Visitor data collection for the protection of the “Côte Bleue” (INHERIT project)
The so-called Blue Coast (in French: Côte Bleue) refers to a section of the Mediterranean coast located west of the city of Marseille. Like the much better known Calanques massif, this stretch of coast also includes rocky limestone coves with small harbors, beaches and bays.
In the 1960s, there was an extensive tourism and construction project for which real estate companies had purchased 1,700 and 1,300 hectares of land, respectively.
In the face of fierce local opposition, the land was eventually designated as non-eligible for development on the Municipal Land Use Plan in 1974.
In 1978, the “Conservatoire du Littoral”, the coastal management authority created three years earlier, decided to buy up the land in question and to make it inalienable state property. Thus, the Conservatoire du Littoral gradually acquired an area of 3,500 ha.
In 2012, the marine park was granted the status of “Mediterranean site of special conservation interest” (ASPIM), which since 2014 has been ranked on the green list of the World Conservation Union (IUCN) thanks to its exemplary management.
Then, in 2013, the site received the status of a natural zone worthy of protection, based on the French law of 1930.
Finally, in November 2015, a large maritime area from La Couronne in the west and L’Estaque in the east to a southern point on the open sea was declared a Natura 2000 Special Protection Zone called “Côte Bleue Marine”. The conservation of natural areas is of key importance for this area.
2020: the INHERIT project
The International Association for Mediterranean Forests (AIFM) is an NGO founded in 1996 with the aim of promoting the exchange of knowledge and experience on Mediterranean forests and other tree resources.
As part of its mission, AIFM participated in an integrated project called Interreg MED INHERIT involving 15 partners from 10 Mediterranean countries, which ran from February 1, 2018 to April 30, 2022.
The aim of the project was to preserve and enhance natural treasures of popular Mediterranean coastal stretches and areas, while protecting them from the consequential damage of mass tourism. One way to make tourism more sustainable is to reduce the industry’s highly seasonal nature – through better management of reception capacity and by developing and implementing a conservation approach supported by local industry players that relies on self-regulation and follow-up.
After AIFM made contacts with several notable sites in the Bouches du Rhône department as part of the project, the “Côte Bleue” was finally selected as a pilot area for INHERIT after an exchange with the site owner and manager in September 2019.
In the same year, numerous discussions were held with local players, both public and private, in the tourism industry and environmental protection for the needs assessment. Conclusion: Necessary measures against soil erosion on trails and effective public relations are hampered by the fact that virtually no data on visitor numbers are available. However, such data are indispensable for successful management of sites and natural events (landslides, rockfalls).
From July to September 2020, AIFM therefore had 10 PLATTEN counting systems installed in the Rove and Ensuès-la-Redonne massifs to measure visitor volumes at a total of 10 strategic points.
After just a few days, a trend became apparent: compared to the other sites, the customs trail (Niolon and Méjan) was particularly busy. The impact of Corona on visitor numbers was also clear from March 2020.
The 2021 results show a sharp increase in visitor numbers at all sites compared to 2020.
TOTAL: 532,000 passes.
Peaks on the customs trail: 2,000/day (Niolon) and 1,700/day (Méjan).
The data collected give an objective picture of the number of visitors and came as a surprise to most of those involved. This was also the case for Alain Chaudron, Vice Chairman of AIFM: “Nobody had expected 500,000 passes per year! Even if we are far from the 3 million visitors of the Calanques, the numbers are twice as high as commonly assumed“.
This confirms the importance of the “Sentier des douanniers” trail, which accounts for half of all visitors. In addition, the data obtained allows the stakeholders a more detailed analysis by trails and weeks, providing important insights such as the spring and fall peaks or the comparatively weak visitor numbers in the summer, when massifs with trees are closed to visitors*.