Mer d`Iroise decree finally signed

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The decree officially creating the marine reserve in the Mer d'Iroise - the part of the Atlantic Ocean between the Ile de Sein and the Ile d'Ouessant in Brittany - appeared in the Journal Officiel on 2 October. The first of its type, this new type of reserve was defined by a law dated 14 April 2006. The goal is to improve knowledge and protection of the marine environment, and sustainability of the activities that depend on it. It has to be said that this reserve to the west of the Breton coast, with Ouessant to the north and the Ile de Sein to the south, constitutes a remarkable marine ecosystem of 3,550 km², covering 24 communes and 4 intercommunal associations, and its biological diversity is worth conserving. But discussions were often heated.

The Association for the Preservation of Ouessant Customs, the Association for the Defence and Preservation of the Islands and Coasts, and the Collective Against the Marine Reserve of the Îles de Sein et de Molène were concerned about preserving the identity of their islands. Fishermen were mainly hostile to the prohibition of fishing in part of the Ile de Sein area. Reservations about a possible future extension to the north, the south (Cap Sizun) and the bay of Brest were expressed throughout the procedure, and these were taken into account by the Agency for Marine Areas which is in charge of implementing the project. The agency also agreed to appoint two additional members to the management committee. The extent of the reserve is considerable since it includes both surface and subterranean resources, and the water that covers them. The reserve area may be modified as a result of the various public inquiries which will be held in the affected areas, so further local authorities might be included.   

According to the terms of the decree, the reserve will be run by a management committee which includes representatives of government, local authorities, national parks in the area, and a protected marine environment adjacent to the reserve, totalling about forty people. The representatives will be nominated in the next few days after the Prefects have consulted the relevant organisations. The first meeting of the council should be held before the end of the year, at which time the president will be elected. The director will be chosen using a traditional recruitment procedure.

The members of the committee will be responsible for drawing up a management plan which will be implemented within three years, after approval by the Marine Areas Agency. It will not be subject to a public inquiry. It has taken fifteen years for the project to reach this point. The idea of protecting this area was first put forward in 1989 when UNESCO included it in its Man and Biosphere programme. After many demonstrations supported at a political level by local MP Christian Menard, who was against the project, the then Prime minister, Dominique de Villepin, postponed the signature of the decree. The decree signed on 29 June by Minister of Environment Jean-Louis Borloo needed only the signature of the new Prime Minister. In all, about 10 marine reserves will be created in France within the next 15 years, including six by 2012.

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