Terrestrial protection status: Special Area of Conservation and Special Protection Area (SPA) Natura 2000, at the heart of the Calanques National Park. Natural areas mostly owned by the French Coastal Management Agency (Conservatoire du littoral).
Marine protection Status: Maritime area adjacent to the Calanques National Park.
The Frioul archipelago is composed of 4 islands: Pomègues, Ratonneau, If (with its famous castle), and Tiboulen. Since the 1820s, Pomègues et Ratonneau are linked by a dyke.
One of the greatest island assets is its exceptional fauna and flora, that adapted to difficult and arid climatic conditions of the island. This white limestone massif is considered as one of the most arid sites in France. This predominantly natural site is at the heart of the city of Marseille, and is one the town’s green lungs.
The Frioul islands are composed of two small ones (1 and 3 hectares) and two larger ones. The highest one, Pomègues peaks at 86 m above sea level.
These islands are white mostly due to the ground that is composed of limestone rocks, and hosts very little vegetation.
Due to their strategic position in front of Marseille, the Frioul islands played an important role as early as the XVIIe century. They served as quarantine spots for ships, especially during the plague epidemics in the Middle Ages. Fishermen spent time at the Caroline Hospital.
The archipelago was also occupied by the military, and served as a surveillance a protection area for the Phocean City (Marseille). That is why there are fortifications dating from various times in history (WW2 bunkers, forts built under Henri IV, etc.).
The Frioul Islands are a hot spot for tourism in the region, and hosts around 400,000 visitors every year. The marina can receive up to 600 boats. During the summertime and shiny weekends, it is estimated that up to 850 boats per day anchor around the islands. Leisure-boating, hiking, fishing, bathing, and snorkeling are among the most common touristic activities.
It should be noted the presence of an organic farm on the island of Pomègues, which raises sea bream and bass. It is the first organic aquaculture farm in Europe.
The archipelago’s special climate generated the development of vegetal species well adapted to extreme conditions: short and halophile or halo-resistant vegetation, garrigue vegetation, rare Alep pine and olive trees. Close to 350 vegetal species have been identified (e.g. Astragalus tragacantha, sand lily, tree mallow).
One of the Frioul attractions is the presence of iconic seabirds from the Mediterranean islands: puffins, storm petrels, etc. The coastal cliffs are home to blue rock thrushs, kestrels, little owls, Alpine swifts and European shags.
There are 5 species of protected reptiles, including the European leaf-toed gecko, and 17 insect species of outstanding interest for the island’s natural heritage.
At the sea level, the National Park has 6 marine habitats of European interest including one priority (Posidonia seagrass) and 20 marine protected species, five of which are of Community interest.
Site managers face a number of challenges, in particular the high number of terrestrial and marine visitors, the abundance of yellow-legged gulls and the presence of introduced mammal species (especially cats).
Yellow-legged gulls are very numerous and negatively impact the archipelago’s ecosystem balance because they increase the soils nitrophilisation, modify the vegetation perturb the avifauna.