Tethys Research Institute. In 1986 I founded the Tethys Research Institute, a non-profit research NGO based in Milan. As Tethys’ founder, I created the vision and mission for the new institution, nurtured the organisation into a functioning and effective tool to promote marine conservation, and progressively stabilised and institutionalised it to ensure longevity. Under my guidance, Tethys organised the first systematic collection of data on cetacean populations in the Mediterranean Sea. One of the major tasks as leader of a research NGO was fundraising; this was achieved through private sponsors, public funding, the provision of services, the pioneering organisation of public fundraising through dolphin and whale “adoption” programmes, and accepting the participation of paying volunteers to Tethys’ field research programmes. Achievements that I have helped Tethys gain included the training of a new generation of marine scientists, and the first application in the Mediterranean of non-invasive cetacean research techniques (e.g., acoustics, photo-identification, remote collection of biopsies, radio-telemetry, and the use of laser range-finders to record movements), many of which have subsequently been widely adopted throughout the Mediterranean region. While at Tethys, with “Project Pelagos” in 1991 I proposed the idea of establishing a high-seas MPA to protect cetaceans in the Mediterranean. “Project Pelagos” provided the initial impetus for an Agreement between France, Italy and Monaco creating in 1999 the Pelagos Sanctuary for Mediterranean Marine Mammals.
ICRAM. In 1996 I was nominated president of the Central Institute for Applied Marine Research (ICRAM, Istituto Centrale per la Ricerca Applicata al Mare: now ISPRA). In that capacity I served for almost seven years, well into the second four-year mandate, until a change in the national government brought my appointment to a premature end in 2003. While at ICRAM, my tasks included contributing to a comprehensive national strategy for marine protection, and implementing programmes to achieve that vision under the auspices of the Institute. I ensured that the Institute fulfilled its tasks and duties based on the directives of relevant ministers, including the provision of scientific support to national institutions in the fields of marine conservation, management and policy (e.g., quality of the marine environment, protection of species and habitats, marine protected areas, sustainable fishing and aquaculture, management of environmentally hazardous activities at sea, etc.). During those years ICRAM underwent a substantial transformation, from a little-known local institute to a centre of excellence in several disciplines within the general area of marine protection. Under my presidency the Institute quadrupled its budget (to 13 million €), number of personnel (to >200), and output in terms of products, services and scientific publications; I secured as well new headquarters for the Institute in a location where it could appropriately expand, and equipped it with its first ocean-going research vessel, the R/V Astrea. ICRAM thus significantly increased its functionality and visibility, both on the national and the international scene.
Centro Studi Cetacei. In 1985 I was one of the main actors responsible for the establishment of the Centro Studi Cetacei (CSC), a nation-wide organisation coordinating the collection of scientific information on the stranding of cetaceans and marine turtles along the coasts of Italy. I was the Centre’s first coordinator until 1990. During that period I devised a procedure for the relaying of the information on stranding events from the periphery to a centrally-located operations structure – which I had secured by obtaining an in-kind sponsorship from Europ Assistance Italia S.p.a. – and from the centre again to response teams, strategically located along the national coasts. The CSC is still in operation today and, in spite of its volunteer basis and zero budget, is one of the world’s most efficient national cetaceans and turtle stranding networks.
European Cetacean Society. From 1993 to 1997 I served as president and chaired the Board of the European Cetacean Society, an international scientific society aimed at the promotion and coordination of scientific studies and conservation of cetaceans, and the gathering and dissemination of information to members and the general public. The ECS currently consists of more than 500 members from 24 European and 16 non-European countries. The society met five times during my presidency and nearly doubled its membership during that period.
Scientific Committee of ACCOBAMS. From October 2002 to December 2010 I served as chair of the Scientific Committee of the UNEP CMS Agreement on the Conservation of Cetaceans of the Black Sea, Mediterranean Sea and Contiguous Atlantic Area (ACCOBAMS). In such capacity I organised the work of the Committee and its annual meetings, and coordinated with the Agreement’s Secretariat and Bureau to provide scientific support to the Contracting Parties concerning cetacean conservation and management actions, and the establishment and implementation of an initial conservation programme of actions for the Mediterranean and Black Seas.
IUCN. In August 2004 I served on the panel selection committee for the independent scientific review of grey whales and Sakhalin II. In August 2006 I was again asked to serve in a Candidate Evaluation Committee established by IUCN to nominate and evaluate candidates for the Western Grey Whale Advisory Panel, to be established by IUCN on behalf of the Sakhalin Energy Investment Company (SEIC).