Beaches closed on French Riviera after pollution alert

Holidaymakers in the French Riviera are being warned not to swim if they see the red flag, as several beaches were closed due to high levels of pollution.

Beaches closed on French Riviera after pollution alert
Photo: AFP

The beaches of Borély, de l'Huveaune and de Bonneveine in Marseille were closed on Sunday after pollution tests found that the water was not safe to swim in.

It is the latest in a series of closures announced by Marseille authorities since the start of the summer as the city struggles to get to grips with pollution levels off its coast.


Marseille has long had difficulties with water pollution levels due a combination of crowded beaches, city infrastructure and the geography of the coastline.

One holidaymaker told French radio station FranceInfo: “The water is hot, but we don't really want to get into it. There are things floating.”

There were also complaints from athletes taking part in the Marseille triathlon over the weekend of July 21st that the water was dirty and smelled of sewage.

But the Marseille mayor's office says that the majority of the time the water is clean, and there are closures simply because the water is rigorously tested, and beaches closed if the correct standards are not reached.

Deputy mayor Didier Réault said: “Last year, our beaches were 94 percent open throughout the summer, compared to 91 percent in the south west.”

He added that many of the closures last year were due to storms, when the rain gutters overflow and discharge into the sea the mairie is forced to close the beaches.

If a beach is closed to swimmers a red flag will be flying, and anyone who ignores it risks a fine of €38.

However Marseille lifeguards say they prefer to issue warnings rather than fines, and last year fined only one person out of the 2 million who visit the city's beaches over the course of a year.

Philippe Brunetti, head of the Coastal Safety and Prevention Unit, added that a better reason for not swimming was the risk of gastrointestinal illness from water that has breached safe pollution levels.

He told local newspaper La Provence: “People don't really understand that there is a proven danger if they drink the water. They can report one or more gastrointestinal problems.”

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


Scorching summer was France’s second hottest on record

Three heatwaves since June produced France's second-hottest summer since records began in 1900, the Météo France weather service said on Tuesday, warning that scorching temperatures will be increasingly common as the climate crisis intensifies.

Scorching summer was France's second hottest on record

With 33 days of extreme heat overall, average temperatures for June, July and August were 2.3C above normal for the period of 1991-2020.

It was surpassed only by the 2003 heatwave that caught much of France unprepared for prolonged scorching conditions, leading to nearly 15,000 heat-related deaths, mainly among the elderly.

Data is not yet available for heat-related deaths this summer, but it is likely to be significantly lower than 15,000 thanks to preventative measures taken by local and national authorities. 

Most experts attribute the rising temperatures to the climate crisis, with Météo France noting that over the past eight summers in France, six have been among the 10-hottest ever.

By 2050, “we expect that around half of summer seasons will be at comparable temperatures, if not higher,” even if greenhouse gas emissions are contained, the agency’s research director Samuel Morin said at a press conference.

The heat helped drive a series of wildfires across France this summer, in particular a huge blaze in the southwest that burned for more than a month and blackened 20,000 hectares. 

Unusually, wildfires also broke out even in the normally cooler north of the country, and in total an area five times the size of Paris burned over the summer. 

Adding to the misery was a record drought that required widespread limits on water use, with July the driest month since 1961 – many areas still have water restrictions in place.

MAP: Where in France are there water restrictions and what do they mean?

Forecasters have also warned that autumn storms around the Mediterranean – a regular event as air temperatures cool – will be unusually intense this year because of the very high summer temperatures. A storm that hit the island of Corsica in mid August claimed six lives. 

“The summer we’ve just been through is a powerful call to order,” Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said on Monday, laying out her priorities for an “ecological planning” programme to guide France’s efforts against climate change.