Meet inspiring PANORAMA Solution Providers: Frédéric Bachet, Le Parc Marin de la Côte Bleue, France

Green River

Frédéric Bachet is a former Director of the Parc Marin de la Côte Bleue (Cote Bleue Marine Park) and member of the IUCN French Committee’s Commission on Protected Areas. He is joined in this conversation by Cécile Fattebert of the IUCN Protected and Conserved Areas team.


What makes the Cote Bleue Marine Park successful, in a nutshell? 


It is actually perceived by the public in different ways. There are international circles where the Park is known. I have examples where it is featured in university courses. But we regularly meet inhabitants and holidaymakers on the Cote Bleue, who don’t know the Marine Park. It is therefore still a relative success! 


It is an initiative that developed quietly, with a very experimental aspect at the beginning and very little means. At the start, it was about experimenting a new type of Marine Protected Area, involving the local authorities, while at sea, the State had the authority. We had therefore no legal tool on which to rely. The initiatives could then only develop on a voluntary basis, using legal mechanisms, which we did not fully controled. The component on the valorisation of the marine resources being a very strong axis of the initial project, we relied on the fisheries regulation, in partnership with the fishery professional organisations who were competent on this matter. Hence, the configuration of the governance and the cooperation was a mandatory condition to implement the actions and the programme. This method proved eventually effective : nothing could be imposed, the actors’ engagement was necessary.  


This allowed to record first results fairly quickly, which were observed by the scientists. All of this made that the experience developed in scientific circles at least. What makes it also successful is the continuity of the stakeholders’ engagement, despite very diverse political tendencies, there has always been a consensus to pursue the experience of the Park. And it is the same for the professional fishermen, in fact. They did not feel deprived of power in the Park. This allowed their acceptance to continue the experience in the long run. 


Another aspect that has anchored the Cote Bleue Marine Park is certainly the school trips at sea. Since its creation, in 1984, we created the first discovery trips for primary schools. In 1986, these discovery trips were organised in every municipality of the Cote Bleue, so that all the children join a discovery trip at least once, during their schooling. In such a way that there are now generations of pupils, who got to know the Cote Bleue, the territory, the maritime activities, marine biology, protection techniques. It is a knowledge that infused a bit the population. There are parents who accompany their children, who had themselves joined the school trips at sea ! It has played a lot on the communities’ engagement. This aspect of having a shared territory and the raised awareness of a territory in its globality land and sea.  


It is surprising therefore that there are still people who don’t know it!  


Yes, it is surprising. The new director is trying to fill a certain number of gaps in terms of communication. But for a small structure with a considerable work load, communication is certainly not the most developed aspect. 


The Park is also successful because it has never been conceived as an imposed system. It is actually really a co-construction, that was built. I think that it is the reason why it lasted. At certain key milestones, the collectivities and the fishermen had to say "yes" or "no" to continue. They felt they had the power to say "yes" or "no", so they didn’t say "no". 


The Marine Park brought quite a certain number of things, more at sea. But in the end, on land as well, with the discovery trips and our work with the Coastal Conservatory, since the creation. There is the notion of territorial identity, which emergence was strongly due to the Park. 


The Cote Bleue Marine Park is a finalist of the Pathfinder Award, in the "biodiversity conservation" category. What have been the benefits for you?


We haven’t yet collected all the benefits. We’ll continue to use this springboard in our communication. But actually, it is a continuity from our application to the Green List, that started in 2016. The IUCN has shown interest and curiosity towards our experience, and it comforted us in quite many local processes. Since 2018, we have been communicating quite strongly at the time of the reapplication for the Green List to the elected officials and all the partners on this international distinction, and on this first Green List site in our region. The perception has really changed and evolved at a much more global level. And it conforted our position towards the donors, who are the regional authorities, the Department of the Bouches-du-Rhône and the Cote Bleue coastal cities, to continue to support the Marine Park in the long term. 


At this period, between 2016-2018, we faced a critical situation. The French laws tended to eliminate the inter-communal structures to regroup them in the city of Marseille. Yet, our management structure is legally based on inter-communality. The official cooperation is a kind of mix syndicate, that includes the Region, the Department and the five communes. But the French legislation tended to eliminate all these intermediary structures. The intention was then that the Côte Bleue Marine Park’s structure would be dissolved. To my big surprise, a very important mobilisation arised from the regional authorities, of any political colour, and from the fishermen, who carried their messages up to all levels, even at the prefect and metropole levels. Even the State administrations mobilized to say that we had succeeded in implementing a governance that could not last in a system like in the metropole. The entry on the Green List has made this governance aspect be looked internationally as something very central. It is the Green List’s first pillar. These are important milestones for the Marine Park, where we used in the end, all the arguments and tools we had to continue our project. And then, the IUCN World Conservation Congress was hold last year in Marseille, where we did an important work with the IUCN and where we were brought to the fore. The Pathfinder that followed is a continuity that trully served us locally.


You were there at the very creation of the Park, 40 years ago. What is your vision for the future of the Cote Bleue? 


