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France limits visitor numbers in the Calanques bays of Marseille – Science-Environment News – Report by AFR

Two popular coves in the “Calanques” area near Marseille, which are among the top attractions in southern France, saw visitor numbers capped for the first time on Sunday to protect their delicate ecosystem.

On the coast between Marseille and Cassis are France’s most famous calanques, ancient rock formations with sheer cliffs that offer spectacular views, rare marine life and sheltered swimming.

Hugely popular with locals and visitors alike, they are often only accessible by boat or hiking trails.

Because the limestone formations have little or no topsoil, plants have had to take root in cracks between the rocks, making their support tenuous and vulnerable to disturbance.

“The calanques of Sugiton and Pierres Tombees have fallen victim to very severe soil erosion due to overcrowding,” said the Calanques National Park, which manages the landscape of narrow vertical cliffs, coves and beaches.

“This phenomenon threatens the landscapes we love so much and biodiversity,” it said.

Access to Sugiton and Pierres Tombees was limited to 400 people each on Sunday, compared to the usual summer daily attendance of 2,500.

The new measure is intended to allow “the natural regeneration” of the bay, Nicolas Chardin, the national park’s interim director, told AFP on Sunday on Sugiton beach.

Online bookings are free, but those found on the beaches without a pass on limited days could be fined 68 euros ($72).

“Everything went well this morning, let’s hope it stays that way throughout the season,” Mathieu Benquet, who heads the national park’s police team, told AFP.

However, many people – including several foreigners – were turned away at multiple checkpoints along the access route to the bay for not having the required QR code.

Some visitors hoping for a refreshing dip on hot days were unhappy with the new arrangement.

“We’ve been coming here for 10 years, it feels like our home bay,” said Younes Azabib, a 26-year-old Marseille resident.

“We have thought of everything, the picnic and the pizzas. But we didn’t think of booking,” his friend Bilal said.

But others appreciated the new found tranquility on the beach.

“It’s great,” said Isabelle, a 50-year-old Marseille resident who usually stays away in the summer because of crowds. “Finally you can swim.”

Nicolas Ponsot, a 41-year-old father of three, also welcomed the visitor’s cap, saying “it helps preserve this whole ecosystem”.

The new rule is set to be applied again next Sunday and then daily between July 10 and August 21, the national park said.

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