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La Faute sur Mer

 Case study sites

Site description

Keywords: Estuary behind sand barrier

The La Faute-sur-Mer Case Study site is located on the Atlantic Coast, in the Bay of Biscay, roughly half way between Spain and Brittany, in the department of Vendée, 20 km north from La Rochelle. This stretch of coastline is characterized by two big islands separated by several embayments, which correspond to drown river valley segments. The local tidal regime is semi-diurnal and ranges from less than 2m during neaps, to more than 6m during springs. The wave regime is energetic at the entrance of the estuaries, where winter storms cam yield wave height larger than 8 m, but wave energy is rapidly dissipated by refraction and bottom friction in the inner part of the estuaries where the study area is located. La Faute-sur-Mer is a small touristic village of roughly a 1,000 inhabitants during the winter season. Very popular, the village may attract more than 20,000 tourists per day during the summer season. Built on a sandy spit between the ocean and the Lay River, 75% of the village’s surrounding territory is characterized as natural protected area and has been preserved from big constructions along the sea side.

Why was this area selected?

The devastating impacts of the storm surge associated with storm Xynthia, combined with the high spring tide, brought in light the great risk in which the area is under as well as the significant resources that are necessary in order to deal adequately with similar incidents. As most of the residential area of the village is still considered hazardous, the implementation of RISC-KIT methodology can provide important benefits for the local community offering at the same time a Case Study with very strong socio-economic impact component for the project.

Land, coastal and marine uses

Keywords: Residential use, Tourism, Natural reserve

Since the village is mainly a touristic destination, the land use is oriented toward housing, tourism and recreational activities. In a total territory of 694ha, approximately 47% corresponds to protected areas. This mainly concerns the south of the sandy spit, including a pine forest, and the beach along the western side of the sandy spit. The rest of the territory is used as residential areas.


Keywords: Marine flood, Erosion, Wind, Sea level rise, Wave height increase

The main risk corresponds to the marine submersion of the low lying, vulnerable, inhabited areas as it happened during the storm Xynthia. Despite the islands, that shelter the coast from the largest waves, shallow waters extend over 60 km offshore, enhancing wind contribution on surge. Moreover, the polder, where the village is built, is a highly dynamic landscape where water drills channels from the river to the ocean and vice versa. Regarding the residential areas, 30 ha have been classified as evacuated buffer zone, called “solidarity zone” for reasons associated with social perception, from where the people were relocated and the houses demolished. 80% of the rest of the residential area is considered hazardous and only 20% of the territory is above the 4.7 m level considered as safe. These particular features enhance the vulnerability of the village to submersion and create the need for a specific prevention system to ensure the population’s protection.

Socio-Economic losses & Environmental Impacts

Keywords: Loss of life, Property damage, Infrastructure damage

More than 600 houses and 500 camping lots have been demolished in the evacuated buffer zone (solidarity zone). Since the local activities are mainly oriented towards tourism, these actions represent both significant losses of property as well as damage to the public perception regarding the popularity of the area as a vacation destination. State services have been involved in a massive relocation plan that cost more than 315,000,000€ and targeted in compensating the residential destructions. Yet the significant issue of the majority of the population being located in the hazardous area remains and is pressing for the local authorities.

Partner in charge

LIttoral ENvironnement et Sociétés

Members of the project’s end-users and stakeholders board

La Faute sur mer mayoral office

Photo Gallery

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La Faute sur Mer 1

Fig.1: An overview of the devastating impact of storm Xynthia in La Fuate sur Mer village, on February 2010. Source:

La Faute sur Mer 2

Fig.2: Satellite image of the regional area of La Fuate sur Mer, before and after the hit of storm Xynthia. Source: