Planet Care

353: Submerged Sculptures for protecting marine life


Off the coast of Tuscany, Italy, the illegal act of industrially trawling the sea bottom with heavy nets, was devastating the benthic flora and fauna that exists down below, especially the seagrass meadows which work at a natural barrier against erosion and are home to a unique ecosystem which teem with a myriad of young fish.


12-ton sculptures on seabed to block the passage of the nets

Paolo Fanciulli has been fishing for 47 years with his small boat, La Sirena, off the Tuscan village of Talamone. From the 1980s, he began to notice that his catches were less and less abundant, in particular because of competition from industrial trawlers.

Initially, Fanciulli disguised himself as a police officer, blocked an industrial port, and he even tried to pierce giant nets with barbed wire. This not only attracted media attention but also the local Mafia which sent him death threats and blacklisted him from fish markets.

In 2006, the Tuscan authorities began to install concrete blocks to obstruct the passage of these giant trawls. There are now nearly 800 in this area of the Mediterranean. But Fanciulli wanted to go further to draw attention to the problem of overfishing.

The solution was to solicit artists to sculpt the dissuasive blocks and create a real underwater museum. He launched a crowfunding campaign,“La Casa dei Pesci” (=The House of Fish in Italian), obtaining permission from ARPA, the regional environmental protection association, to install these large sculptures 50 meters deep on the sea bottom.

His plan was realised when Franco Barattini, President of the Michelangelo di Carrara quarries donated an army of marble blocks to the project, carved by artists such as an obelisk by Massimo Catalani and Giorgio Butini.

Before long artists from all over the world were participating: the acclaimed British artist Emily Young carved four 12-ton sculptures she calls “Weeping Guardians” while nearby lies a mermaid by the young artist Aurora Vantaggiato. Massimo Lippi has contributed 17 sculptures representing Siena’s contrade, or medieval districts.

To-date, thanks to the support of Greenpeace Italy and many tourists, 39 sculptures have been placed although the target is 60. These attract diving enthusiasts, while pointing out the issue of overfishing. Algae covers the statues, and lobsters have taken up residence nearby, while turtles and dolphins return to swim near the coast.

Paolo Fanciulli now offers eco-fishing tours on his boat Sirena in the Maremma Regional Park. This practice he calls “pescaturismo” (fish tourism) which aims to combine profitability while also teaching eco-sustainability and a greater appreciation for the Italian coastline.

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