.
Library of Congress
Flash forward twenty years to 2009, and a vet is taking his horse for a walk along the beach. The sun was out, the waves were lapping at his feet, and his horse was striding along happily. Then things took a turn to the absolutely horrific.
Flickr – fdecodite
Passing by what he believed to be mundane algae, the veterinarian suddenly felt a strange feeling pass over him. He keeled over, and the next thing he knew he completely lost consciousness.
Blogspot – Tokyosurrenderstoahamster
While a passerby was able to drag the man to safety, the horse sadly did not make it — just another casualty on a long list of senseless deaths. Even after all this tragedy, people still had no idea what exactly was causing all these terrifying events.
Flickr – Brecht Bug
What people did finally surmise was that they definitely had something to do with that mysterious strange substance that kept showing up. So, later that year, locals hired a man named Thierry Morfoisse to get rid of it.
Thierry pulled up with his truck, ready to take care of business. Stepping out, he knelt down and packed the gross-smelling mounds of putrid algae into the back of his car. Then, he drove away…
The World Link
Suddenly, the man became overwhelmed with a strange sensation and, tragically, passed away behind the wheel. The circumstances around Thierry’s death in particular would be the subject of much controversy.
Caribbean National Weekly
His family, pictured below, was understandably angry that their beloved husband and father had been exposed to a knowingly dangerous substance. Ultimately, the courts labeled it a “workplace accident.” But why was this material causing so much carnage? A decade later, people would finally get answers.
In 2019, the issue of the deadly slime came up again when two men, one young and one old, died on the beach within days of each other. Authorities finally realized this was an urgent problem and swore they would get to the bottom of it.
Finally, after decades of senseless deaths, a team of experts at long last realized what was happening. The mysterious substance was the result of over-fertilization coming in from nearby fields, sending toxic chemicals on shore. However they were still far from a solution…
During the summer of 2019, deaths unexpectedly surged on Brittany beaches. Something else was happening to cause these fatalities beyond just the slime…suddenly the dark mystery had become even more complicated.
Apparently, extreme weather events, such as violent summer storms, exacerbated the damaging effects of the substance, transmitting it to Brittany in larger and larger amounts. One local spokesperson had a lot to say on the matter.
“The influx of green algae began very early, there were few storms and June was a relatively wet month, which caused more water to flow from agricultural areas and thus more green algae,” she remarked. But, incredibly, the story still isn’t over.
There’s disturbing cause to believe that, despite all the known deaths that the slime has caused, the true victim count may be even higher. The reasoning behind this assumption is chilling, to say the least.
“Around 20 people die on the coast each year, often swept away with tides or currents, but the question is: could some of those people have fainted from toxic gas from seaweed before being swept out?” asks Inès Léraud, investigative journalist.
That beach slime is horrific, but sometimes danger lies closer to home. In 2019, it was a seemingly normal day on Michigan’s I-696. Thousands crammed onto the highway for their morning commute, when people noticed something odd. Some sort of strange substance was pouring out onto the freeway.
When the drivers passed by, they could see it was a bright green slime oozing out from between the barriers and onto the interstate. A passing highway assistance driver noticed and knew immediately he had to call it in.
The Detroit News
Within hours, state officers from the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) were on the scene. They hadn’t seen anything quite like this, so they could only guess what the mysterious substance could be.
According to EGLE spokesperson Jill Greenberg, the team determined it was probably hexavalent chromium, a toxic and carcinogenic substance. If it sounds familiar to you, there’s probably a good reason why.
The Detroit News
Hexavalent chromium is the cancer-causing substance featured in the 2000 movie Erin Brockovich, starring Julia Roberts as a legal clerk who discovers that a major corporation has been polluting a small town. Authorities knew they had to act fast.
“It’s a serious situation,” said Greenberg, once EGLE had surveyed the area. “Clearly, this site needs to be cleaned up.” So the team got to work, but it wasn’t easy.
EGLE spent the entire night vacuuming up green slime, but they were in need of serious help, so they called in the fire department. By the next day the ooze situation was under control — but where had it come from, anyway?
