Anchors Away

Marie Romani of MedPAN looks at the damage caused by the yachting industry to the Posidonia meadows in the Mediterranean

You love the Mediterranean. You love when it’s clean, when it’s clear, when it’s bright blue — it makes you feel alive; maybe you like to catch a nice fish and nothing makes you happier than watching a dolphin play at the bow. We all love to be free at sea, and that’s where the problems start.The Mediterranean Sea offers some beautiful mooring spots that often give access to authentic or attractive beaches that your clients want to discover. The booming yachting business is a godsend for the local economy but the very popularity of some spots is threatening the fragile coastal ecosystem.

Indeed, one of the key ecosystems of the Mediterranean is found on the coasts, from 0 to about 40 meters depths. It’s the posidonia meadows (and other seagrass beds), these vast spreads of marine plants that are only found in the Mediterranean and that are often mistaken for algaes. This plant is a jack of all trades and is vital for the Mediterranean and for us humans.

It filters the water to make it crystal clear, it absorbs carbon dioxide – more efficiently than a forest! -, it rejects oxygen that marine organisms need to stay alive, it protects and nourishes hundreds of species (including some of the fish we eat) that grow, find shelter, or feed in its thick maze of ribbon-like leaves. It also helps absorb the swell and therefore protects beaches against erosion. But as all advanced species, this miracle maker grows slowly, just a few centimeters per year – so when it’s ripped it takes ages to recover.

For all these reasons the posidonia is protected in a number of Mediterranean countries and international conventions. Our ‘good’ posidonia does not like pollution, but above all it fears boat anchors that destroy its leaves and often uproot large chunks of the plant. In popular mooring areas, studies have been conducted and have found that posidonia meadows are degraded or destroyed in massive proportions. Think of it: let’s say you drop 80 meters of chain. With the wind and currents your boat may oscillate all around this axis, damaging or destroying the fragile sea bottom on the way. If you multiply this by the number of boats present (around 300 on any given summer day in the bay of Pampelonne for instance) and by 60 for the number of peak summer days, you’ll get an idea of the potential massacre. Avoiding this disaster is simple: drop your anchor on a sandy sea-floor…

Protected areas at sea (generically known as Marine Protected Areas or MPAs) have been declared all around the Mediterranean to preserve or regenerate biodiversity and when relevant to combine it to the preservation of sustainable economic activities.

There are today 189 MPAs and 861 Natura 2000 at sea sites in the Mediterranean (most of them in the North) and they are usually the most wonderful spots that everybody wants to visit.

Since most MPAs are coastal, they often feature posidonia meadows for which management measures are discussed and implemented. These measures may include the setup of permanent buoys that enable a safe mooring, for the boat, the clients, the crew and the environment; the help of port authorities to get escort to safe anchoring locations; or sometimes a complete ban on anchoring.

In the illustrious bay of Pampelonne for example, a Natura 2000 at sea site, a project is being developed to set up permanent buoys to anchor large yachts. It takes time as it requires solid scientific, institutional and cooperation bases but the project should be implemented in the next few years for the benefit of all.

MedPAN is the network of MPA managers in the Mediterranean. For more info go to