The future is not set in stone. It’s a construction that will continue. The Marine Park’s asset was to innovate, so we’ll continue to innovate. We were actually forced to innovate, because at the beginning, the Marine Park’s project was to implement a Regional Nature Park at sea, on the terrestrial model. Regions and collectivities usually initiate these terrestrial regional nature parks, to create a space with conservation objectives of the natural and cultural heritage, with the development of local economic activities, which are in line with this heritage, and with the objectives of defining territories, innovating in terms of management, informing the public. And at the time, at beginning of the 1980s, the Region wanted to transfer these objectives into the marine realm. In France, but like in many countries in the world, the sea is not managed by the collectivities but by the State. So after some years, such a model appeared to be legally impossible. But in the meantime, the Marine Park was created as an association to experiment what could be a regional nature park at sea. We started in 1981 from there, where we had no legal framework to implement the nature park’s objectives at sea. We therefore had to cooperate and use other mechanisms, that were mastered by other actors, in particular, the professional fishermen, regarding the fisheries regulations. The fishermen agreed at first to experiment the Carry le Rouet reserve, during three years. Given the fact that they had been heard and that we had done several arrangements the way they wanted in the meantime, they accepted to continue the reserve etc. They even inspired fishermen in Martigue, who wanted to do the same, which is to create a similar reserve themselves with us and to design it with reefs and anti-trawling obstacles, the way we did in Carry le Rouet. We did not align at the time with the status of the reserves and national parks. We went where we were not banned to go, with tools taken here and there, with which we were able to reach the initial objectives. It continued like that for two decades, until it was recognized that there were results and that we could be entered on the list of Specially Protected Areas of Mediterrannean Importance (Convention of Barcelona). Then, the State proposed us to join the Natura 2000 network.  


The Cote Bleue Marine Park was built inventing a management as it went. 


And the fishermen’s organisations have contributed as well, I assume? 


Yes, of course ! There are departmental and regional committees of maritime fisheries. We have a regional committee here in the Bouches-du-Rhône. And there are also the Prud’homie de pêche, which are very old management structures, dating back from the Middle-Age, and which are institutions where actually sustainable development was invented, as these Prud’homies’ role was to organise the fishing territory and to sustainably allocate to the different categories of fishing practices. We were therefore talking with interlocutors who understood very well when we talked about managing the resources and creating protected areas, from the start. They had this culture. It has been indeed funtamental and essential.  


As a French Marine Park, are you engaged in national and international decision-making processes, such as the Sustainable Development Goals, the climate objectives, etc ? And what are the needs and recommendations that you’d like to communicate to the actors evolving in the so called global arenas ? What would be your message to the international institutions?  


We intervened very occasionally in global processes. But we are a small structure, totally absorbed by the immensity of the work that has to be done in the field. We remain the only local structure, with the shrinkage of the State’s means, that is everyday present at sea on the Blue Coast, that intervenes as soon as there is a problem, like a stranded animal, a fishery issue, surveillance issues, in the reserves but also outside, and that plays the interface in the communies to do markup plans etc. So we are totally immersed in the local. Issues at stake, especially surveillance, are year round, day and night. We are then constantly in alert, to conserve our achievements, because they can be lost. Nothing can ever be taken as granted!  


I believe that the example given by the Marine Park, is that we don’t need all the proofs to act. It is really a lesson learned that should have been applied for all the climate issues, a long time ago. Fishermen were able to understand that protecting a sector would produce fish. They started experimenting without hesitation. There’s no need for a management plan before starting building. We had our first management plan only in 2007-2008. We are in the urgency, so we all need to go in the field. If there should be a message, it would be that we should not wait for everything to be perfect before starting putting the first brick. And to rely on the local, on the teams in the field, but trying on the decision-makers and donors’ side, not to make everything weigh in on their shoulders and to comfort them at certain milestones. 


I see more and more that we need to report to everybody, our donors, all our governance. We have to fill in more and more tables, be on an indicators logic, but at the same time, be in the field. Towards the public, when we’re absent from the reserves’ surveillance, we are sometimes being vehemently reproached. It’s important to be aware that we need support at a higher level, in order to achieve the real field work. 


But I see that the landscape is currently changing completely. Evolutions are fast, as well as the awareness that it is urgent to implement Marine Protected Areas. 20 years ago, we used to work in France in a desert. After the Port-Cros National Park in 1963, there had been in the 1970s, the creation of the nature reserves in the Mediterranea. And then, 25 years without anything. Now, since the creation of the Marine Protected Areas Agency in 2007, that became the French Office of the Biodiversity, we have Protected Areas programmes, objectives to fulfil in terms of area, strong protection zones. So a whole framework is being put in place. Nevertheless, it is important to bare in mind, that locally, the managers are the recipients of all the questionings and all achievements to implement in the field. It is a significant work, that has to be supported from a level a bit higher in Protected Areas. 


Another important evolution is the approach to recognize the OECMs (Other Effective Conservation Measures), meaning to not start with predefined standards, but try to look locally at what works. So, an OECM that is implemented and empowered is a very good idea, I think. It is really necessary to emphasize on these mechanisms, because at the international level, we won’t ever have the means to implement labelled Protected Areas, with all the recognition, financial means and regulation framing them. Local mechanisms also need to be trully valued and comforted, and this will be an important part of the progress made in terms of environment. The OECMs are one of the most interesting mechanisms right now. We had meetings to draw these OECMs’ guidelines, put them forward, value them. It is very difficult, because we can be sometimes at the limit of green washing. But by trying to establish criteria and an emphasis on how the different zones were implemented in the governance, and the results that were obtained, these are already the guidelines to recognize these zones, that already function. There are mechanisms being developed since 2016 or so. I’m very new to the Protected Areas Commission ! I had not heard about them before. 


Would you like to add a last word ? 

The Cote Bleue will continue to innovate, to build itself and invent. I trust the new team et the new Director Alizee Angelini to carry on with it!