Why and how to protect wetlands, “life-giving factories”?

Most of the swamps, in Paca

From the giant Camargue to the shores of Lake Fourca in Mercantour, the Paca Region lists more than 3,700 wetlands. Some are small, even ephemeral.

France currently has 52 sites on the list “List of Wetlands of International Importance (Ramsar Sites)”. Three of them are located in the Paca region: Camargue, Salins d’Hyères and Etangs de Villepey (Fréjus).

For nearly forty years, France has been committed to the protection of these sites. The Mediterranean coast was even the cradle of this approach.

We owe it to the pioneer Luc Hoffmann. This passionate ornithologist bought the Tour du Valat estate, which became the Camargue National Park. In 1962, Luc Hoffmann made the first call for an international treaty on wetlands, a revolutionary idea at the time. On February 2, 1971, the Ramsar Convention was signed and became the first international environmental treaty.

In the world, wetlands are being destroyed three times faster than forests. It is estimated that two-thirds have disappeared since the beginning of the 20th century. Long looked down upon, unhealthy, or a hindrance to construction, they are now viewed in an entirely different light.

Wetlands are close to us, but often invisible

Who would have imagined the wet meadow witnessing an old dry marshland along the runways of Cannes-Mandelieu airport? In a narrow valley of the gulf of Saint-Tropez, one of the last freshwater marshes on the coast of Provence is home to around twenty protected species, Jay Cuckoo, Hobby, bats…

Wetlands are little known, often invisible. And for good reason, the city often builds on or expands upon it as urbanization and infrastructure develop.

Peat bogs, riverbanks, shores, lagoons, on the coast or in the mountains, wetlands are characterized by permanently or temporarily flooded or saturated with fresh, salt or brackish water. These lands are home to a number of animal and plant species.

Life insurance in the face of climate and biodiversity crises

Swamps “Our life insurance in the face of climate and biodiversity crises”, Ramsar France, La Tour du Valat association and IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) French Committee. Because they are “solution providers” for our modern societies and “turned out to be the ecosystem that contributes the most to humanity”.

Water, the virtuous nature of swamps

Wetlands play several roles. The first thing that can be mentioned is related to the water cycle.

They are “nature’s kidneys” that clean the water we pollute.Remember Ramsar France, La Tour du Valat and IUCN. “Giant sponges capture increasingly erratic and often massive rainfall, dampening flood peaks, replenishing groundwater and supporting river flows during longer and more intense droughts.”

“This is a big and critical role, especially in the Mediterranean departments.”

It plays a critical role for hydrological networks “a climate buffer that absorbs excess water, feeds groundwater, and releases water when it’s most needed”Jean Jalbert, director of La Tour-du-Valat, a reference institute in the expertise of Mediterranean wetlands, continues.

of course “It’s not enough to swallow everything, for example, when the storm Alex starts.”but is reservoired by marshes “The most efficient and sustainable way to save water and make it accessible”. Like a snowpack that stores water in the winter to release in the spring.

Jean-Jalbert, Tour-du-Valat, director of the reference institute for the expertise of Mediterranean wetlands. ©Hervé Hôte_TourduValat DR Hervé Hôte_TourduValat.

Biodiversity, the hidden wealth of wetlands

Wetlands are particularly favorable for the development of various species. The list of these species largely coincides with the list of endangered and protected species. In general, one-third of wetland-dependent species are considered to be threatened with extinction.

In detail, according to the French Biodiversity Office (OFB), in France 100% of amphibians (frogs, toads, etc.), 50% of birds and 30% of remarkable and endangered plants, as well as a large number fish, yet poorly known insects, directly depend on wetlands.

You get water, light, nutrients, these are the building blocks of life

This ecosystem “most productive”, portrays Jean Jalbert. That is, literally, it is capable of producing this biodiversity of both fauna and flora. “You take in water, light, nutrients, these are the building blocks of life. A swamp is a real factory for creating life.”

It is difficult to characterize the animals that live there and the plants that grow there. “Their great diversity also makes it difficult to group wetlands under the same term.more Antoine Gazaix, researcher at Tour-du-Valat. From the plains of the Maures to the Salins d’Hyères, with its temporary ponds where a unique flower regiment flourishes, it is not the same type of space and biodiversity.”

Biodiversity_Poussin Tour du Valat DR C. Lebarbenchon Tour du Valat.

Wetland restoration is possible

It is difficult to know how wetlands are maintained. “The two main threats are the direct loss of space through development and urbanization construction and water use.Antoine Gazaix summarizes. “Potentially, we have less and less water to distribute for more and more uses.” What is left in the natural environment?

This restored natural space is “a source of pride for the Department

The recently restored natural space in Var is particularly exemplary. “The Plan de La Garde is a source of pride, a showcase for the Department that acquired it not only to restore it and return it to the public”Martine Arenas, president of the environmental commission in the board of the Department of Var, explains.

Regularly flooded, this wetland was under pressure from wild dumps, untitled and untitled warehouses, and urban greed. “Many people have mastered the place, this flood-prone coastal plain is in the heart of the metropolis of Toulon.”, describes the selected. Expropriations were a necessary and multi-year process to consolidate all 135 hectares now protected. The entire project cost 19 million euros.

The major works allowed not only to clear the area of ​​waste and illegal constructions, but also to dig two water basins and connect them to the urban areas and the three rivers that continue downstream.

“By freezing any sign of soil sealing, the flood expansion zone offers temporary storage volumes.

In addition to the role in flood management, there is also an improvement in the quality of water passing through the area through a phytoremediation role.” approves the services of the department.

The plain, which dries up in the summer, is now filled with water all year round, ponds have been built, and the number of birds that frequent the area has increased from 90 to 230 species. conservatory.Porquerolles botany. An entire wild ecosystem began to recover.

A very strong feature, the general public can enjoy the whole site, an exceptional place for walking and exploring. A restored wetland landscape for the common good between man and nature.

Plan de La Garde natural area Frank Muller.

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