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An ambitious network launched by Blue Marine is connecting seven Marine Protected Areas across Italy. The initiative will safeguard species including sandbar sharks, common eagle rays and the critically endangered monk seal. 

Blue Marine has launched a bold new initiative that will connect 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 — will link seven sea conservation projects at MPAs in Tuscany, Puglia, Sicily and Sardinia. Blue Marine will collaborate 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 Portofino, south of Genoa, which hosts an average of 40,000 dives a year, but 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 focussed 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.  



Here are the seven Italian MPA projects in more detail: 


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 will also increase local awareness of ghost gear impact.  

Ghost fishing

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. These will regulate anchoring in favour of authorised divers, and protect the coral habitat at the entrance to the caves.  

Capo Caccia - Caves

Photo: Capo Caccia Caves


Asinara, Sardinia 

Will look 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 ‘pescatourismo’.  


Photo: Asinara fishermen.


Egadi Islands, Sicily 

Aims to implement new measures to limit the bycatch of endangered sharks and rays, which congregate to mate or give birth. The project will improve fishery management plans, increase fishing controls, encourage local fishermen towards best practices, and drive marine protection towards new fishing protocols. The project will be 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  

Will assess the distribution of the endangered sandbar shark and set goals for its protection. It will monitor the soundscape around Lampione Island and develop a strategy for managing noise pollution from recreational boats, including the creation of a buoy corridor for diving.  

Sandbar Sharks

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.  

Torre Guaceto

Photo: Torre Guaceto. Credit: Consorzio di Gestione di Torre Guacet – Claudia Amico


Tuscan Archipelago National Park 

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 will be 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).  

Tuscan archipelago

Photo: Tuscan archipelago – Capraia island.




 Read about our Aeolian Islands project


Key stats

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. 

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