One of the main Breton fishing ports, Le Conquet, a coastal town with a glorious past, is known for its crustaceans including crabs and its “noble” fish - skate, monkfish and turbot. It is also a port of call for boats that ferry both people and goods towards Ushant Island and the Molène archipelago. It is here, “in the middle of nowhere”, that France’s first natural marine park has been set up.
A new tool to protect marine areas
The Iroise sea seemed to be the ideal place to experiment this new status that became official in 2006 (1) which aims to protect coastal areas that present a particular interest for biodiversity and human activities that depend on the sea.
This 3 550 km2 space brings together all the marine diversity that can be found on coasts on a relatively reduced scale. The seabed is extremely diversified and the particular hydrology it is subjected to generates thermal fronts that contribute to the presence of species that cannot be found anywhere else, like the black coral that was discovered very recently in Ushant. These exceptional conditions make it possible to follow the state of the environment and its evolution on an extremely large scale.
By crossing all this scientific and socioeconomic data, one understands the reasons for which the Iroise Sea was chosen as a “test zone” for the first marine park.
… and durably manage resources
To gain a better perspective on the situation, we took a trip on the Molène archipelago with Yannis and Thomas who are technical environmental agents.
Their mission: to closely follow the evolution of the Molène seaweed bed, which is one of the biggest and most diversified in Europe. It is indeed home to over three hundred species of algae including brown algae and carrageen moss. These algae make up the staple diet of several thousand species … including our own in the shape of algae and gelling agents! They are also responsible for a lot of human activity: 340 boats with almost 700 sailors fish over 40 000 tons of algae there every year. This represents 80% of French seaweed production!
An ecosystem in danger
The problem: the diversity is threatened and predatory green algae are proliferating. The useful harvest has clearly decreased in the past few years and gone from 65 000 to less than 50 000 tons in eight years. Is this the consequence of overexploitation or climate change? The aim of the Ecokelp program is to determine the causes of this decrease to suggest more sustainable means of managing a resource that conditions the environment’s riches and maintains economic activity.
The Iroise Sea is also a particularly rich and prolific refuge for wildlife and plant life. During our trip we saw grey seals – the archipelago’s emblem –, big dolphins which came to taunt our boat and many birds. This very rich natural pool explains why the archipelago has been designated as a “World Biosphere Reserve” by UNESCO since 1988.
New marine parks by 2015
There was of course some reluctance and a lack of understanding to the park’s creation. “Some recreational fishermen saw it as a liberty killing tool whose only aim was to make a sanctuary”. But the park’s teams are not there to keep order. Consultations with the bodies that represent professional fishermen were easier.
An example to follow? The model is going to spread to a perimeter that will represent the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts and zones in Overseas French territories. The Mayotte national marine park was thus created in 2010. The Iroise project has launched a concept that will spread: 8 new parks will be created by 2015 to cover 5% of marine territory.
Taking it further…
Green algae and “killer” algae
“Killer” algae that invade certain Breton beaches every year were in the news as they caused the death of a man and a horse in 2009.
It is thought that their proliferation on Breton beaches is due to a nutrient overload (nitrogen, phosphorus) of rivers joining the sea. These elements come from domestic wastewater and industry waste, but especially from industrial stockbreeding (poultry, park, dairy cows). In spite of regulation, efforts to conform to norms and European convictions, Brittany is one of the regions in the world that is most polluted by stockbreeding effluents.
At the same time, on certain Breton coasts, herbariums of brown algae like Fucus (also known as kelp or wrack) have decreased by up to 40%. These algae are sensitive to pollution and they are indicative of coastal environments’ good sanitary conditions.