When the authorities investigated a commercial building nearby, they found toxic waste being drained in the basement seeped through the ground all the way to the freeway. They had their guy.
The business owner was a man named Gary Sayers, who had already been arrested a year before for operating an illegal waste storage facility. But when they started digging around the building, they couldn’t believe what they found.
Click On Detroit
Giant 55-gallon barrels were scattered all across the lot — one of the now-empty ones had even been tossed in the small creek nearby. Another empty barrel was labeled “trichloroethylene,” a seriously dangerous carcinogen. Inside the building was another story entirely.
Detroit Free Press
Once the team reached the basement, they knew something was off. Hidden beneath the ground, Sayers had dug a large pit that was allowing toxic waste to pool and seep into the ground around the building. They had to act fast.
Once they had scoured the building top-to-bottom, they collected samples and sent them to the lab. They knew there would be some toxic chemicals present, but the tests actually showed one seriously dangerous result.
The results showed the presence of PFAS in the contaminated water. PFAS, known as the “forever chemical,” can cause serious health issues like cancer, liver disease, and hormone malfunction. Something had to be done.
Smart Water Magazine
Authorities moved fast and took Sayers to court. After pleading guilty to to storing hazardous waste without a permit, he now sits in prison in Michigan. But authorities had only just begun to realize the scope of the mess.
Michigan lawmakers knew they needed some assistance with the massive task they were undertaking, so they called in the Environmental Protection Agency to help with the cleanup. See, this isn’t the first time something like this has happened in Michigan.
Members of the Michigan State House were all too familiar with Michigan’s pollution problems and quickly announced plans to protect residents from contamination. And once the State House had gotten wind of the problem, it continued to escalate.
The story made its way to Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s office, which swiftly announced it’d be taking immediate action against Sayers and the company that produced the chemicals. They weren’t going to let them get away with this.
Detroit Free Press
“Any time public health might be compromised, residents and taxpayers expect a fast and effective response from the state with proper communication at all levels of government,” said Representative Shane Hernandez. Others agreed that action had to be taken — fast.
“Unfortunately, we in Michigan know too well the consequences of government inaction when it comes to protecting drinking water,” said one group of lawmakers. They knew they had to take bold action to prevent the crisis from escalating.
The Detroit News
Michigan cities like Flint are very familiar with issues surrounding water pollution. In fact, the entire Great Lakes region has been suffering through contamination crises for decades. In one region, the water even turned bright green.
See, since the late ’90s, Lake Erie has endured a recurring pollution problem thanks to farmland runoff. Chemicals make their way into the lake and create something that sounds like bad news even for the scientific layman — toxic algae blooms.
Essentially, pockets of organisms form from an excess of nutrients — like nitrogen or phosphate — getting dumped into the water. Though an abundance of nutrients usually indicates a good sign, these masses have catastrophic effects on the environment.
Circle of Blue
See, once the microbes in the algae bloom die, they suck up all the oxygen in the water. In turn, all the living creatures depending on that oxygen die. The masses of oxygen-depletion have an appropriately sinister name — dead zones.
Algae blooms have plagued Toledo, Ohio, residents for years, but in 2014, the situation reached a new low. The city of Toledo announced a 3-day tap water ban because the toxicity had contaminated the drinking water.
This environmental hazard left 110 people sick and still another half million were stuck without safe drinking water. Given that over 11 million people receive their drinking water from Lake Erie, this incident showed the widespread ramifications of toxic blooms. But what could be done?
Joshua Lott / Reuters/ National Geographic
Speaking out and raising voices against the pollutions had earned no action from public officials. So local activists gathered in a bar to hash out their concerns over a few beers. They wracked their brains and finally hatched an outside-the-box solution.
Toledoans For Safe Water / Facebook
They pushed to win Lake Erie legal rights. Markie Miller of the Toledoans for Safe Water led the charge. She explained, “For three days in 2014, we lost access to our drinking water, and we didn’t see any action come out of that. We wanted to do something for ourselves.”
