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"It's nature's magical design," says a tourist guide, waxing poetic as he comments on the impressive red cliffs plunging into a turquoise sea at the Scandola nature reserve on France's Corsica island.
"Amazing!" exclaims Irena Snydrova, a Czech tourist visiting the UNESCO World Heritage site with her family, along with groups from Italy, Spain and France.
Boat - Steps - Paradise - Stairway - Metres
Their boat sidles up to the Steps of Paradise, rocks shaped into a stairway some 15 metres (50 feet) long, then glides on to Bad Luck Pass, a former pirates' redoubt.
The ages have sculpted the volcanic cliffs into myriad shapes that beguile the visitor, who might imagine a kissing couple here, a horse's head there, Napoleon's two-cornered hat further on...
Park - Dream - Nature - Reserve - Marine
The park, created in 1975, is an ecological dream, being a nature reserve and a protected marine zone that is listed by France's coastal protection agency and Natura 2000, in addition to its recognition by UNESCO.
It is a prime destination for the some three million people who visit Corsica each year, 75 percent of them in the summer.
Paradox - Numbers - Tourists - Scandola - Pristine
The paradox is that growing numbers of tourists are drawn to Scandola's pristine waters and stunning geological vistas, endangering its fragile ecosystem.
The park, reached only by boat some 40 minutes from the tiny port of Porto, stretches over 10 square kilometres (nearly four square miles) of sea, and a somewhat smaller area of land.
Reserve - Jewel - Corsica - Mediterranean - Lights
"The reserve is a jewel for Corsica and the Mediterranean, but several red lights are flashing," says marine biologist Charles-Francois Boudouresque, listing flora and fauna at risk, including ospreys, seagrass and fish species such as the brown meagre.
The tourist season coincides with the ospreys' mating season, notes Boudouresque, an emeritus professor at the Mediterranean Institute of Oceanography.
Over-tourism - Ospreys - Success - Chicks - Chick
Because of over-tourism, ospreys' "reproductive success is zero or near zero, with either no chicks or just one chick" per year,...
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