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Conservation of the marine environment
California and Venezuela. While a research associate of Hubbs-Sea World Research Institute (HSWRI) in San Diego, California, in 1978 I coordinated the initial phase of a problem analysis study - in what was to be one of the first environmental impact assessments of the time - of the potential effects on the marine fauna, in particular seals and sea lions, of sonic booms from space shuttles re-entering the atmosphere over the California Channel Islands. Shortly afterwards, from September 1978 to October 1979, I was dispatched by HSWRI to Puerto la Cruz, Venezuela, to conduct a year-long investigation of the distribution and abundance of large marine vertebrates (Bryde's whales, manta rays and whale sharks) found in that area, and suggest mitigations on a local problem of collisions between passenger jet-foils and large marine life.
Tethys Research Institute. Since returning to Italy in 1985, through the activities promoted by the Tethys Research Institute (which I founded in 1986 with Italian naturalist and publisher Egidio Gavazzi) I have focused on the conservation of Mediterranean marine species and their habitat. The Mediterranean monk seal, Europe’s most endangered mammal, was the first target of such effort. In 1986 I conducted a feasibility study for a monk seal captive-breeding and rehabilitation programme in Italy, funded by the Ministry of agriculture, and participated in expert consultations on the conservation of that species organised by the Council of Europe in Strasbourg (1986), and jointly by IUCN and UNEP in Athens (1988). In subsequent years I steered Tethys towards a suite of research activities to provide knowledge on Mediterranean cetacean ecology essential for the implementation of conservation measures. These included: (a) studies of cetacean abundance in the seas surrounding Italy - these studies demonstrated the overwhelming importance for cetaceans of the Ligurian Sea, thus paving the way for the proposal of a cetacean sanctuary in that area; (b) in-depth studies of the ecology of cetaceans, notably fin whales and striped dolphins, in the western Ligurian Sea; these involved the pioneering adoption of novel field research techniques such as photo-identification, line-transect surveys, laser range-finders, radio-tagging, and the collection of small biopsies for toxicological and genetic studies, which revealed that local fin whales belong to a distinct Mediterranean population; (c) long-term, longitudinal studies of coastal populations of bottlenose dolphins and common dolphins in the Adriatic and Ionian Seas, which were coordinated on-site by colleague Giovanni Bearzi.
Centro Studi Cetacei. In October 1985 I spearheaded the effort for the establishment in Italy of a nation-wide organisation, the Centro Studi Cetacei (CSC), which I coordinated from its beginning until 1990 to collect information on the stranding of cetaceans and marine turtles along the national coasts. Stranding data, anonymously published on a yearly basis since 1986 on the Proceedings of the Italian Society of Natural Sciences, provided invaluable insight into cetacean mortality in the central Mediterranean, and revealed the devastating effects that the use of driftnets for swordfish had on Mediterranean dolphins and whales. In several occasions I informed the national and international scientific community of the deteriorating conservation status of Mediterranean cetaceans, e.g., by participating as an invited expert to the IWC workshop on “Cetacean mortality in passive fishing nets and traps” in La Jolla, California, 1990; to the 1990 roundtable “Protection of marine fauna and introduction of alloctonous species” held at the 53rd Conference of the Unione Zoologica Italiana in Palermo; to the 1992 British Science Festival in Southampton; and to a 1992 seminar organised in Rome by the Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei.
Efforts for the conservation of Mediterranean whales and dolphins. This build up of awareness on the plight of Mediterranean cetaceans contributed to the organisation by the UNEP Mediterranean Action Plan (MAP) of a meeting of experts in Copanello, Italy, in August 1991, which I attended, to draft the “Action plan for the conservation of cetaceans in the Mediterranean Sea”, later adopted by the Contracting Parties to the Barcelona Convention (Cairo, October 1991).
This decision was to be followed by a joint long-term consultative process by the Barcelona, Bern and Bonn Conventions, with meetings organised in Athens (1992) and Monaco (1995, 1996), whereby an Agreement on the Conservation of Cetaceans of the Black Sea, Mediterranean Sea and Contiguous Atlantic Area (ACCOBAMS) was signed in Monaco in November 1996 and came into force in June 2001. I participated to all these meetings.
ACCOBAMS. I was invited to attend as an expert of the Agreement’s Interim Secretariat to the First Meeting of the Parties to ACCOBAMS, held in Monaco in Feb. - March 2002, where the Agreement’s conservation priorities, which I had developed for the Secretariat, were formally adopted. I was then nominated chair of the Agreement’s Scientific Committee during its first meeting (Tunis, 2002), and held that position to the present day. In such capacity I have chaired the first (Tunis, 2002), the second (Istanbul, 2003), and the third (Cairo, 2005) meetings of the Committee. I have been instrumental in the organisation of the work of the Scientific Committee since its beginning, with a series of tasks including the editing of the Agreement's newsletter, FINS, the designing and maintaining of the Agreement's website, and the moderation of the web-based database. Such task has provided a unique opportunity for contributing to the construction of a cetacean conservation policy in the region.
