Nature as violence against rising sea levels: in Hyères, the example of Vieux-Salins

That Friday, under a scorching sun, the group walking along the Vieux-Salins de Hyères, with caps screwed upside down and well-filled water bottles, have everything from a tourist visit to a unique place. But do not rely on these shoes, which some have quickly taken off to dip their toes in the crystal clear water: the sixty people with English, Italian or Dutch accents, in addition to the French, are there to discover one of the symbolic renaturation projects conducted by the Conservatoire du littoral to deal with rising sea levels, as part of the Life Adapto program.

Because if we are to believe its estimates, the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) predicts a height that may exceed one meter above sea level in 2100. These data have led the NGO Climat Central to publish in August 2021 a scenario for a disaster movies that could have nothing to do with fiction.

The worst case scenario that could become a reality

Imagine Was Before Then! Fréjus almost wiped off the map. The peninsulas Giens and Saint-Mandrier finally became just islands. The Toulon naval base is now a submarine.

No better on the side of the Alpes-Maritimes: no more Croisette in Cannes or Port Vauban in Antibes. No more international connections from Nice Airport. In Monaco, Rock would stay … and that’s it. We are not even talking about Èze, which in the decree of 30 April 2022 is classified among the 126 municipalities that must apply new initiatives in relation to urban planning.

Do not throw anymore!

Fortunately, like the Hyérois project, there are means to ensure that our future reality is not so shaky.

It is to exhort them that the Conservatoire du littoral has brought together some of its partners, institutions and associations during the French Presidency of the European Union. They thus worked to adapt our coasts to climate change and shared their reflections, their knowledge and their experiences. And their solutions.

Collaborate to save time

A co-operation that is necessary due to the urgency of the situation.

We have no more time, says Hélène Syndique, Deputy Director General of the Conservatoire du littoral. So working together allows us to win, share what each one has developed specifically in his territory and to implement these experiments where they can be customized.

Hélène Syndique, Deputy Director-General of the Conservatoire du littoral, surrounded by Théophile Bongarts-Lebbe, from the Ocean Climate Platform, Harm Schoten, from Eurosite, and Andrei Moarcas from the Association of Overseas Countries and Territories. (VR image).

Essentially nature-based solutions, put at the service of coastal resilience. “We no longer maintain the works, we shut the sea in, and we see what happens“, details Hélène Syndique.”A nature-based approach allows, echoes Harm Schotten, from the Dutch association Eurosite, reduce erosion, increase sedimentation but also the quality of life for those living on the coast.

Because, of course, if the question is environmental, it is also about protecting cities and the populations they house: “You have to cross everything, continues the head of the Conservatoire du littoral. Including socio-economic issues. “

In Vieux-Salins, nature regains its rights

This is exactly what the Vieux-Salins de Hyères website has made possible: rediscovered activity, conservation of the ecosystem and social acceptance. The goal has tripled, assures Fabrice Bernard, director of international cooperation at the Conservatoire du littoral.

It is an example of land where we had a real desire to let nature take back its rights to fight erosion and the retreat of the coastline, he insists. And we are happy because it works!

But how? Marc Simo, head of Vieux-Salins on behalf of Toulon – Provence – Méditerranée, site manager, property since 2001 in the Conservatoire du littoral, rewinds for today’s guests. “The previous owner (Compagnie des salins du midi, red.anm.), to see the erosion at work, had tried to stop the phenomenon by creating riprap. Today, however, scientific knowledge has shown that it was not a good idea.

Not only has this work not prevented the water from gaining thirty meters in twenty years inland, but a breach in the dune belt would have allowed the water to flow into the Vieux-Salins and threaten the urbanized area. Therefore, a significant stone excavation work was carried out from 2019. In total, almost two kilometers of coastline have thus regained their original appearance.

“Good ecology”

But the Conservatoire du littoral did not stop there. Ecological engineering work has also been implemented, especially with the installation of chestnut tree fences, a kind of natural fence that allows sand and vegetation to regain terrain. Result: a small dune rises again towards the Mediterranean.

Coastal protection, biodiversity, population.

Marc Simo, head of the Vieux-Salins de Hyères on behalf of Toulon – Provence – Méditerranée, site manager, shows how the excavation in particular has made it possible to restore the dune belt and the beach. (VR image).

We recreated a beach that no longer existed, excited Marc Simo, thethe old basins form a true biodiversity reserve with more than 300 bird species, and the populations are also protected from the risk of flooding, as the excavation has made it possible to deflect a larger erosion cell that would have opened up in the village of Les Salins.“At least,” he said, “it is good ecology“.

All for the modest sum of 600,000 euros excluding taxes, in addition to an annual maintenance budget. Much cheaper than the creation of a dike, notes one of the participants in the audience, knowing about the cost of human protection work to have one in progress in Senegal.

In general, the so-called soft solutions, when they can be implemented, have an advantage: that they are much cheaper than human constructions, as they are based on the natural wealth of the territory.

Nine other projects in France

We need this type of success and pioneering areasFabrice Bernard resumes, to promote and disseminate nature-based solutions.This is also the case for the other nine Life Adapto projects, carried out throughout France by the Conservatoire du littoral.

As protesters that visitors on this burning Friday certainly will not fail to resonate.

And who will feed the “policy paper” born of these exchanges. An information document, made of recommendations and strategies to be implemented to adapt our coasts to climate change based on nature, for use by representatives of the EU, Member States, regions and urban coastal areas, so that they can take appropriate action in an informed manner. But as soon as possible.

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