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Scandola Sanctuary’s Submerged Treasures


Photo by Dave McAloney

In collaboration with the Cousteau Society and in recognition of the hundredth anniversary of Jacques-Yves Cousteau’s birth on June 11, 2010, National Geographic Fellow and marine ecologist Enric Sala has set sail aboard Cousteau’s ship Alcyone with the legendary marine explorer’s youngest son, Pierre-Yves Cousteau. The expedition is reexamining undersea Mediterranean destinations visited and documented by Jacques Cousteau more than half a century ago. Learn more about the expedition and explore the ocean with National Geographic.

First thing on the morning of June 5th, I went to buy a dry suit! Then we set course for the Veyron again and returned to the caves, where we shot some video with National Geographic in the exact same décor as in Jacques-Yves Cousteau’s movie. Jo reported that he even saw two large groupers on the dive, a sign of hope for recovery.

In the evening, we set course for Corsica and sailed through the night. Having the last night shift, I watched the sun rise alone on the bridge, with Alcyone speeding through perfectly still waters. We saw the coast around 9 a.m., an eerie morning haze hanging above the mirror-like water as the abrupt Corsican landscape appeared on the horizon.


Photo by Pierre-Yves Cousteau, copyright the Cousteau Society

The Scandola Nature Park within Corsica Regional Park is a gorgeous place with steep red hills surrounding pristine waters. The park has been actively protected for more than 35 years, both on land and underwater.

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Photo by Frank le Mellec, copyright the Cousteau Society

The diversity and richness of life beneath the surface are breathtaking. Dozens of huge groupers and other large fish populate the area, along with colorful anemones, massive spider crabs, giant fan mussels, moray eels—so much life! The underwater landscape is mostly made up of massive boulders fallen from the cliffs above, creating a “daedal,” or dazzling network, of caves and crevasses lush with life.

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Photo by Dave McAloney

Jean-Marie Dominici is the manager of the Scandola Park reserve. With his team, he keeps the protected area under constant watch. In the heart of the reserve, it is illegal to fish, dive, and anchor. Each season, he catches more than 30 poachers, mostly free-diving spear fishers.

He knows the park like no one else, and took us to the most beautiful places to witness the success and efficiency of the marine protected area. On the outskirts of the reserve, a few selected fishermen are authorized to lay out nets. They are extremely happy with the protected area and hope that it will be expanded so that their children will be able to continue to fish in a sustainable manner.

“This fishing can be compared to living on the interest from a savings account,” explained Enric Sala. “The fishermen catch all the spoils of the marine reserve at its outskirts. In contrast, traditional fishing can be compared to withdrawing cash on a credit card account that is never replenished, digging deeper and deeper into debt.”

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Photo by Pierre-Yves Cousteau, copyright the Cousteau Society

Witnessing such a pristine environment is a moving experience. As I look at the steep, red granite slopes covered with patches of vegetation and sparse wild goats, and plunge into clear blue waters filled with an overwhelming diversity of surprising creatures, I feel like I am looking far into the past, at a world yet unharmed by the merciless human footprint. Knowing that this Eden of life is no accident, but the fruit of the will and work of many people, fills me with hope and gratitude. I feel like I am the beneficiary of the efforts made 35 years ago to provide future generations with an unharmed environment!

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Photo by Dave McAloney

We may be appallingly efficient at degrading the environment when we are careless, but places such as the Scandola Nature Park are striking proof that we can be just as efficient at successfully managing natural resources. We can create sustainable havens of peace and beauty when scientific, political, and socio-economic actors work together with the common goal and long-term vision of passing on a rich and lush environment to generations to come.

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Photo by Dave McAloney

Learn more about the expedition and the Cousteau Society, become a Cousteau Diver, or explore the ocean with National Geographic. You can also join the Cousteau Society’s Facebook group and get updates from Cousteau Divers on Facebook and Twitter.