December in the water

This topic of this blog is a little bit overdue but the last few weeks there seemed to be more appropriate Christmas themes to discuss. Besides, we feel that some of you in the rainswept north may enjoy thinking about the Mediterranean at this time of year.

Beach at

Beach at Santo Stefano al Mare, Italy

We blogged in September (twice) on the first of the exploratory A Rocha marine trips around the French coast to look at the possibility of doing some environmental survey and protection work. That went sufficiently well that in December we ran a smaller second trip to follow up. There are currently two intern students, Aline and Samantha, working with us based at Courmettes, and they were joined by A Rocha’s marine expert Bob Sluka who came accompanied by his daughter Heather. They arrived on the Sunday and we picked up as our hire car from the airport a utterly brand-new, top of the range, totally computerised VW Touran.

Villa at Eze

Villa at Eze

On Monday we spent a day up at Courmettes talking about marine issues and planning what we might do. Then, on the Tuesday, with Chris doing the driving, we descended to the coast and the Observatoire Océanologique at Villefranche-sur-Mer, where there was an extremely helpful discussion with one of the researchers on the pollution problems caused by micro-plastics. These are the tiny, often nearly invisible, fragments of plastic that are now getting everywhere in the ocean, ending up in the food chain: there are probably some in the fish fingers you are about to eat. By this point however the gleaming black Touran decided to develop electrical problems for which the 500 page manual (in small print French) supplied no answer. We headed on eastwards to the magnificent beach at Eze where the marine team got themselves very wet snorkelling while Chris tried various permutations of rebooting the car electronics.

At this point we had planned to go straight onto Monaco, but with the Touran becoming increasingly neurotic and showing every possibility of going into either self-destruct mode or driving us into the sea, it was time to return to Nice where – thank you Europcar – we were given a replacement vehicle. (A serious word of advice to those hiring cars: there is clearly a trend to supply enormously complicated vehicles which not only have a lot of electronics to fail but require you to spend your holiday reading a manual the length of War and Peace in a foreign language. Feel free to reject them and ask for something simpler.)

The Anglican church in Monaco. Of course it had to be a Bentley that's in the foreground.

The Anglican church in Monaco. Of course it had to be a Bentley that’s in the foreground.

Finally we made it into Monaco. Accommodation was very generously provided for us at the vicarage of St Paul’s Anglican church by Rev Walter Raymond, the chaplain. Monaco, as you may be aware, is a tiny principality of a mere 200 hectares (about 220 football pitches) almost entirely covered by buildings. (It’s so small we actually parked the car in France.) It’s an interesting vicarage in that it actually underlies the church. Thank you very much Walter!

The famous Monte Carlo casino lit up for Christmas

The famous Monte Carlo casino lit up for Christmas

Wednesday included a snorkelling trip off Monaco (not very interesting apparently) and we made the evening service at the church where Chris spoke a little bit about A Rocha and what we were doing.

Snorkelling off Monaco

Snorkelling off Monaco


Preparing to snorkel in Monaco

Thursday involved us heading westwards over the border of Monaco, along the final part of the French coast and into Italy. There, after a cloudy start the sun came out and it was very pleasant. The marine team were happy and we would like to do further work along the Italian coast.

Looking back to France from Italy.

Looking back to France from Italy.

One reason why there's not much to see in the Mediterranean...

One reason why there’s not much to see in the Mediterranean… But he was very kind to us.

On Friday we headed back from Monaco to Courmettes and from there back to Taradeau with Bob and Heather. They left on Sunday after Bob had some extremely useful conversations with someone who has been involved in the area sometime. All in all a useful week. We have highlighted two possible projects and of the two the work on the micro-plastics looks extremely significant and fundable. But the feedback from all the people in the water was pretty much the same: beneath the surface there is nowhere near the amount of marine life that there ought to be. It’s not a happy sea.

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