On behalf of ACCOBAMS I have participated to the following other events:
Further elements of my activity within the wider design of conserving Mediterranean cetaceans include the participation to a workshop on Mediterranean cetacean stranding networks, organised in Montpellier in February 2000 by the UNEP MAP Regional Activity Centre/Specially Protected Areas (RAC/SPA); the preparation of an Action Plan for the Conservation of Cetaceans in Malta, on behalf of the RAC/SPA and the Maltese Government; and the convening in Rome (2001), at ICRAM’s headquarters (2001), of a workshop on the interactions between dolphins and fisheries in the Mediterranean.
Conservation of the Mediterranean habitats and species. Conservation efforts not exclusively directed to Mediterranean cetaceans include:
Searching for right whales in former Spanish Sahara. In 1996 I led an expedition funded by the Whale & Dolphin Conservation Society to the coastal waters of Southern Morocco (former Spanish Sahara), known in the past to be a wintering ground for right whales. The aims of the cruise were to verify if right whales could still be found in the area; evaluate the environmental conditions of the region and assess its suitability as a right whale habitat; investigate the status of other cetaceans living in the area; and establish a long-term cetacean sighting and stranding reporting mechanism in co-operation with the local authorities.
Spinner dolphins in the Red Sea. In December 2003 and January 2004 I provided support to the Egyptian Government (Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency, Nature Conservation Sector - EEAA) in the preparation of a management plan for sustainable whale watching operations targeting spinner dolphins in Samadai, a coastal Red Sea reef off southern Egypt. The results of this effort are summarised in a report to EEAA. In April 2004 I was invited to present the samadai management plan to the MEDITERRE protected area fair in Otranto (Brindisi, Italy). In 2005 I was contracted by the Abu Salama Society, and Egyptian NGO, to carry out a year-long project involving local training on research and management techniques in Samadai, funded by the Cairo Italian Cooperation Office within the framework of the Debt Swap programme. In such capacity I have participate in a first organisational meeting in Cairo in March 2005.
The Pelagos Sanctuary for Mediterranean marine mammals and other marine protected areas. With the conception and preparation of “Project Pelagos - Proposal for the institution of a Biosphere Reserve in the Corsican-Ligurian-Provençal Basin”, which I presented in Monaco in March 1991 to Prince Rainier III in cooperation with the European Foundation Rotary for the Environment, I first became involved in the science and practice of marine protected areas (MPAs) in the Mediterranean. “Project Pelagos” eventually stimulated the creation by Italy, Monaco and France of the Pelagos Sanctuary for Mediterranean Marine Mammals, based on an Agreement signed in 1999 and entered into force in 2002. In recognition of this, with a ceremony in Naples, Villa Doria d’Angri, I was awarded the “Premio Internazionale Primula d’Oro 2002” by the organisation “Uomo e Natura - Comitato Parchi Nazionali” (September 2002). In cooperation with Patrick Van Klaveren (Principality of Monaco) and Leonardo Tunesi (ICRAM), I prepared the proposal for the inclusion of the Pelagos Sanctuary in the List of SPAMIs; such inclusion was later adopted by the Contracting Parties to the Barcelona Convention (2001). As president of ICRAM I was requested by the Minister of the environment to develop a nation-wide programme to provide scientific support to the establishment and management of MPAs in Italy. As a result, I convened and chaired a national workshop for the coordination of research in Italian marine reserves (Rome, 1999). Subsequently, in cooperation with MPA consultant Dr. Tundi Agardy, I developed and funded “Sistema Afrodite”, a comprehensive, long-term programme of monitoring and inventorying of species and habitats in the core zones of the entire complement of Italian MPAs, involving the whole of the Italian MPA scientific community. In 2002 I was directly involved in the organisation and hosting in Rome of an ICRAM EU-funded workshop, “Towards the co-ordination of scientific research in marine protected areas - international workshop on the development of a European research network (Afrodite - WS)” where the potential of extending Afrodite to the whole of the Mediterranean was debated. I also participated to numerous Mediterranean MPA events, including the “Colloque sur les aires marines protégées de Méditerranée” organised by the RAC/SPA in cooperation with the Corsican Territorial Community (Porticcio, 2000), where I first introduced “Sistema Afrodite” to the Mediterranean scientific community; the “Mediterranean Symposium on Marine and Coastal Protected Areas”, organised by the IUCN Centre for Mediterranean Cooperation (Roses et l’Estartit, Spain, 2002); the conference “From Murcia to Durban: Protected Areas in the Mediterranean context”, organised by the IUCN Centre for Mediterranean Cooperation, where I served as coordinator in the governance stream, and gave a talk on the Pelagos Sanctuary (Murcia, Spain, 2003); the 5th World Park Congress, organised by IUCN’s World Commission on Protected Areas (Durban, South Africa, 2003), where I presented “The Pelagos Sanctuary for Mediterranean Marine Mammals: pioneering the protection of marine ecosystems beyond national boundaries”. While at World Park Congress I actively participated in the drafting of Congress Recommendation n. 23, “Protecting Marine Biodiversity and Ecosystem Processes through Marine Protected Areas beyond National Jurisdiction”. In 2005 I was contracted by WWF Italy to participate in a programme (MEI Italia) using indicators to evaluate management effectiveness of MPAs in Italy, and in that context I lectured on the creation of representative networks of MPAs in the Mediterranean at the May 2005 Annual Meeting of the Società Italiana di Biologia marina (SIBM) in Trieste.
