The French Marine Protected Areas Agency and the Gulf of the Lion Marine Natural Park project

Marion Brichet



Marine Protected Areas Agency: a tool for multi-stakeholder project of the sea, but not only


Interview with Marion Brichet, Project Officer at the Marine Natural Park in the Gulf of Lion




The consultation mechanisms established by the Marine Protected Areas Agency are an interesting example of land governance for the Mediterranean coastal area. They often allow, for the first time, a decision process that involves all the local stakeholders relevant to the marine area, around the issues of their protected area. These mechanisms can be useful for the development of local coastal communities, for example for regional planning that integrates marine and land issues as well as the wetland ecosystems that link them.


You are a Project officer in the Marine Protected Areas Agency at the Marine Natural Park in the Gulf of Lion. When and for what reasons was this agency created, what is its role and its special features?

This agency was created by the Act of April 14, 2006 in order to meet international commitments for the establishment of marine protected areas, in the framework of the CBD, on 20% of our marine perimeter by 2020. The Agency is a public institution under the Ministry of Ecology, created as a tool for the sustainable protection of large marine natural areas. Its mission is to coordinate the network of marine protected areas, to support public policy development and management of marine protected areas throughout the maritime domain of France, to technically and financially support marine parks, to strengthen the capacity of France in international negotiations on the sea. After the creation in 2007 of the first park in Iroise in the Atlantic Ocean (Finistère), and that of Mayotte in the Indian Ocean in 2010, the Gulf of Lion, the first Mediterranean park, was born in 2011.

Unlike the Conservatoire du Littoral which buys land for coastal management, the Marine Protected Areas Agency provides support to local decision-makers in order to manage the marine protected area. The Park governance, inscribed in the legislative framework, includes all relevant stakeholders in a management board. It is a participatory and inclusive mechanism concerning marine areas which offers local actors the opportunity to be at the centre of decisions. So, the marine park acts as a catalyst for creating dialogue around issues of marine areas, especially on the issues of preservation of the environment. We also coordinate our actions with other local conservation initiatives, like with the natural marine reserve of Banyuls-Cerberus. We facilitate synergies and seek funding for the coastal development of sea related stakeholders which are at the same time social and economic stakeholders of the terrestrial areas of the communities.  

The coastline of the Marine Natural Park in the Gulf of Lion includes 12 municipalities in two departments of the Languedoc Roussillon, what are its main features?

As you are saying, the Park is exclusively a marine park. Covering an area of ​​4000 km2, it covers 100 km of coastline and extends over 60 km wide. The Marine Natural Park in the Gulf of Lion is located off the Oriental Pyrenees and the Aude department in the southwest of France. It borders with Spain, which explains that the management process must respect the historic fishing agreements between France and Spain. Spaniards have the right to fish between 6 and 12 nautical miles in the park. The marine park area encompasses all the natural habitats of the Mediterranean, including Posidonia meadows, the coralligenous reefs and underwater canyons. It houses more than 1,200 animals and 500 plant species and hosts 7 of the 9 protected marine species in France (dusky grouper, sea urchin, loggerhead turtle, Posidonia, etc..) There are more than 20 species of cetaceans like the bottlenose dolphin and the finback whales, etc..  This marine area also provides a historical setting of a particularly rich maritime culture, especially of fishing and of processing anchovies and sardines. Port-Vendres is a port town for boating and fishing, and Collioure, formerly a place of unloading and processing anchovies and sardines, maintain the historical and cultural atmosphere of the area. If the fishing economy is still based on a fleet of a hundred boats, marine tourism has grown considerably in recent decades. The population of the 12 coastal municipalities of the Park benefit also from the strong points of the terrestrial part of their territory for their economic and social development: the vineyards of Banyuls-Collioure, the coastal tourism industry, the identity, traditions and culture of Catalonia. In addition, the coastline of the park is experiencing a strong demographic growth.

The marine area of the park belongs to 12 municipalities whereas the terrestrial part does not. How do you operate with this multitude of stakeholders in terms of land use planning?

