Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Protecting France's Mediterranean salt marshes, a haven for migratory species

Anne Devailly in the Guardian (UK): Near the Mediterranean resort of Sète, on a 140-hectare expanse of wetland that used to be the Villeroy salt marsh and now belongs to France's Conservatoire du Littoral (CDL), a little island of seashells mixed with sand and salt has just been laid out for the birds. About 100 metres from the shore, it should accommodate a colony of migrating terns in the spring. The island cost the Thau conurbation, made up of eight localities around the southern side of the Etang de Thau, some €30,000 ($38,000).

Four similar amenities are planned but others might appear on other salt marshes in the Camargue, on the Etang de l'Or (near Montpellier), and on lagoons farther along the coast near Port la Nouvelle, Aude. Since 2007 the Compagnie des Salins du Midi (CSME), which used to work almost all the salt marshes along the south coast of France, has concentrated output at Aigues Mortes and sold all the other sites to the Conservatoire.

In exchange for about €12.4m the coastal conservation organisation is now responsible for some 1,240 hectares of wetland. Its acquisitions are set to continue, with more than 1,000 hectares round the Etang de Lairan, Gard, soon to follow. Each time the challenge is to find ways of turning former production facilities into top-grade centres for nature conservation.

"In 10 to 20 years," says Jean-Paul Salasse, the head of the Ecologistes de l'Euzière (EDE) organisation, "we can lure vibrant bird colonies back to these places, or see the return of the same plant life as everywhere else. But this won't happen on its own: we must continue to control the water level."...

Flamingos in the Camargue, shot by Barbarossa, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

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