when mass tourism suffocates the environment

The most beautiful natural sites in France hold their breath. In the park of the Verdon, the first figures announce a gigantic domestic and foreign tourist influx. Crushed under its 5 million visitors each year, it is the entire environment that toasts. “It is still the low season but we […]

The most beautiful natural sites in France hold their breath. In the park of the Verdon, the first figures announce a gigantic domestic and foreign tourist influx. Crushed under its 5 million visitors each year, it is the entire environment that toasts.

It is still the low season but we are already noticing the signs of degradation which announce a complicated summer.“: Stéfano Blanc, ecoguard for the Verdon natural regional park, fears the worst for this summer. Tourist indicators herald bright days for the economy but are already threatening the environmental indices of the park:”Last year everything was taken by storm with the Covid-19. People stayed in France last year the natural sites suffered. Pollution, waste, fires, incivility, rentals were taken by storm. Lots of problems“.

So Stéfano takes his pilgrim’s staff and goes to meet tourists: wild camping is prohibited, vehicles cannot park within 200 meters from the water’s edge and fires are strictly prohibited outside, as well. elementary principles that escape many visitors: “It is not always easy to know everything and find information on the internet, explains a visitor for a day, parked right next to the shore of Lake Sainte-Croix and its emerald water, one of the largest reserves of drinking water in the region. It is therefore useful to have a guard who explains to us without systematically fining us!“.

Damage to the ecosystem

Except that irremediably attracted by the beauty of the places, tourists often neglect the consequences of their (in) actions. Here, pedal boats, paddles or canoes spin en masse towards the Gorges du Verdon during the summer and do not always respect the physical barriers, however useful: “Here we have the Apron du Rhône, an endangered endemic fish found in the gorges. There is a line of buoys to prevent people from passing. But tourists systematically pass by and crush the fish in the gravel pits because to protect themselves, under threat, they flatten themselves without moving on the pebbles.“, deplores Stéfano Blanc.

For several years, the park has tried to promote a different approach and emphasizes the seasonal wings, that is, the weeks just before and just after the high season. But also to favor cycling as an alternative to visiting the region on an itinerant basis: “It is a way to discover the gorges in a different way. To also go to places inaccessible by car and therefore to escape the crowds, defends Male Le Meil, host for “Le Verdon à Vélo”. It is more respectful, low-carbon and a way to protect the park which is, of course, a tourist hotspot but also a sensitive environment.“.

For now, the Verdon Regional Natural Park favors promotion and incentives to unclog its gorges. Other parks such as the Calanques, a stone’s throw from Marseille or the Toulourenc gorges, at the foot of Mont-Ventoux, choose other methods such as “demarketing”, which denigrates the tourist experience of the place, or even limiting the number of visitors each day. The environmental survival of France’s most emblematic places, victims of their irresistible beauty, is at stake.

Janelle B. Smith

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