A flagship EU scheme designed to promote nature protection has just celebrated its 30th anniversary. Natura 2000 is a European network of natural land and marine sites designed to protect remarkable heritage species and habitats. The Natura 2000 network was created three decades ago and, today, includes nearly 27,000 sites in the European Union, making it the world’s largest network of ecological sites on a continental scale. A European Commission spokesman said it is a “a very concrete example of collaboration between Member States.”
With 1,756 Natura 2000 sites, including 221 marine and mixed sites, representing 13% of the territory of metropolitan France and more than 13,000 municipalities concerned, the French network has pioneered preservation of targeted species and habitats.
Two French visitor attractions are flying the flag for both nature and marine conservation. They are also top regional tourist attractions, doing great work for their local economy.
1. Water Glisse Passion
One of the Natura 2000 schemes is near St Raphael in France which, today, provides leisure facilities on land that was once a quarry. Water Glisse Passion is a leisure/aqua park, including water skiing, which is located within a Natura 2000 site.
When the quarry came to the end of its working life, material from the site was removed and the vacant land flooded with water from a nearby river and rainwater to create a site of natural beauty and biodiversity. It now provides excellent leisure facilities such as a large aqua park, water-skiing, canoeing and boating. Boats used on the site are all “ecologically-friendly” and water is quality checked every five days.
The whole site is located at the foot of the outstanding Rock of Roquebrune sur Argens and protected with the Natura 2000 label. A spokesman said the aim is to preserve the natural habitat while promoting economic benefits and leisure activities.
This is a site of unparalleled natural beauty and a vast array of nautical activities is available to have fun and relax.Water Glisse Passion Spokesman
2. Marineland Antibes
About 50km away is the outstanding Marineland Antibes, which is involved in many research and conservation programmes, including on cetaceans, sea turtles and French stone grasshoppers.
This is the largest marine animal park in Europe and more than 4,000 marine animals can be found on an area of some 25 hectares. There are killer whales, dolphins, sea lions, penguins sharks and many other animal species. There are also 4 orcas in Marineland, all born in the park.It boasts four – and several generations – of the world’s 16 species of sea lion (including two born this summer).
One, called Durban, is an example of the good work done here to help in the preservation of species. Durban is a very old South African sea lion (born in 1996) which is now blind, an affliction which, were he in the wild, would result in certain death.
Brussels-born Isabelle Brasseur, the park’s head of Education, Research and Conservation, says, “Our number one priority, of course, is the welfare of the animals.” Isabelle, who has worked here for some 24 years, added, ”At Marineland, Durban has protection from many of the threats found in the natural environment. This species has suffered great losses in the 19th century due to being hunted for their fur and were endangered until recently.”
It’s a sentiment shared by Justine Pennetier, who, having started as an intern, has worked here for 11 years and is responsible for its dolphins team.
Justine, whose childhood ambition was to work with marine animals, noted, “We organise daily ‘educative shows’ and they are hugely popular with the public. We try to copy the animal’s behaviour in the wild and they are rewarded with everything from fish and toys to a big cuddle. In any case, with our veterinary teams we feed them to satiety, whether there are animal presentations, educative animations or any other activity during the day. We develop close relationships with our dolphins and the other animals here and I think this is clear to see for visitors to the park.”
The park was founded in 1970 by Count Roland de la Poype, a visionary industrialist, fighter pilot, WW2 hero and marine enthusiast. He had a very specific mission: to pass on his passion for the marine world to the wider audience in order to help them discover this fascinating universe.
When it first opened it covered just 2 hectares and had just four pools. It was home to just two killer whales and a few other marine animals. One of the sources of pride for its creator and those who have followed since such as Isabelle and Justine is the natural seawater supply system which draws seawater to the site directed from the Mediterranean Sea. This system has now been developed to allow a connection with the sea.
Today, the park also plays a vitally important role as a place of marine conservation and conducts research on cetaceans in the Mediterranean. This led to the creation, in 1999, of the Pelagos sanctuary, a protected maritime area between France, Monaco and Italy.
A member of the European Association for Aquatic Mammals, Marineland is one of the few zoological institutions in the world to successfully breed emblematic and threatened species such as sandbar sharks, loggerhead sea turtles and several species of tropical fish. The Marineland Association itself was created in 2010 to develop, promote and encourage the conservation of animal species and raise awareness of the marine environment among the public.
The association carries out several flagship initiatives of research and conservation (plus animal exchange schemes) with local or national partners all over the world, including Pairi Daiza, near Mons in Belgium. A spokesman said the objective is to “get to know marine animals better and to understand them more fully in order to protect them more effectively.”
Marineland contributes to the protection of marine animals by not only raising awareness amongst its visitors but also by conducting scientific research both on site and in the wild and developing ambitious conservation programmes. These include “Clean & Collect”, a monitoring programme for macro-waste accumulated in the marine environment.
Since 2012, the association has also run the “ObsTortueMed” conservation programme whose aim is partly to identify threats specific to a region particularly impacted by human activity. For more than 7 years, Marineland has also supported conservation efforts on behalf of the Mediterranean monk seal, one of the most endangered marine mammals on the planet.
The park has also partnered with “Naturascan” to assess the presence and distribution of marine megafauna within the Natura 2000 site, “Baie et Cap d’Antibes-Iles de Lérins baie”.
A Marineland spokesman added, “The initial visionary spirit – to pass on a passion for the marine world – still drives us and allows our thousands of visitors to enjoy unforgettable experiences while becoming more aware of the issues relating to the protection of marine wildlife through our animal presentations, educational activities and animal encounters.”