The operation of science and conservation cannot happen without infrastructure, and in some cases I had to lay the foundations of such basic physical and organisational structures and facilities from scratch (e.g., the Tethys Research Institute, the Centro Studi Cetacei) in order to operate. In other cases I was placed in a position to lead and manage pre-existing organisations (ICRAM, Scientific Committee of ACCOBAMS, European Cetacean Society).
Having founded in 1986 the Tethys Research Institute, I was responsible for creating the vision and mission for the new institution, nurturing the organisation into a functioning and effective tool to promote marine science and conservation, training of a new generation of marine scientists, and progressively stabilising it to ensure its longevity. 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.
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.
In 1996, having been nominated president of the Central Institute for Applied Marine Research (ICRAM, Istituto Centrale per la Ricerca Applicata al Mare), I had the opportunity of contributing to a comprehensive national strategy for marine protection, 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.
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.
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 in Europe, 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.