Saturated, mobile environment, dominated by the Dune du Pila, which attracts thousands of tourists each year. The Banc d’Arguin has been classified as a national nature reserve for fifty years, but is now under threat.
In his book, Banc d’Arguin, A Saga of a Nature Reserve, aimed at raising public awareness, ornithologist Herve Roques looks back on half a century of many discoveries and great successes. Meet
The Mag Why was it important to publish this book fifty years after the classification of the Banque d’Arguyen as a nature reserve?
Herve Roques. This is an extremely fragile environment that is subject to strong human pressure, especially in summer. The purpose of the book was to show people that the Banc d’Arguin is not just a beach where you come to swim. There are other residents, and living together is not always easy. This is not a war book, but a naturalistic work that is addressed to everyone. Half a century is a good time to look back.
What does this place symbolize for you?
I have lived on the island of Ile de Re for thirty years, but I come from Bordeaux. When I was 15 to 20 years old, I was an elderly volunteer at the Banc d’Arguin. At that time there were wooden barns, a well with fresh water, solar panels for electricity. We lived there all summer, like the Robinsons. We were guarded, we fished … It was great. I was 15, I woke up to life on the Banc d’Arguin.
How has the site developed in recent years?
When I was there in the 1980s, I remember great reliefs. Now there is much less vegetation, much more people, and the coast has clearly moved south. Now we can clearly see the port of La Sali when we are there. Eventually, it will be attached to the shore, which is obvious and inevitable. And then, fifty years later, new activities appeared, such as oyster farming, boating or kitesurfing. There is a place for everyone here, but this environment must be known, because what you know is easier to protect.
Are the species that live on the Banque d’Arguyen all the same?
No, there have also been changes. For example, sandwich terns (a species of seabird) are less common, in particular due to seagull pressure. Reproduction of the species is not observed for three years. In 1972, a reserve was created to protect this bird, which became a symbol of this place. The first colony was settled in 1966, it was unprecedented for the region! But people were not told, they took eggs for omelets or battles and took the chicks home. Volunteers gave a lot of time and effort to protect them.
Today, the Bank of Arguen is home to other birds, such as ringed plovers, oysters (small marsh birds), not to mention plants, insects and crustaceans. This is a real mosaic of habitats with over 250 species.
The history of the Banc d’Arguin is marked by many anecdotes. Can you name some of them?
There are so many! In 1975, for example, someone came to the bench with a cheetah on a leash! And then there were the unexpected visits: the walrus in 1986, it was the first observation in France; a giant tortoise that ran aground in 1993; A 12-meter sperm whale was found dead in 2017 and a whale two years later. And what about Françoise, this dolphin that swam among the boatmen and allowed herself to be approached. An entire chapter of the book is devoted to these anecdotes, which year after year marked the life of the reserve.
What has changed this classification as a nature reserve for the Banc d’Arguin?
Without him and without the bold investments of several pioneers, nature protection in France would not be there. We must pay special tribute to Pierre Davanto, who gave birth to Sepanso (Society for the Study, Protection and Development of Nature in the Southwest, ed.), And then to the reserve. He and his family worked hard to protect terns and other species. Even today, the Banc d’Arguin receives about twenty volunteers each year, and they don’t spend the day watching the birds through binoculars! There are surveillance operations, missions for public reception, information, research, management equipment, beach cleaning, assistance to boats in distress …
Are you optimistic about the future of the site?
The shop is moving, threatened by climate change and rising sea levels, not to mention the ever-increasing attendance. What a pleasure to go there today in the middle of summer? I’m not a pessimist, but I’m not naive. This is an exceptional environment, the future of which, unfortunately, is uncertain.
Practical information: “Banc d’Arguin, the saga of the reserve”, Herve Roques, Editions Sud Ouest. Price: € 18.