Protecting Marseille's bays from too many tourists

·3 min read

In the south of France, near Marseille, the cliff-lined coastal inlets called 'calanques' are threatened by erosion because they attract too many visitors. A permit system is to be trialed from the end of June in an effort to protect these priceless landmarks.

The Sugiton calanque, closest to Marseille, draws huge numbers of locals and tourists during the summer months.

The calanque is a tiny creek with translucent water, surrounded by pine trees. The beach is barely 20 metres long. To get there involves a 45-minute walk on a forest trail.

But not everyone stays on the official path on their way down to the cove. Repeated passage is causing erosion.

This loss of soil threatens the pine forest and other vegetation.

"Aleppo pines surround the calanque and we worry about their viability since their root system is becoming more and more exposed," explains Olivier Ferreira, of the scientific service attached to the Parc national des Calanques.

Redesigned trails

Over the last few years, the park has done a lot of work on the trails.

"They needed to be marked out clearly because they had faded over time. We’ve also marked areas to allow the regeneration of nature where the public is not allowed to enter," says Zacharie Bruyas, head of communication for the Parc national des Calanques.

The situation has been getting worse over the years and is deteriorating very quickly.

During the summer, more than 2,000 people visit the Sugiton calanque every day.

"So we have put a reservation system in place, to ensure that the development measures are respected," says Bruyas.

Online visitor permit

From the end of June, and for the rest of the summer, visitors will have to apply online for a permit to access the Sugiton calanque and its tiny beach.

Numbers will be limited to 400 people per day and reservations will be made online via a QR code system to be presented on site. A private security company will check the passes. Access will remain free.

The national park is still trying to figure out how these permits will work. But for now, it’s first-come-first served for a free permit.

It is possible to book 3 days in advance of a planned visit, and up to 6pm the day before. One person can book up to 8 times during the access period.

"This is the first time France has set up a reservation system for accessing a nature park.

"Reservation is free and open to everyone. There are similar systems in national parks in the US and in Asia as well," says Bruyas.

But the park is worried about enforcing the permits. The majority of people who come to the calanques are locals, for whom going to the calanque is a regular part of daily life.


Locals are worried that the system will limit their access to what they see as their backyard.

Solène is a student at the Luminy University through which the trail to the calanque passes. She goes to the beach frequently in her free time.

"It’s too bad because we will not have access when we want. But on the other hand, if it can help preserve the site, make people respect the environment and the beauty of the place, then why not," she told RFI.

Didier, a tourist from the Vaucluse region, to the north of Marseille agrees:

"I am basically in favor of limiting access. We have the same problem in the Vaucluse region, with sites that have a lot of visitors. If you can save these areas, this is a good solution to preserve the environment."

Reservation will be open three days before 29 June.

And this system could be tested elsewhere.

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