The Marine Natural Park of the Gulf of Lion was created to meet the challenges of maritime heritage conservation in harmony with the sustainable development of human activities.

The Marine Natural Park has a management board which has over 60 members, whose distribution is described in the decree of the park. It brings together local elected officials, representatives of socio-professional and recreational users, environmental and cultural associations, qualified individuals and government services.
This board develops the management plan for the park and decides on matters concerning marine protected areas. The objectives of the park are defined by eight management guidelines:

  • Make the Marine Park area a reference site for understanding and monitoring the marine environment.
  • Protect the natural marine heritage of the coast to the deep underwater canyons.
  • Maintain and enhance water quality.
  • Support and promote the sustainable development of maritime economic activities.
  • Promote management of all natural resources.
  • Promote the development of sustainable marine tourism activities.
  • Contribute to the protection and enhancement of maritime cultural heritage.
  • Reinforce cooperation with Spain.

Each member structure or organization of the board has designated one or more representatives to the management board. They may then delegate some of their powers to a team of 15 members representing the various Colleges of the management board, which meets approximately every two months to make quick decisions. It brings together the main stakeholders affected by the decisions taken in the park area: professional divers, professional fishermen, recreational boaters, recreational fishermen, scientists, associations of environmental protection, local authorities, etc..

The technical team of the Park is not part of the management board and the committee. It prepares agendas, serves management board policy, makes recommendations, organises meetings.

For the applications for new practices in the perimeter of the park, the management board has the authority to answer with a system of a simple opinion or compliance. Recently, the office, mandated by the management board, gave a simple opinion on a request to create licenses for diving in order to fish for sea urchins.

According to you what are the strengths of this activity and what are the points that need to be improved?

It is still too early to tell because the park is new and its management plan has not yet been drafted. Nevertheless, the first meetings of the Management board showed that the stakeholders have started taking shape and that the terms of reference for this collective endeavour on dealing with the major issues of marine and maritime activities have started emerging.

Consultation is comprehensive and participatory, even if political agendas can sometimes take over. The main challenge for the Park is to seek options for planning and decision making that combines at best sustainable economic development and conservation of the environment, all aimed towards the collective interest and beyond individual interests. For example, some believe that the Park is to create jobs, especially in the tourism sector. We must therefore be alert and convey the right messages of sustainable development so that the preservation of the natural environment remains at the heart of the matter.

In the Mediterranean region, the land - sea interface for a harmonious land planning development is still a problem in many coastal areas. The new protocol on integrated coastal zone management of the Barcelona Convention is a response to this. However, the connectivity and interdependence between land and sea, including coastal wetlands are an ecological and human reality for coastal communities. Can the governance system put in place with the park be a helpful example to promote the better integrated management of these communities?

Indeed, the governance system chosen by the Marine Protected Areas Agency aims to facilitate multi-stakeholder dialogue and intercommunity dialogue. It aims at the geographical and institutional de-segmentation around a common area in the long term (management plan with a vision of 15 years), while leaving local stakeholders owning the decisions. This type of governance can actually serve as an example for the better integration of choices and decisions on coastal areas.

Specifically, with regard to the Gulf of Lions, the park can exercise its jurisdiction on the marine environment in the strict sense, but can also operate on the coastal zone. Concerning fishing, we have the opportunity to facilitate land use planning through EU funds. The Park should enable relevant local authorities to better take into account the fragility of the marine environment. In this respect, the water quality is a priority.

You talk about coastal wetlands; we have two that are not part of the park. It is essential to build partnerships with watershed and lagoon managers to integrate the park into the group of stakeholders managing wetlands.

The stakeholders want the two lagoons to be managed by the Park to facilitate the management of fish stocks, as the fish pass between the lagoons and the sea. This integration seems necessary in the short term in order to reach compromises for the management of these fragile environments. It is on this point that the link with the Mediterranean Wetlands Observatory (MWO) might be useful in terms of monitoring and analysis of trends in these environments. However, for now, the link with the MWO is not obvious for reasons of scale and because we are active in different networks of stakeholders.

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