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When nature takes back its rights, it explodes in the Camargue marshes

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This is proof that the decline in biodiversity is not irreversible! In the ponds and marshes of the Salins de Camargue, work has enabled nature to regain its rights. In less than ten years, since the sale of these spaces to the Coastal Conservatory, birds and fish have already returned …

Since the water has reappeared on the site, these landscapes of “sansouires” with salicornia once again colonize these old salt marshes. Photo: © Radio France / Célia Quilleret

The view is stunning. When you cross the marshes on the dike in the direction of the Gacholle lighthouse, not far from Beauduc, stretches of green and purple samphire typical of the ponds have colonized the dry and deserted land of the old salt marshes of the Camargue. These so-called “sansouïres” landscapes have been restored. Marc Thibault, the person in charge of this project at the Tour du Valat , a research center for the conservation of wetlands, is quite moved to find ” these emblematic landscapes of the Camargue that we could see for example in the film  Crin Blanc  and that we no longer saw “. Birds can nest and reproduce. ” We have a community of passerines that are colonizing these places again, the spectacle warbler or the spring wagtail once again find a favorable habitat here, very low bushes and open areas around “, rejoices Marc Thibault.

This work made it possible, for example, to reconnect the former salt marshes, previously very dry, to ponds such as the Vaccarès. Photo: © Radio France / Célia Quilleret

Marshes and ponds reconnected to the sea 

The secret is to have allowed water, fresh and salty, to return to these spaces that were once dried up by the salt harvest. From now on, hydraulic structures allow the sea to enter and re-establish connections between the Mediterranean, marshes and ponds like the Vaccarès. ” By reconnecting these ponds, we have a hydrological continuity and this allows the fish to walk to spend part of their life in the Vaccarès, whereas before, the ponds were partitioned “, explains Benjamin Bricault of the National Society for the Protection of the nature .

Very positive consequence, certain migratory marine fish, such as sea bream or sole, can again enter this refuge and allow their young to grow up, sheltered from predators. ” They enter the ponds at the juvenile stage, take advantage of very favorable conditions to gain weight before setting out again at sea, ” explains Marc Thibault. These are ponds which therefore play the role of nursery for migrating fish.

Return of the eels, yet endangered  

Scientific monitoring of these ponds, with regular fishing, shows very clearly that part of the ponds is colonized by fish such as European eels, while this species is on the verge of extinction. Because their migration route is functional again. ” Restoring these connections allows the eels to colonize the Camargue ponds again ,” explains Marc Thibault, ” they spend most of their life in Europe before going to reproduce in the Sargasso Sea. is an extraordinary journey “.

Letting nature take back its rights, a paradigm shift

For Gaël Hémery of the Camargue Regional Natural Park , the project to restore the Camargue ponds and marshes is very positive and it could serve as an example or ” give ideas to other managers “. ” We gave nature a hand and it works, ” he says. ” If we let the ponds function freely, we have a diversity of waters which will mix and this favors the richness of the flora and fauna whereas until now, we have reasoned according to the interest of man on this site, “he explains. ” By letting nature express itself, we change the paradigm and we give opportunities to biodiversity, it can regain what it has lost!“This is how 300 hectares of vegetation reappeared in less than ten years.

The challenge now is to see if this pattern is reproducible and if it can benefit biodiversity outside the site, at sea for example. If the fishermen indeed realize that the fish stocks are increasing, there will perhaps be a better adhesion of the population to this project. However, for the moment the hunters, former employees of the Salins, who benefit from a hunting privilege on these ponds, are rather gloomy. This change of paradigm, nature first, is not always easy to accept.

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