The Marine week: islands and beaches

If you read last week’s blog you know that we’ve just had a marine week, with Chris taking four marine biologists along the Mediterranean coast to see what possibilities there are for an A Rocha involvement in this part of the world. We started over on the eastern, Monaco end of the coast and progressively moved westwards. Thursday’s plan was to visit the island of Port Cros, which is considered important in marine biological terms because it is one of the few parts of the French Mediterranean coast that has been extensively protected. Because both Alison and Sarah W wanted to go we took two cars with us to the port of Le Lavandou. From there half an hour’s ferry ride under a perfect blue sky took us to the island.

Leaving Le Lavendou

Leaving Le Lavendou

Even someone who wasn’t a naturalist would probably have been struck by the journey over: there were almost no seabirds and certainly no trace of seals or dolphins. Yes, the weather may be vastly better than at Skomer or Ramsey Island off Wales but there’s much more wildlife there. There are probably several reasons why there is so little marine life: a shortage of nutrients, overfishing, the lack of any intertidal zone, the fact that the Mediterranean isn’t large enough to have the upwelling of huge nutrient-rich currents. It’s something we debated and will debate further.

Port Cros: the harbour

Port Cros: the harbour

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPort Cros is a fascinating island. Barely a handful of permanent residents, 40 kilometres of walks and some strict rules on what you can and can’t do. (And also some of the most expensive coffee prices this side of a British motorway service station.) Forty minutes warm walk took us to a charming bay with an underwater nature trail. Everybody went snorkelling and the consensus after 40 minutes was clear: here, away from the mainland, the quantity and quality of marine life was at least three times better than that on the mainland. (Unfortunately there were also jellyfish; and yes they hurt every bit as badly


as everybody says.) After a long walk to another beach and more survey work it was time to return via the ferry across the curiously silent channel.

A beautiful bay with a marine rail

A beautiful bay with an underwater trail

Friday saw us take the motorway westwards to the other A Rocha centre at Tourades near Arles. After a useful meeting discussing possibilities, most of us drove on down onto the Rhône delta and out towards the salt flats and lagoons at its edge. It would be lovely to say this is where turtles come to  breed (once upon a time they probably did) but what certainly do congregate here are now large white camper vans. These apparently migrate down from northern Europe; some are known to spend the entire season there and some leave a lot of litter behind. The water is sandy and silty and murky enough to deter all but the most determined diver. Yet it’s rich with wildlife and there are terns wheeling over the water and flamingos wading in the lagoons.


Saturday morning we took everybody to the futuristic rail station outside Avignon, returned the hire car and then drove back to Taradaeu.

It’s far too early to say whether A Rocha will get involved in the marine side of the Mediterranean and if so, what shape that involvement will take. Certainly, a lot of work needs doing.

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