Set between limestone cliffs and chaotic granite blocks, the Bonifacio Strait separates Corsica and Sardinia. It is becoming the reference in terms of international protection of marine heritage, in spite of a particularly intense maritime activity
The ambition of the international marine parc is to protect the Bonifacio Strait Natural Reserve (BSNR), on the French side, and La Maddalena Archipelago National Park, on the Italian side, in a single and joint effort. The teams on both sides are working together on the ground since a few years and the European Grouping for Territorial Cooperation has given a legal identity to the marine park.
More than 10 years experience in the field
Created in the context of the setting up of a marine international park, the BSNR has been in operation for more than ten years. The Environment Office of Corsica that manages the reserve has reasons to be satisfied with the highly encouraging results to date. These results prove the efficiency of the sustainable development policy of the marine environment, which ensures the protection of the biodiversity while enabling the development of human activity, namely tourism and artisanal fishing.
“The Natural Reserve of the Mouths of Bonifacio is not just a sanctuary, but rather a real-size laboratory where we experiment different conservation methods in consultation with local stakeholders, and all the data collected is transferred,” says Guy-François Frisoni, department head of the ‘Network of natural reserves of Corsica’. Some fifty different scientific research projects conducted jointly in Corsica and Sardinia have provided a more accurate view of the patrimonial value of the international marine park and enabled the evaluation of the impact of the actions implemented for the conservation of endangered habitats and species. These various programmes cover the quality of sea waters, the observation of cetaceans, the monitoring of rare vegetal and animal species as well as fish counting. “We have around 20 counting stations located between 10 and 20 metres deep, both in the Sardinian and Corsican parts,” adds Guy-François Frisoni. “It is one and the same bio-geographical entity and the fish that live and transit in this zone know no frontier!”
A sixfold increase of the fish biomasses
What is most spectacular with the reserve is the growth in the fish population. Monitoring programmes undertaken in collaboration with members of the fishermen’s corporation of Bonifacio show the positive effects of setting up a reserve. Maddy Cancemi is the Environment Office of Corsica department head for the International Marine Park of the Bonifacio Strait. According to her, the fish biomasses have grown sixfold in the integral protection zones in less than ten years and 187 species have been identified to date. “The rapid development of living organisms that has been observed is proving beneficial for the whole reserve and partly enables the maintaining of catch tonnages by the professional fishing activity or the success of activities such as diving.”
Guy-François Frisoni concludes that “We realise that things can be fast-tracked with the setting up of protected marine reserves, without necessarily having to forbid all activity“.
The involvement of the fishermen
However, the integral reserve is not the only effective tool. “Sometimes, you just have to consult with the stakeholders to ensure the intelligent management of existing pressures and reinstate satisfactory biomass density.” The involvement of the members of the fishermen’s corporation of Bonifacio represents a probing example. Over the past twenty years or so, they have contributed directly to the implementation of appropriate regulation to protect fish resources through the setting up of no-take zones, the respect of minimum mesh size limits regarding box nets or the creation of natural reserves. Furthermore, they regularly send the data that they collect to the NRMB scientists, which helps to establish fishing indicators to assess the impact of each fishing activity, to test evolution hypotheses regarding the pressure and the regulation, and finally to make concrete recommendations regarding the effects of protected marine areas and appropriate protocols.
The setting up of the BSIMP
For the first time, the management of a protected zone has an international dimension from its inception. Maddy Cancemi, who is a member of the project’s Franco-Italian steering committee, explains that “The European Grouping for Territorial Cooperation is a tool that enables us to set up an institution to coordinate joint teams in the field of scientific monitoring and management of diving, pleasure crafting and tourism activities in general.”
The EGTC for a joint management of the park
Created in 2011, the European Grouping for Territorial Cooperation enables the setting up of an ad-hoc entity with a team that will be headed by a director and a rotating presidency that will alternate between the Italian and the French every 3 to 4 years. A Bonifacio Strait International Marine Park welcome centre will be set up soon at the Bonifacio Citadel to welcome the general public in a specifically identified location. Overlooking the strait, the entity will be equipped with modern communication tools (photos, films, exhibitions, interactive media…) to highlight the value of this impressive protected marine area and to explain what actions are being taken by the joint teams in Sardinia and Corsica.