Conservation activities under the auspices of the World Conservation Union (IUCN). During the past two decade s I have been involved in a number of conservation activities under the umbrella of the World Conservation Union (IUCN).
During my presidency of ICRAM I ensured that the Institute became a member of IUCN.
Since 1991 I am a member of the Species Survival Commission. In 1999 I participated to a Species Survival Commission strategic planning workshop in Djerba, Tunisia. My initial involvement in SSC work was active participation to the Cetacean Specialist Group (CSG), where I have been serving as deputy chair since 1997. Work in the CSG mostly consists in the assessment of the global status of cetacean populations, and in developing means of improving future assessments. In particular, I have helped developing and maintaining a network of experts on cetacean conservation, and participated in the drafting of “Dolphins, Whales and Porpoises: 20022010 Conservation Action Plan for the World’s Cetaceans”. In 1993 I was also asked to become a member of the Shark Specialist Group (1993), and in such capacity I participated in various workshops, including the 2003 San Marino workshop on the assessment of the Red List status of Mediterranean sharks and rays, and the 2005 Newbury (UK) Red List Expert Panel Meeting, to review and evaluate species assessments conducted by the Shark Specialist Group Network, for submission to the 2005 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
In 2000 I was invited to join the World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA), and asked to coordinate a Mediterranean Group on the Commission’s behalf. My task involves the creation of a regional expert group to pursue the goals of WCPA in the Mediterranean, support the process of the establishment and governance of MPAs in the region, and develop a clear set of principles guiding the establishment and management of a network of MPAs. In 2004 I was contracted by the IUCN Centre for Mediterranean Cooperation to carry out such work on behalf of WCPA in the Mediterranean. In such capacity, from 6 to 8 December 2004 I organised and chaired a scoping meeting in Livorno, Italy, to to support Mediterranean States to meet the 2012 WSSD target on Networks of Mediterranean MPAs. The meeting was attended by a dozen of international MPA experts, was funded by Regione Toscana, and hosted by the Agenzia Regionale Protezione Ambiente della Toscana (ARPAT), in cooperation with Comune and Provincia di Livorno, and the IUCN Malaga Centre for Mediterranean Cooperation.
In 2003 I was also invited to participate to a High Seas Marine Protected Areas (HSMPAs) Workshop jointly organised in Malaga (Spain) by IUCN, WCPA and WWF, and have later become a member of the Steering Committee of the WCPA High Seas MPA Working Group. I was invited to participate to the 5th World Parks Congress (Durban, 2003), to present the significance of the Pelagos Sanctuary for Mediterranean Marine Mammals within the context of the establishment of marine protected areas in the High Seas, and to participate in the drafting of the Recommendation by that Congress concerning HSMPAs.
In 2004 I was invited by IUCN to participate to the Third World Conservation Congress and Forum, which was held in Bangkok from 15 to 20 November. There I participated in various presentations on marine conservation topics, including the effects of underwater noise on marine life and the creation of MPA networks in the Mediterranean Sea. Also in 2004 I was invited to attend as an expert to the Meeting of IUCN Members from the Mediterranean Region, organised in Naples in June.
Pew Fellows Program in Marine Conservation. Since 2003 I am a member of the Advisory Committee of the Pew Fellows Program in Marine Conservation, and have since met three times: in Philadelphia (May 2003), Blaine, WA (October 2003), and Key Largo, FL (November 2004), to select a total of 15 new Fellows.
Cooperation with the administration of justice in Italy. In two occasions I cooperated with the judicial system in Italy in matters related to my conservation expertise:
Miscellaneous activities. Other activities involving environmental conservation subjects include:
Support to Non-Governmental Organisations.