Marseilles (AFP) – Two popular coves in the “Calanques” region near Marseille, among the top attractions in the south of France, saw visitor numbers capped on Sunday for the first time to protect their fragile ecosystem.
The coast between Marseille and Cassis is home to France’s best-known calanques, centuries-old rock formations with steep cliffs, offering spectacular views, rare marine wildlife and protected swimming.
Very popular with locals and visitors alike, they are often only accessible by boat or hiking trails.
Because the limestone formations have little or no topsoil, the plants had to root themselves in the cracks between the rocks, making their hold tenuous and vulnerable to disturbance.
“The creeks of Sugiton and Pierres Tombées have suffered very strong soil erosion due to overpopulation,” said the Calanques National Park, which manages the landscape of narrow vertical cliffs, coves and beaches.
“This phenomenon threatens the landscapes we love so much and biodiversity,” he said.
Access to Sugiton and the Tombstones was limited to 400 people each on Sunday, compared to the usual 2,500 daily summer visitors.
The new measure should allow “natural regeneration” of the cove, Nicolas Chardin, acting director of the national park, told AFP on Sunday on Sugiton beach.
Online reservations are free, but anyone found at the beaches without a pass on capped days can be fined 68 euros ($72).
“Everything went well this morning, let’s hope it stays that way all season,” Mathieu Benquet, who heads the national park police team, told AFP.
However, many people – including several foreigners – had been turned away at the various checkpoints along the way to the creek because they did not have the required QR code.
Some visitors, hoping for a refreshing swim on a hot day, were unhappy with the new rule.
“We’ve been coming here for 10 years, it feels like home,” says Younes Azabib, a 26-year-old from Marseille.
“We thought of everything, the picnic and the pizzas. But we didn’t think to book,” says his friend Bilal.
But others appreciated the calm found on the beach.
“It’s great,” said Isabelle, a 50-year-old Marseillaise who is usually absent in the summer because of the crowds. “It is finally possible to swim.”
Nicolas Ponsot, a 41-year-old father of three, also welcomed the capping of visitors, believing that “it helps to preserve this whole ecosystem”.
The new rule is to be enforced again next Sunday and then daily between July 10 and August 21, the national park said.
© 2022 AFP