The initiative to consider Lake Erie as a legal person marked the first case of Rights of Nature being instituted in the US. Surprisingly, though, it wasn’t unprecedented: other countries have pulled the somewhat unusual card to protect nature.
The Rights of Nature
The Rights of Nature movement has sprouted up all over the world. The movement aimed to show “Rights of Nature is about balancing what is good for human beings against…what is good for the planet as a world.” In fact, Lake Erie joined a long list of other natural resources looking for human level freedoms.
We Can International
Back in 2008, Ecuador prioritized this green legislation by recognizing the rights of Mother Nature in its constitution. The resolution passed with 64% of the vote, making it the first country to take this forward-thinking step.
DGR News Service
New Zealand followed suit in 2014 when they declared the Te Urewera forest to have personhood. Thanks largely in part to the efforts of the Maori peoples of the Tuhoe, who believe the lake holds utmost significance to their culture. The list continued growing.
India passed legislation affirming legal rights to the sacred Ganges and Yamuna rivers in 2017. The law qualified the rivers as “legal and living entities having the status of a legal person with all the corresponding rights, duties, and liabilities.” However, the status didn’t last.
Just four months later, the personhood of the heavily polluted rivers was overturned in the High Court, which reasoned the legislation was “not practical,” despite Hindus believing the rivers to be holy. The rights of nature were certainly not a guarantee — so would this work in Toledo?
Hinduism Stack Exchange
Back there, the efforts of local activists sparked a special election. On February 26th, 2019, the people filed to voting booths to make their voices heard loud and clear. And they were.
When all the votes were tallied, the Lake Erie Bill of Rights Charter Amendment passed with 61% of the vote! Best of all, the bill’s passing happened at a crucial moment.
According to environmentalists, flood levels for the Great Lake were to surpass any other previous years, bringing water levels to an all-time high. Protecting the water from pollutants was necessary to avoid a recurrence of tainted drinking water.
The Weather Channel
A delighted Markie Miller gave a statement on behalf of the Toledoans for Safe Water about the historic law. “Beginning today,” she said, “the people of Toledo and our allies are ushering in a new era of environmental rights.” Still, not everyone was onboard.
Farmers, like Mark Drewes of Drewes Farm Partnership, cried out in protest of the bill, making moves the day after its passage to sue in hopes to see the bill of rights overturned as unconstitutional. Others protested in different ways.
Of the several lawsuits filed in protest of the new legislation, all made the argument that the Lake Erie Bill of Rights is an overreach of government regulation; that it opens farmers up to hefty lawsuits and puts financial strains on the ability to do their jobs and their very livelihoods.
Activist Tish O’Dell said, “We’re seeing the results of our narrow-mindedness, of our belief that nature is property and property ownership is the highest right. The hope is that by beginning somewhere, like Toledo, the conversation enlarges. You never know what’s going to be the tipping point.”
Toledoans For Safe Drinking Water / Facebook
As of 2019, the lawsuits were pending, so whether the Lake Erie Bill of Rights would retain its personhood remained to be seen. Still, the landmark case could inspire other environmental activists across the United States to protect ecosystems under climate duress.
Death Valley, California, for instance, has been the focal point of conversations about unbearable climates for decades. Yet recently, a new phenomenon occurred that had climate activists rushing to the desert.
Death Valley earned its name. In 1848, when a group of high-spirited prospectors took a bad shortcut, they trekked smack dab into the 3.4 million acres of parched, dirt, rock, and sand. Fairly soon, the groups were desperate to escape with their lives.
The desolate land broke the travelers. After enduring many deaths in their group, they finally turned their backs on the desert. Before fleeing for good, they gave the place a name worthy of its terror. They muttered, “Goodbye, Death Valley.”
Still, every year, Death Valley draws more curious thrill seekers than it deters. The once fear-inducing stretch of desert now serves as a major tourist stop. In 2016, 1.3 million visitors visited the National Park to witness its unrivaled landscape.
