Villefranche launches major underwater clean-up operation

The seafloor of Villefranche bay is to be cleared of rubbish and debris as the coastal town establishes an innovative system of anchorage for the hundreds of yachts that visit each year.  

In summertime, Villefranche’s bay is a mecca for boats of all shapes and sizes. Its 300-metre depth and 2.5-kilometre width make it an ideal stopping off point for sailors looking for a nice place to moor, swim, dive or otherwise enjoy the sea.  

Winter is a bit quieter, but the bay is still buzzing with activity as the third annual tidy-up sponsored by the French State Services Department gets underway. At the same time, the town is embarking on another project, that of reorganising and refurbishing two anchorage and Light Equipment Zones. 

These zones, called ZMEL locally, are permanent anchoring systems affixed to the sea bed, with a chain attached to a buoy and a ring to mark the locations. They are highly regulated and Villefranche has two with 30 floating berths apiece: one in the Marinières sector and the other opposite the Darse. They have been operational since 2022. 

The ZMEL have been a point of contention for some day trippers, who resent having to pay to moor, but the point of them is not to annoy. Instead, it is to prevent passing boaters from randomly dropping anchor onto the bottom of the bay and damaging its fragile ecosystem.  

A quarter of the buoys must be available at all times for passing pleasure boats, and to maintain them properly doesn’t come cheap, with this year’s price tag reaching €140,000. 

“The operation is financed within the framework of the maritime intervention fund managed by the Secretary of State for the Sea,” says Mathieu Eyrard, the deputy director of the Alpes-Maritimes Departmental Directorate of Territories and the Sea (DDTM). “The idea is to continue the clean-up and to support the municipalities in the establishment of mooring and light equipment, but as it is expensive, we spread these operations over several years,”  

To get the necessary upgrades, the sea floor must be cleaned of detritus, including old wrecks, concrete slabs and old bits of chains, motors or plastic hulls which, over time, disintegrate into micro-waste that is toxic to the environment. 

Professional divers have been brought in to help, with 15 boats targeted for now and others’ locations already identified for the future. 


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Photo source: Leighton Smith for Unsplash