THE ITALIAN JOB — LINKING MPAs TO PROTECT ICONIC SPECIES OF THE MEDITERRANEAN
THE ITALIAN JOB — LINKING SEVEN MPAs TO PROTECT ICONIC SPECIES OF THE MEDITERRANEAN
An ambitious network launched by Blue Marine is connecting Marine Protected Areas across Italy. The initiative is contributing to safeguard species including sandbar sharks, common eagle rays and the critically endangered monk seal.
Blue Marine has launched a bold new initiative that is connecting Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) across some of the richest waters in the Mediterranean. The new network aims to protect tens of thousands of species in the coastal waters of Italy, many of which are found nowhere else on Earth. They include sandbar sharks, common eagle rays and the ultra-rare monk seal, of which there are only 700 still in existence.
The initiative — named #Blue4ItalianMPAs — is linking sea conservation projects at MPAs in Tuscany, Puglia, Sardinia, Sicily and in the Italian and Tunisian waters in the Strait of Sicily. Blue Marine is collaborating with local stakeholders to deliver more effective protection to Italian waters, in turn helping to conserve biodiversity and restore threatened habitats.
Included in the project are Europe’s largest MPA, the Egadi archipelago in the Strait of Sicily; its largest marine park, off the coast of Tuscany; and its largest sea cave, the ‘Grotta di Nereo’ in Sardinia. Also in focus are two locations loved by scuba divers: tiny Lampione Island, between Sicily and Tunisia, home to sandbar sharks, and Capo Carbonara, south of Sardinia, is plagued by ‘ghost’ fishing gear — dumped or lost — which contaminates the sea bed.
Italian waters are some of the Mediterranean’s most biodiverse, and host an estimated 14,000 marine species, of which 10 per cent are unique to the area. If well managed and well connected, MPAs can preserve these natural environments, restore habitats under threat, and reduce the impact of climate change.
Rory Moore, Head of International Projects said: “There is a worrying lack of impactful marine protection in the Mediterranean so most fish populations continue to decline and habitats like coral reefs and seagrass beds continue to be destroyed. Blue Marine’s approach in Italy is geographically broad but is focused on the creation of effective MPAs, building local conservation capacity and restoring threatened marine life. This promotes healthy oceans that are resilient to climate change and are managed pragmatically, so the Mediterranean can be enjoyed sustainably by the people who depend on it most.”
As well as promoting rigorous management plans, strategies used in the seven Italian projects include: training fishers to identify and release sharks and rays trapped as ‘by-catch’; creating pathways of buoys to control diver traffic; laying anti-trawling systems on the sea-bed to combat illegal fishing; and using teams of scuba ‘cleaners’ to remove ghost gear from the bottom.
It’s a mark of the collaborative nature of the #Blue4ItalianMPAs initiative that Blue Marine also received invaluable support from three local charities: Fondazione Capellino, Smile Wave Fund and the Tuscany Environment Fund. Blue Marine believes that collegiate thinking and a collective approach across the MPA network are the most effective ways to protect the precious habitats and inspiring wildlife that surround this magical country.
Capo Carbonara, Sardinia
Aims to remove ‘ghost’ fishing gear from the no-take zone. Ghost gear has been abandoned or lost, and pollutes crucial seagrass meadows and the sediment where many species reproduce. The project is also increasing local awareness of ghost gear impact.
Photo: Capo Carbonara – ghost fishing gear.
Capo Caccia, Sardinia
Sardinia has a complex of 100 submerged caves (including ‘Grotta di Nereo’, the largest in Europe) that is home to coral habitat and varied marine wildlife. On the Capo Caccia headland in the North-West of the island, four mooring lines will be installed to regulate anchoring in favor of responsible divers, and protect the coral habitat at the entrance to the caves.
Photo: Capo Caccia Caves
The project is looking into updating approaches to management. Local fisheries management measures will be implemented, allowing habitat recovery for native species in turn maintaining rich and important biodiversity. Collaborations with other Mediterranean seafarers will exchange best practices in managing fishery resources, and promote sustainable marine tourism, or ‘pescaturismo’.
Photo: Asinara fishermen.
Egadi Islands, Sicily
The BOSE project aims to implement new measures to limit the bycatch of endangered sharks and rays, which congregate to mate or give birth. The project is improving fishery management plans, increase fishing controls, encourage local fishers towards best practices, and drive marine protection towards new fishing protocols. The project is a pilot for the management of other Mediterranean MPAs, where artisanal fishery and protection activity coexist.
Photo: Common eagle rays. Credit Giuseppe Sieli.
Pelagie Islands, Sicily
The Shark Noise project has assessed the distribution of the aggregation of endangered sandbar shark and monitored the soundscape around Lampione Island. It allowed to develop a strategy for managing noise pollution from recreational boats, including the creation of a buoy corridor for diving, and encouraging responsible tourism.
Photo: Sandbar sharks, Lampione Island. Credit: Rocco Cannella
Torre Guaceto, Puglia
Bottom trawling is one of the most destructive and non-selective ways of fishing, responsible for up to half of all discarded fish (bycatch) worldwide. The project aims to enforce patrols and discourage illegal trawling inside the MPA’s borders, protecting its vulnerable habitats. A removable anti-trawling system, made of blocks of sea-sustainable cement, will be placed along the outer margin of the MPA, the area most affected. Three zones of four blocks each will be laid down, in a bathymetric range of 40-50 meters.
Photo: Torre Guaceto. Credit: Consorzio di Gestione di Torre Guacet – Claudia Amico
Tuscan Archipelago National Park, Tuscany
The complex of submerged and semi-submerged marine caves here is an EU priority habitat, where the extremely vulnerable monk seal gives birth and raises its young. The project aims to develop an effective plan for managing its protection. The cave systems have been mapped in detail, and seal sightings will be monitored with the team from the ISPRA (Istituto Superiore per la Protezione dell’Ambiente – Governmental Institution of Environmental Protection).
Photo: Tuscan archipelago – Capraia island.
Two shallow bays in the neighboring area of the Plemmirio MPA are recognized as the largest nesting area for loggerhead turtles in Italy. In addition the seagrass meadows have shown a clear decline due to unregulated anchoring in the region. Through the monitoring of these sites, the most suitable actions to safeguard these habitats and species, which are crucial for maintaining the ecosystemic balance of the area, will be identified.
Strait of Sicily, Italy and Tunisia
Mediterranean sharks and rays are facing a more severe extinction crisis than elsewhere. PRESTO is a transnational project aiming at identifying sharks and rays aggregations in the Italian and Tunisian waters in the Strait of Sicily. The project seeks to establish the basis for effective conservation strategies to help halting this concerning trend.
Read about our Aeolian Islands project.
Italian waters are some of the Mediterranean’s most biodiverse.
Hosting an estimated 14,000 marine species, of which 10% are unique to the area.
By working together, we can turn the tide on overfishing and the destruction of biodiversity. By supporting Blue Marine, you can help to create marine reserves around the world.