Welcome to Alternative Jungle's Sustainable Heroes Series.
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Firstly, we have Paolo Fanciulli, a sustainable hero who created an underwater art museum in order to stop and recover the damage done by illegal commercial fishing.
Growing up, Paolo Fanciulli was intrigued by underwater shipwrecks, particularly the fish and algae that lived in them. He became a fisherman in the Tuscan village of Talamone at 13 and still travels the waters at the age of 60 in his small boat, the Sirena. But in the past decade, his job has become harder, as trawling near the coast has been destroying the marine ecosystem.
The impact is devastating. “The nets are weighed down with heavy chains to be dragged on the sea bottom, so they uproot all the posidonia, the seagrass that is key to the Mediterranean ecosystem because sea bream, lobsters and red gurnards lay their eggs there,” he says.
He turned instead to what he describes as “pascaturismo”, or fishing tourism: he takes visitors out on his boat, giving them a chance to catch fish and learn about the ecological threat of trawling. He also runs a small restaurant at weekends, and sells his catch toa collective of Italian families buying ethical products.
Paolo tried dropping concrete blocks which started to have some positive impact. He then came to the idea to drop Art in a greater larger scheme to save the oceans and stop the illegal trawling for good.
Via word of mouth, contributions from tourists and online crowdfunding, Fanciulli persuaded artists including Giorgio Butini, Massimo Lippi, Beverly Pepper and Emily Young to carve sculptures from the marble. Then he took them out to sea and lowered them in.
The underwater sculptures create both a physical barrier for nets and a unique underwater museum. The sculptures are placed in a circle, 4m apart, with an obelix at the centre carved by the Italian artist Massimo Catalani. Emily Young provided four sculptures, each weighing 12 tons, she calls “Guardians”; nearby lies a mermaid by the young artist Aurora Vantaggiato. Lippi has contributed 17 sculptures representing Siena’s contrade, or medieval districts.
Marine life of all kinds appears to be returning. Algae covers the statues, and lobsters have taken up residence nearby. Talamone is a turtle recovery centre – part of the Tartalife Project – and more turtles have been seen, as have dolphins. “In the past it was unusual to see dolphins near the coast,” Faniculli says. “They normally stay offshore, but as industrial fishing destroyed the seabed, they moved close to the statues because, due the repopulation, there is food.”
The museum is Fanciulli’s version of the shipwrecks he loved as a boy, and he hopes to build on its success. “We put in the first statues in 2007 but our goal is to reach 100,” he says, sensing an opportunity. “We’d like someone to help our battle in defence of the sea. Do you know if any soccer player or influencer is available?”
“I’ve been condemning illegal trawling for years, but nothing ever changes. It’s like war, or disease: no one wants them, but they keep the economy going. ”
“A marine museum that recreates an environment for fish to live, while involving great artists who have a spirit of sustainability.”
We support Paolo in his efforts and hope the world lives up to his same sustainable mindset for a better and safer future for us all.
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Ghiglione, G., 2020. Underwater museum: how 'Paolo the fisherman' made the Med's strangest sight. [online] The Guardian.