The mystery of the millions of yellow sponges colonizing France’s northern beaches

Hundreds of thousands of mysterious yellow sponge-like balls have populated beaches in northern France sparking confusion among the area's residents and holidaymakers.

There are hundreds of thousands of mysterious yellow spongy substances currently populating the English Channel coastline of France's northern Pas-de-Calais department. 
From the coastal city of Boulogne-sur-Mer to the nearby town of Le Touquet, the spongy substances – that have also been compared to mousse – have colonised around 30km of the coastline, La Voix du Nord reported.
The beaches affected by the spongy invasion are La Slack, Wimereux, Le Portel, Equihen-Plage, Hardelot, Le Touquet, Stella and Berck. 
The beaches affected by the spongy invasion. Map: Google Maps 
And while it might look as if this part of France's northern coastline, also known as the Opal Coast, has been overun by an influx of sponges, the authorities aren't exactly sure where the mysterious substance comes from, although they confirmed on Monday that “to their knowledge” it isn't a danger to “public health, animals or plants” in the area.
Even so, prudence is recommended around the mystery substance, but that hasn't stopped swimmers, windsurfers or fishermen from going about their business.
And while authorities have made it a priority to clean up the touristy area, analysis is being carried out in an attempt to solve the mystery of what the yellow sponges are made up of. 
“It seems to come from an oil product,” said Jonathan Hénicart, president of the Sea-mer association, an NGO concerned with protecting the coasts told French TV news channel BFMTV. “It could come from a polyurethane product commonly used for building. And it smells very, very lightly of parrafin.”


Tourism minister: Book your French ski holiday now

France’s ski resorts will be open for business this winter, tourism minister Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne has promised - but no decision has yet been taken on whether a health pass will be required to use ski lifts.

Skiers at a French Alpine resort
Photo: Philippe Desmazes / AFP

“This winter, it’s open, the resorts are open,” Lemoyne told France 2’s 4 Vérités programme.

“Compared to last year, we have the vaccine,” he said, adding that he would “invite those who have not yet done so to [book], because … there will soon be no more room.”

And he promised an answer ‘in the next few days’ to the question of whether health passes would be required for winter holidaymakers to use ski lifts. “Discussions are underway with the professionals,” he said.

The stakes are high: the closure of ski lifts last winter cost manufacturers and ski shops nearly a billion euros. 

This year ski lifts will remain open, but a health pass may be necessary to access them. The health pass is already compulsory for après ski activities such as visits to bars, cafés and restaurants.

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Many town halls and communities which depend on winter sports have found it difficult or impossible to make ends meet.

“It’s time for the French mountains to revive,” Lemoyne said, pointing to the fact that the government has provided “more than €6 billion” in aid to the sector.

Winter tourism professionals, however, have said that they are struggling to recruit for the winter season.

“Restaurant and bars are very affected,” by the recruitment crisis, one expert told Franceinfo, blaming a lack of urgency from authorities towards the winter holiday industry.

“We are all asking ourselves what we should do tomorrow to find full employment in the resort,” the expert added.

Post-Brexit visa and work permit rules mean that ski businesses have found it difficult to recruit Brits for short-term, seasonal positions.