France's Mont Saint Michel (Photo by Will Lorimer)
Atlantic Rising: the plan to save Mont Saint Michel
9th September, 2009
France's tourist haven Mont Saint Michel is threatened. A new scheme to recreate the rock will have dramatic, albeit short-lived, results
Lambs gambling in meadows around Mont Saint Michel have a hard life. Grazed on the bay's low-lying salt marshes, periodically drenched by seawater and then blown dry by the salty winds whipping off the Channel they are considered salted long before they reach the chef's pot.
The lamb's high consumption of salt results in tender and juicy meat, served up as a delicacy in local restaurants. However, the French government has drawn ranks to fight against the conditions that produce this dish.
Mont Saint Michel is France's most popular tourist attraction outside Paris. Tourists flock to admire its ethereal beauty, shrouded in sea mist and cut off from the mainland by the sea. However, it is threatened by the very industry that champions it.
The causeway and car park that make the island accessible to more than 3 million tourists a year disrupt the natural process of erosion in the bay. The sea can't circulate around the island causing the bay to fill with sediment.
This is compounded by the loss of coastal flats, drained to create pasture for ready salted lambs, bringing the mainland and the mount closer together. If left untouched the site's marine environment will be lost within 30 years. Locals joke in the new sandy environment the delicacy will be pre-salted camel.
'Project Mont Saint Michel' is a new scheme which will exclude cars from the site and recreate the rock according to planners, ‘amid a seascape of sands constantly reshaped by tidal and river water'.
Dredging of the bay
The causeway and car park will be removed allowing tidal and river currents to swirl around the mount uninterrupted. The bay will be dredged and a new dam built to flush out the sediment. As a result the seabed will be lowered by 70cm and 50ha of salt marsh will be reclaimed by the sea.
As is generally the case when man takes on nature the victory will be short lived (in nature's terms at least). Despite the work the process of sedimentation in the bay will continue and in a couple of centuries, unless rising sea levels intervene, Mont Saint Michel will once again be left high and dry.
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