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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:

  • First meeting of the Agreement's Bureau, Monaco, 24 March 2003.
  • Meeting of the Advisory Committee of ASCOBANS, Bonn, 9-11 April 2003.
  • Joint ACCOBAMS - FAO coordination meeting on the mitigation of interactions between cetaceans and fishing activities, Rome, 19-20 April 2004 (chair).
  • Meeting of the working group on the Mediterranean common dolphin conservation plan, Kalamos, Greece, 10-17 may 2004.
  • Workshop on the establishment of a system of tissue banks in the ACCOBAMS Area, Tajura, Libya, 29 May - 1 June 2004 (chair).
  • International meeting on cetacean conservation in the Mediterranean and Black Sea Region and Contiguous Atlantic Area, Tajura, Libya, 2 June 2004.
  • Organisational meeting for the Tunisian National Action Plan for the conservation of cetaceans, Tunis, 14-16 June 2004 (chair).
  • Meeting on the use of acoustic devices in the ACCOBAMS Area: preparation of guidelines, Rome, 28 June 2004 (chair).
  • I nternational workshop, "Policy on sound and marine mammals", jointly organised by the U.S. Marine Mammal Commission and the U.K. Joint Nature Conservation Committee, London, 28-30 September 2004.
  • Various meetings with European Commission officers (Environment and Fisheries) in Bruxelles, 18-19 October 2004.
  • Final meeting of the Joint Liaison and Steering Committees of the E.U. Europhlukes Project, Lanzarote, Canaries, 23-26 October 2004.
  • Second Meeting of the Parties to ACCOBAMS, Palma de Majorca, 9-12 November 2004.
  • International Whaling Commission Workshop on cetacean habitat degradation, Certosa di Pontignano, Siena, 12-15 November 2004.
  • Workshop on obtaining baseline cetacean abundance information for the ACCOBAMS Area, Valsaìn, Spain, 17-19 December 2004.
  • Workshop on ethics in marine mammal research, organised in la Rochelle, France, in April 2005 by the European Cetacean Society.

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:

  • my participation as a RAC/SPA expert to the final negotiation and signature meeting on the Annexes to the Barcelona Convention Protocol Concerning Specially Protected Areas and Biological Diversity in the Mediterranean, (Monaco, 1996);
  • participation in representation of the Italian group of shark researchers (GRIS) to the founding meeting and 1st annual general meeting of the European Elasmobranch Association, Amsterdam (1997);
  • participation as Italian delegate to the meeting of experts on the implementation of action plans for protected species, organised by the RAC/SPA (Arta, Greece, 1998);
  • hosting and chairing of an expert meeting on the finalisation of Standard Data-Entry Forms for the collection of scientific information on Mediterranean habitats, on behalf of RAC/SPA (Rome, 2000);
  • delivering opening remarks at the First Mediterranean Conference on Marine Turtles, hosted by ICRAM and jointly convened by the Barcelona, Bern and Bonn Conventions (Rome, 2001);
  • delivering opening remarks at the Expert Meeting on the MAP Action Plan for the Conservation of Mediterranean Sharks, hosted by ICRAM and convened by the RAC/SPA (Rome, 2002);
  • participation to the annual meeting of the Pew Fellows Program in Marine Conservation, in Nova Scotia, Canada (2001), where I delivered the invited talk: “Why could the Mediterranean Sea constitute a special case in the global marine conservation effort”;
  • participation as in invited expert to the Mediterranean Initiative on Taxonomy, convened by the RAC/SPA (Tunis, 2003);
  • participation as a RAC/SPA expert to the UNEP MAP 6th meeting of the National Focal Points for SPAs (Marseilles, 2003), where I presented a series of documents I had prepared for the RAC/SPA concerning the development on the SPAMI List and the of Action Plans for the conservation of species adopted within the MAP. 
  • During my presidency of ICRAM, I created a specific programme within the Institute, with a dedicated budget line, to develop national actions plans for the conservation of endangered marine species, to be adopted by Italy in fulfilment of the obligations involved in the ratification of the Barcelona Convention Protocol Concerning Specially Protected Areas and Biological Diversity in the Mediterranean.
  • In December 2004 I consulted for the RAC/SPA to draft criteria for the amendment of Annexes II and III to the SPA Protocol to the Barcelona Convention; in such context I participated to an ad hoc experts meeting jointly organised in Malaga by the RAC/SPA and IUCN MED, and drafted the criteria based on the discussions at that meeting.
  • In March 2005 I was invited to attend to the MEDITERRE event in Brindisi, where I preesnted the activities of ACCOBAMS.
  • In June 2005 I was invited to participate as a RAC/SPA expert to the Meeting of the SPA Focal Points in Sevilla, Spain.
  • Shortly thereafter, in the same month, I participated to the Meeting on protected areas organised in Monecatini, Italy, by the Italian Ministry of the environment on behalf of the Convention on Biological Doiversity (CBD).