People flock to experience the intense climate for themselves. Death Valley delivers. It holds the title for the highest temperature on record, 134 degrees Fahrenheit, recorded on one unbearable day in 1913, in the Furnace Creek region of Death Valley.
Kristen Hwang / YouTube
In March of 2019, tourists seeking selfies in the blistering sun were surprised to find the landscape looking a bit differently than they’d seen in social media posts. Instead of the Star Wars reminiscent sand dunes and cracked plains sat an unusual weather anomaly.
On March 6th, 2019, Death Valley experienced a much-needed rainfall. Compared to your average downpour in less extreme climates, the rain seemed meager, but for the desert, this was flood city.
For reference, the average rainfall in Death Valley for the month of March is 0.3 inches. Over the course of 48 hours, the thirsty plants were swimming laps in the overwhelming 0.84 inches of rain.
When physicist and nature photographer Elliot McGucken heard about the massive rainfall, he immediately grabbed his camera and set off to the depths of the desert to capture the weather abnormality.
Elliot knew that, back in 2015, Death Valley experienced a similar surplus of rain, over 2 inches. The aftermath saw the desert floor of Badwater Basin turned into an eerie motionless puddle. It stretched over the ground like a massive mirror reflecting rock and sky.
Tuxyso / Wiki Commons
So, Elliot drove through miles of desolate desert, hoping to snag some incredible photos of the rare environmental occurrence. But as he approached his destination, the previous site of the large still pool, Badwater Basin, Elliot found something that cut his journey short.
With 20 miles to Badwater Basin, Elliot’s passage was blocked. He’d made it as far as Salt Creek, a long-since dried up lake bed. In the place of the shriveled expanse of Earth was a vast motionless lake.
Elliot McGucken / Instagram
For Elliot, this phenomenon surpassed his wildest expectations. The sheer size of the body of standing water put the Badwater Basin episode to shame. Elliot, mouth agape, stood to take in the scope of it all.
Elliot McGucken / Instagram
A representative of Death Valley National Park admitted to Elliot via email, “I believe we would need aerial photos to accurately determine the size,” which only added to the powerful supernatural vibe coming from this enormous rain puddle.
Luckily no spooky creatures climbed out of the lake, but there were serious concerns about the damage it could cause longterm. Dumping a huge quantity of water in the driest place on Earth has complications.
All this rain isn’t as big a gift to the desolate land as you’d expect, explained meteorologist Chris Dolce. “Because water is not readily absorbed in the desert environment,” he said, “even moderate rainfall can cause flooding in Death Valley.”
Elliot McGucken / Instagram
In less than a day, Death Valley was submerged with a third of its yearly rainfall. Compact soil and root systems of native plants block water absorption.”It’s like putting water on concrete,” said Todd Lericos of the National Weather Service.
The result? Ephemeral lakes, lakes of water occurring in places that are usually dry. Nearby, Nevada’s Black Rock Desert, home to the Burningman Festival, sees a fair share of temporary bodies of water. Once evaporated, a layer of minerals are left coating the ground.
Ikluft / Wikicommons
The long term effects of the desert lakes are unclear, but they provide a glimpse into future climate trends. “It’s important to study a variety of physical and biological systems to gain a more complete understanding of the rates and magnitudes of past climate changes,” said researcher Kenneth Adams.
Instagramers and nature bloggers delight in documenting these weather events, but their increased frequency has scientists concerned it hints towards a more damaging environmental episode.
Commonly referred to by experts as Atmospheric River 1,000, this massive storm occurs about every 150-200 years. The megastorm brings torrential downpours, triggering massive floods on a scale of hundreds of miles.
According to the United States Geological Survey, ARkStorm realistically should be anticipated within the next two centuries. Floods would dramatically impact communities in California, displacing millions and causing billions in property damages.
Scientists agree that for now, ephemeral lakes pose little threat to Death Valley’s environment. So, photogs like Elliot can snap pictures for pleasure, guilt-free. “Nature presents this beauty, and I think a lot of what photography is about is searching for it and then capturing it.”
Elliot McGucken / Instagram