Eleven protected natural wonders

France’s coastal protection agency (Conservatoire du littoral) has brought more than 1,400 kilometres of coastline under its domain since it was founded in 1975. Its mission is to preserve these often fragile ecosystems as well as to open them to visitors. On the 40th anniversary of the Conservatoire, FRANCE 24 highlights 11 striking photos from areas the agency has helped save.

Fort Vert

Fort Vert includes 223 kilometres of coastline straddling the Nord and Somme regions, which are among the most pristine in France. Seen from the sky, its salt marshes appear as a beautiful mosaic. Further inland, Fort Vert offers sanctuary to migratory birds.

Les Veys

At low tide, the broad Les Veys estuary becomes a 7-square-kilometre desert of sand. Oysters are farmed here on Utah Beach, of World War II fame. However, rising sea levels could soon permanently flood the area’s salt marshes.

Baie de Somme

The Baie de Somme area extends over 70 square kilometres in France’s northwestern Somme region. It includes the Marquenterre reserve, renowned as a nesting site for migratory birds and often described as an ornithologist’s paradise.

Val Ausson

Towering white cliffs extend over 130 kilometres on the northern coast of Normandy, like a long chalk line dividing the sea and sky. The cliffs are an attraction for tourists, but are also an area rich with biodiversity.

Landes littorales d’Ouessant (Ushant)

Located 20 kilometres from the shores of Brittany, the island of Ushant is known for its jagged, windswept coast and its important lighthouses. Scientists have discovered that even birds use the lighthouses as guides during storms.

Dune of Pilat

More than 100 metres high, the Dune of Pilat is Europe’s biggest sand dune. Napoleon Bonaparte tried to “fix” it by planting pine trees in the 19th century, but to no avail. Today, conservationists struggle to preserve the site from the tide of tourists drawn to this natural wonder.


Abbadia, also known as the Basque corniche, stretches from the city of Saint-Jean-de-Luz to the border with Spain. With many layers of the earth’s strata visible to the naked eye, it is said that 10 million years of history are written on Abbadia’s inhospitable coastline.

Riou archipelago

The island of Riou, located near the city of Marseille, is uninhabitable by law. Only herring gulls and a few other bird species can call the place home. However, its surrounding seabed is a scuba diving wonderland.


The Agriates coastline in northern Corsica is among the oldest sites managed by the Conservatoire, which acquired it in 1979. Its turquoise waters are breeding grounds for shorebirds and dragonflies.

Lac d’Orient

Located in the Champagne region of France, far from the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts, lies the Lac d’Orient. The lake is nevertheless protected by the Conservatoire, and is a feeding and rest area for many animal species.

Welch-Bois Fermé

Located on the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, the Welch-Bois Fermé area is made up of a network of mangroves, swamp forests and damp meadows. Mangroves make up around 75 percent of its tropical coastlines but are disappearing by an average of 1 percent every year.