Striking the right balance between development of tourism and preservation of the environment
Despite its small size – 7 km long and 3 km-wide – Porquerolles is one of the most popular sites of the Riviera. Once the summer season begins and the cicadas start singing, the island’s face changes drastically. The number of inhabitants is multiplied by 150, from 130 to 20,000 people a day! In the end, more than a million visitors stay on the island each year. Besides its attractive landscapes and accessible relief, the island’s closeness to the continent partly explains this incredible success.
The impact of an excessive number of visitors
This success needs to be toned down as the flow of tourists is causing some major problems with the overcrowding of the village and issues around water supply and waste treatment. Even if the island is regenerated in winter, the environment is submitted to a severe human pressure in summer. When the island accommodates up to 1,300 boats at once, when most boaters are not equipped to manage discards into the sea and when crowded beaches are inadequately equipped with toilets, the impact on the marine environment is far from trivial, not to mention the serious risks to the health.
Moreover, even if the treatment plant operates without any chemical treatment and if wastewater is recycled by a lagoon system and reused for irrigation, one shall not forget that the infrastructure is suitable only for 4500 inhabitants per day. Water consumption increases on its side from 80m3 per day in winter to 650m3 in summer, thus tankers need to deliver 400,000 liters of water each day between April and October to complete withdrawals from boreholes.
Porquerolles to be classified as ‘heart of the park’
A plan towards sustainable development has been set up to better protect the island and for the coexistence of human activities with the unspoilt natural surroundings. The purpose of this classification ‘heart of the park’ is primarily to protect the development and restoration of the countryside in a sustainable manner whilst better accommodating the visitors. There is no intention to wrap the island in cotton wool and to close its access to the public. The inhabitants of Porquerolles fear that the isolation of the island may lead to the exodus of its people. This was in fact the case with Port Cros where there are only 18 permanent residents left, out of 300 before it was classified as National Park.
According to Serge Moreau, there must be a compromise between man and nature and local inhabitants need to be involved in the sustainable development initiatives. This is the objective of the proposed extension of the Park, which provides a greater role in its board, for local communities and other users.
‘There are solutions, starting with the extension of the tourist season throughout the year and the promotion of the island outside the high season for seminars, school or other activities. We need a change in attitudes,’ forcefully says the area manager, who is in charge of the delicate task of preparing the future status of Porquerolles.
The park’s officers are multiplying consultations with residents, businesses, service providers and carriers. Even if some equipment (zodiacs and car tires) has been slashed in sign of protest, Serge Moreau remains positive. He has witnessed similar cases during his long career in various National Parks in France, and thus remains confident for the future of Porquerolles, which“the inhabitants will intelligently preserve in collaboration with the Park.’
Omnipresence of versatile wardens
For over 40 years, the team of National Park ensures the development of the flora and fauna of Porquerolles. On the ground 7 days a week, 15 wardens take turns to ensure a constant presence. They are multi-task involved in the rehabilitation of the old buildings, the maintenance of forests and tracks as well as the development of the agricultural collections or educational activities during discovery classes.
The main priority is to reduce the risk of fire
In collaboration with scientists, the wardens conduct studies, surveys and monitor various ecosystems as well as endemic or threatened species. Campaigns to eradicate invasive plants such as the ‘Griffes de sorcières’ (witches’ claws) or ‘l’herbe de la pampa’ (the grass of the Pampas) are also part of their mission. ‘Prevention against fire is our main concern. A plan to fight against fire has been developed to reduce the rising risk in summer, when drought and wind are associated with high presence of tourists,’ says the head of the sector in Porquerolles, Serge Moreau.
Education is better than interdiction
The wardens also ensure compliance of regulations prohibiting camping and fires over the island. Similarly, smoking is not allowed outside the village. Moreover, during strong winds in summer, access is allowed only on the beach. Technical staff on oath, the wardens have also an enforcement role on the island and can book offenders in case of violation of regulations. ‘We rather focus on information and public awareness than play a repressive role,’ Serge Moreau insists. ‘We do not want to wrap this classified site in cotton wool. We want to empower the public to take better advantage of the site and we are directing them towards practices that are environmentally friendly.’ Instead of multiplying bans and accumulating signs, fences or increasing the amount of garbage cans, the wardens wants to engage visitors and sensitise them on the impact of their behavior on the environment.
Encourage a sense of responsibility instead of assistance
A zoning plan has been created to share the space between different users depending on the specific nature of each activity. Users thus become more aware of their responsibility when a space is dedicated to them whether for diving, boating, fishing or simply swimming. If they want to find the integrity of the site the following year, the visitors will make every effort to bring back their personal waste on the mainland and avoid collecting or touching the flora and fauna. Even if awareness campaigns are quite effective, the number of visitors is far from decreasing in summer.