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:

  • In 1987 I was nominated in an expert committee appointed by the Judge of Otranto (Lecce) during an investigation on the causes of a mass mor­tality of dolphins and other marine vertebrates along the coasts of south-eastern Italy, later connected to major, unlawful pollution events. 
  • In 2000 I was appointed technical consultant to the prosecuting attorney ( Procura della Repubblica presso il Tribunale di Verona) for a case of cruelty on dolphins at the “Gardaland Palablu Delphinarium”, Verona (Italy).

Miscellaneous activities. Other activities involving environmental conservation subjects include:

  • two trips (1993 and 1994) to Eritrea, invited by that country’s provisional government, to advise on coastal and marine conservation;
  • participation to meetings of the Planning and Co-ordinating Committee, UNEP Global Plan of Action for Marine Mammals, in Crowborough, U.K. (1994) and in Gland, Switzerland (1996);
  • co-organisation and co-chairmanship of the IFAW Workshop on the Scientific Aspects of Whale-Watching Regulations, Montecastello di Vibio, Italy (1995);
  • participation to the IFAW Workshop on the educational aspects of whale-watching, Provincetown, Massachusetts (1997);
  • co-hosting of the IFAW ­ ICRAM Wrap-up workshop on whale watching, Principina, Grosseto, Italy (2000);
  • invited talk to the UNESCO International School of Science for Peace, Autumn School on “Global Climate Changes and Impact on the Biosphere”, Università degli Studi di Milano Bicocca (2000): “Climate change and cetaceans: the Mediterranean case”;
  • invited talk to the conference “Whale-Zone 02” organised by ASMS (Schutz der Meeressäuger), Rüschlikon, Switzerland (2002): “Whales, dolphins, fishes, humans: have the oceans become too small?”. 
  • I have also been a member of the External Committee advising SEC, the Spanish Cetacean Society, on the EU-funded LIFE project “Conservacion de cetaceos y tortugas en Murcia y Andalucia” (LIFE02NAT/E/8610).
  • In October 2004 I was invited to Ljubljana, Slovenia, by the Drustvo Jadranski Project, to lecture on Mediterranean cetacean conservation at the Slovenian Natural History Museum.
  • In November 2006 I was asked by NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service of Honolulu (Hawaii, USA) to review its draft "Recovery Plan for the Hawaiian monk seal ( Monachus schauinslandi)". The review was submitted in January 2007.

Support to Non-Governmental Organisations.

  • In 1989 I have provided scientific support to Greenpeace Italy in its campaign “Operazione Cetacei”. 
  • From 1988 to 1993 I was a member of the board of referees of WWF Italy, and since 2003 I am a member of the organisation’s new Scientific Committee.  In March 2004, by invitation of WWF Italy, I held a "Biodiversity Lecture" on cetacean conservation at the City Museum of Zoology in Rome.
  • From 2000 to 2003 I have been a member of the Board of Directors of the Fondo Ambiente Italiano (FAI), to help promoting the foundation’s statutory goals ­ the conservation of the Italian natural and artistic heritage ­ and to strengthen the foundation’s ability to conserve natural habitats and protected areas. 
  • In 2002 I joined Italian Senator Edo Ronchi in the foundation of the Istituto Sviluppo Sostenibile Italia (ISSI).
  • In 2005 I was asked to serve as a referee for the Earthwatch organisation.