Only 1.5% of France’s waters are truly protected, expert says

"About 75% of the protected marine and coastal habitats are in very poor condition according to the situational analysis carried out by France in 2019 for the European Union under the Marine Environment Strategy Framework Directive." EPA/WAEL HAMZEH

To what degree are French waters genuinely protected? In an interview with EURACTIV’s partner le Journal de l’Environnement, conducted after the fourth National Marine Protected Areas Congress (23-24 October), Élodie Martinie-Cousty of the federation France Nature Environnement (FNE) explained the situation.

Élodie Martinie-Cousty pilots the Oceans network at France Nature Environnement (FNE), the French federation of associations for the protection of nature and the environment. 

22.3% of French waters are classified as marine-protected areas, but you estimate that only 1.5% are actually classified as such. Can you explain this discrepancy?

It must be understood that the levels of protection are very different depending on the categories, of which there are 17 in France. At the highest level, we have the national nature reserve, which applies to the French Southern Lands, south of the Indian Ocean.

But we also have national parks such as the Calanques, marine nature parks such as the Iroise Sea, biotope protection areas, and even Natura 2000 areas that protect habitats and terrestrial or marine species at the European level.

However, activities that are potentially dangerous for flora and fauna are permitted in all these areas, including a portion of the nature reserves. This is why only 1.5% of France’s waters are truly protected. However, their condition is worrying.

About 75% of the protected marine and coastal habitats are in very poor condition according to the situational analysis carried out by France in 2019 for the European Union under the Marine Environment Strategy Framework Directive (editor’s note: it was produced by the natural heritage department (NHD) of the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle).

Should all activities in marine protected areas (MPAs) be prohibited?

It is necessary to regulate as strictly as possible the activities that are most harmful to fauna and flora, such as maritime transport, sand extraction, commercial swimming with cetaceans, mooring and, of course, the most destructive fishing techniques, such as trawling and dragging.

In the Mayotte Marine Natural Park, giant fishing boats catch in a week what local fishermen catch in a year. But beyond protection on paper, it is above all necessary to provide management and surveillance resources to effectively protect the most sensitive areas, which have been precisely identified.

What are the financial resources allocated to the protection of marine areas (MPAs)?

The Marine Protected Areas Agency, which has been attached to the French Biodiversity Agency, has an annual budget (editor’s note: about €20 million) that has not changed in recent years, while the number of MPAs has continued to grow. It should be added that a recent report by the Court of Auditors notes that funding linked to Natura 2000 areas is not allocated to their protection.

It is, therefore, urgent to consider the protection of marine habitats and species differently. It must no longer be seen as a cost, but as an investment for us all. Marine ecosystems allow us to breathe, store carbon dioxide emissions, to feed and heal ourselves, as well as develop our tourist appeal.

In France, our politicians must implement a 2020-2030 Marine Areas Strategy with new financial measures in the upcoming budget for 2021.

What tax measures do you recommend?

We propose increasing the portion dedicated to the protection of the marine environment from the annual tax on offshore wind turbines.

Today, half of this sum, proportional to the megawatts installed, goes to coastal communities located along the river.

For the rest, 35% is allocated to the National Fisheries Committee and only 15% to sustainable development projects, including 5% to the National Sea Rescue Society (SNSM).

Until now, not a single euro has been spent on the management and supervision of MPAs. We succeeded in getting approval in the 2020 budget for the allocation of 5% of the wind turbine tax to the future French Biodiversity Office for the protection of the marine environment.

But ideally, we should aim for 100%.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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