Supporting national marine conservation policy

In 1996 the President of Italy nominated me to head ICRAM, the Central Institute for Applied Marine Research (Istituto Centrale per la Ricerca Applicata al Mare), the Italian scientific body under the aegis of the Ministry for the environment, mandated to provide scientific support to national marine conservation policy. I held that position until 2003, shortly before the end of my second and last 4-year mandate, when the right-wing government of the moment, whose environment-unfriendliness was above average, decided to avail itself of the spoils system to throw me out of office. Years later ICRAM was merged, together with other institutions, into the Higher Institute for Environmental Research and Protection, ISPRA (Istituto Superiore per la Protezione e Ricerca Ambientale).

My role as President of ICRAM, dictated by the mandate of advising and supporting government policies on the full range of issues connected with marine conservation – from the disposal of toxic muds dredged from harbours to the nearly impossible challenges of sustainable aquaculture – was highly inspirational and formative, and forced me to widen my views until then confined to the realm of conserving large marine vertebrates. In 1998, as the President of ICRAM, I was part of the Italian delegation at the Meeting of the G8 Environment Ministers in Leeds Castle, U.K. (April); I attended to the 4th Conference of the Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity in Bratislava, Slovakia (May), to the Italian/French Summit in Florence (October), and to the 2nd London Oceans Workshop (December). In 2001 I attended to the FAO Committee on Fisheries in Rome (February), and to the FAO Conference on responsible fisheries in the marine ecosystems, Reykjavik (October).

Since 1995 I have been involved in supporting the participation of Italy to the works of the International Whaling Commission, and contributed to the establishment of a national policy on whaling issues and on the promotion of a conservation agenda within the IWC, in cooperation with other like-minded nations. From 1999, as President of ICRAM, I served as Commissioner for Italy to various meetings of the International Whaling Commission. Meetings I attended to included the 51st Annual Meeting in Grenada, West Indies (1999; Alternate Commissioner), the 52nd Annual Meeting In Adelaide, Australia (2000; Commissioner), the Intersessional Meeting on the RMS in Monaco (2001; Commissioner), the 53rd Annual Meeting in Hammersmith, London (2001; Commissioner), the Special Meeting in Cambridge, U.K. (2002; Commissioner), the 55th Annual Meeting in Berlin (2003; Commissioner), and 56th Annual Meeting in Sorrento (2004; Alternate Commissioner).

Making friends with a marble bowriding dolphin, Cyrene, Libya (photo by Paolo Casale).

During my presidency of ICRAM, amongst other things, I created and funded a specific programme 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.

This experience opened for me the doors to the world of MPAs, which I had previously been dunked into only when dealing with the Pelagos Sanctuary. At that time I had been requested by Edo Ronchi, then 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 consultant Dr. Tundi Agardy and other colleagues, 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; Afrodite saw the cooperation of about 60 researchers belonging to more than 20 research groups, and which allowed, among other things, to compare the different Italian MPAs in terms of actual enforcement effectiveness.

In 2002 I was also 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 other Mediterranean countries was debated. Unfortunately, the Afrodite programme was a collateral victim of the aggressive action of the government against ICRAM and myself in 2003, and was terminated before it could bear the full weight of its fruits.