Protecting the waves, a first in France in a Breton village

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Sources of marine biodiversity, the waves are increasingly threatened by the construction of works aimed at curbing the rise in sea level. For the first time in France, this oceanic heritage is the subject of a protective measure. thanks to a “wave reserve” created by the municipality of Saint-Pierre-Quiberon in Brittany.

For four months, the waves of the town of Saint-Pierre-Quiberon, in Morbihan, have been protected. A first in France. In February 2022, the municipality adopted a decree defining a 30-hectare “wave reserve” along its wild coast to “preserve and promote their richness and quality”. This measure allows the prohibition of any human construction, such as dykes, silting works or the drainage of sand, which can modify the shape of the waves, or even induce their disappearance in the long term.

“The waves are vulnerable,” warns Erwan Simon, the originator of this initiative on the Quiberon peninsula. This Breton surfer is a “wave seeker”. He travels the world to identify them and campaigns for them to be recognized as being of public utility.

Only a few local wave reserves already exist in rare countries such as Australia and the United States. Peru, meanwhile, has about thirty protected sites. “When Erwan Simon came to talk to us about this project, we naturally agreed. We are already in the Natura 2000 zone [site classé par l’Union européenne] but protecting the waves is unheard of,” says Stéphanie Doyen, the mayor of Saint-Pierre-Quiberon.

“France, explains Erwan Simon, has the second largest maritime area in the world and it is a champion of hydrodiversity, thanks to its presence in tropical, arctic and temperate zones. The waves are part of it. Our country has a lot of remarkable specimens, in the South-West as in Hossegor [Landes]or in Tahiti [Polynésie française] and we must protect them”.

Some waves have already disappeared in France due to human intervention. “In the town of Anglet [Pyrénées-Atlantiques], the ‘bar’ was a world famous wave, among the most beautiful in the world. The spot did not survive the construction of two large dykes to expand the port of Bayonne, the purpose of which was to facilitate access for cargo ships to an area where these waves prevented them from passing”, says Erwan Simon, who ended up founding the France Hydrodiversité association to protect this marine heritage.

Source of underwater riches

In Saint-Pierre-Quiberon, the famous wave, which comes crashing against the jagged cliffs, held many tourists. “Powerful”, “changing”, “rarely slowed down by the swell”, it forms the second most famous surf spot in Brittany. “It has a heritage aspect, with people who come here for the surfer, others to smell its spray”, continues the mayor of the town.

The waves of the wild coast of Quiberon are among the most popular in Brittany, May 27, 2022. ©AFP

In addition to the cultural and economic aspect, the existence of waves favors natural resources. “There is life above and below. They come back to oxygenate the marine environment. They turn over the sand, bring up shells, which serve as fish for themselves, hunted by seabirds”, details Erwan Simon.

An increasingly bleak future for the waves

The founder of France Hydrodiversité predicts an increasingly bleak future for the waves in the years to come with global warming and rising sea levels in the face of which “men tend to throw themselves headlong into the construction of dikes and by riprap works”.

This is why Mayor Stéphanie Doyen was keen on the symbolic aspect of their initiative and would like to make the place a pilot reserve. “It’s important from a philosophical point of view for me. Today man is so powerful that he can absolutely destroy everything, even the waves. We see them unfold ad infinitum but they don’t are not eternal, so it is up to us to put in place protective tools”. For several weeks, the elected official has been receiving phone calls from all over the world to welcome the approach.

“The town halls have a right of inspection up to 300 meters from their coasts, but this action is still too weak from a legal point of view”, notes Erwan Simon, who aims to go further by knocking on the door. of the Minister for the Ecological Transition. “Hydrodiversity must be included in French law, in the same way as biodiversity”.

So far, Peru is the only country in the world to have legislated on waves. Thanks to a law adopted in 2013 and nicknamed “the breaking wave”, it is forbidden to build any construction that could alter the seabed and sea currents up to one kilometer upstream of the formation of the waves.


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