Common scientific studies, monitoring and publications undertaken by the two teams will be continued in areas of priority, namely ornithological monitoring, the assessment of the ‘reserve’ effect, joint studies on fishing activity and the study of global tourism traffic in the Mouths of Bonifacio. New measures are already being considered for the harmonious common management of the marine park. We have suggested the introduction by the Assembly of Corsica of a mooring tax to follow up on the Italian initiative to levy an entry tax at the park,” explains Maddy Cancemi.
Handling tourism-related issues at the BSIM Park
The rapid expansion of nautical activities in the Mediterranean region is a major concern for the reserve’s manager, namely in relation with the conservation of seagrass meadows. A key element of the coastal marine ecosystem in the Mediterranean, they are dramatically receding in various zones in the Western Mediterranean. “We have the impression of being constantly confronted with new issues: pleasure crafts or excursion boats are constantly increasing in number and size, the number of divers and visited sites also keeps growing,” says Guy-François Frisoni, who has been involved with the Natural Reserve of the Mouths of Bonifacio since its creation. “Tourism is booming: 200,000 people visit the Lavezzi Islands every year with daily peaks at 2,500 people!” But the head of the network of protected marine areas remains positive and highlights some probing improvements. Many charters encouraging a more responsible behaviour have been signed between the Environment Office of Corsica and divers, boaters and kayak outing operators… Leveraging the success of the Lavezzi underwater trail, the Bonifacio Strait International Marine Park team plans to encourage dive centres and town councils to set up diving treks, which are important to make the marine riches more accessible and to raise awareness among the general public.
A better management of tourism impacts
Furthermore, the Environment Office of Corsica provides technical and financial support to the town councils to help them in managing the stretches of water that fall under their responsibility. This collaborative approach enables a better integration of the reserve in the life of towns whose coastlines are classified as marine natural reserves. “The Bonifacio Strait International Marine Park enables a better management of the impact of pleasure crafts on the marine ecosystem,” says Maddy Cancemi. “We must be able to prohibit certain types of anchors, organise moorings and better manage nautical activity off port zones.” The Pelu zone off the Lavezzi Islands is an example, with the installation of mooring buoys by dive boats in the most frequented sites. Organised moorings are also growing in number in Corsican ports such as Girolata, Calvi or La Rondinara, where a project managed by a private investor should materialize in 2010. Soon, mooring, jetski and kitesurfing will also be prohibited in some specific areas of the reserve. Guy-François Frisoni concludes that “The Bonifacio Strait International Marine Park enables us to consider the Mediterranean from every angle and to join our efforts to take over certain areas of the Mediterranean where the situation is disastrous but can still be improved. And the results are here to prove it.”
Limiting maritime traffic in the Mouths of Bonifacio
In order to better control navigation off the coasts, France and Italy have requested that the strait be classified among Particularly Vulnerable Maritime Areas (ZMVP) by the International Maritime Organisation (IMOMI). The decision to classify the reserve was approved in July 2011 and recognises the remarkable character of the reserve at international level and above all, enables more efficient protection against risks related to the marine transportation of hazardous materials. Indeed, until then, not less than 4,000 transportation vessels and nearly 13,000 tons of hydrocarbons and other dangerous materials were were transiting through the strait every year!
The status as international eco-sensitive zone will become effective as from the first semester of 2012. Among the first measures to be implemented are is the obligation now – and not merely the recommendation as before – for vessels to use the 11km canal in the strait to between the South of Corsica and the north of Sardinia which, besides its narrowness, is shallow and crossed by strong currents. The presence of a French or Italian pilot who knows the area is also strongly recommended to accompany boats with high load capacity and should ultimately become compulsory. Moreover, France wishes to screen motor boats using the strait and exclude those with a certain load capacity from transporting hazardous goods.
More efficient protection, strengthened monitoring and means of action
The marine park is classified as the ASPIM label. “The granting of Specially Protected Areas of Mediterranean Importance status to the international marine park enables the extension of the coastal state’s authority in terms of protection of the marine environment beyond 12 miles of territorial waters and enables France to reinforce its means of intervention and repression of deliberate pollution, namely regarding illegal activities such as the dumping of gas and the emptying of ballast tanks,” says Maddy Cancemi. “This measure mainly targets the International Maritime Organization and aims at raising awareness among all the countries concerned by the strait, to force vessels from third-party countries to also take into account the obligations that bordering countries have assigned themselves.”