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Sculptures Stop Illegal Trawling

If there aren't enough police to patrol the coastline, the ingenious solution of dropping huge marble artworks into the Mediterranean produces the required results and enables damaged ecosystems to regrow.

Marble underwater sculpture off the Tuscany coast
Image: Carlo Bonazza | Casa dei Pesci

In the sea off the coast of Talamone in Tuscany, lie numerous gigantic sculptures carved in smooth Carrara marble. They form a rather weird and wonderful underwater museum (which anyone can visit at any time) but the sculptures are really there as silent guardians, protecting the sea against gangs trawling illegally at night. The artworks also provide a structure on which organisms can grow, encouraging more plant life and sea creatures to return.

With their weighted nets dragging along the seafloor, the trawlers uproot the Posidonia meadows, a seagrass endemic to the Mediterranean and vital to the marine ecosystem, which soaks up 15 times more carbon dioxide annually than an equivalent area of the Amazon rainforest.

For years, Paolo Fanciulli, a local fisherman alarmed at the devastation caused by the trawlers, has tried various ways to stop them as the practice is illegal within three nautical miles of the coast, but since it's so profitable and impossible to police the 8,000km of Italian coastline, bottom trawlers carry on at night regardless.

So, Fanciulli dreamed up the idea of the giant sculptures and figured that it would generate more of an impact if they were carved by well-known artists, says Ippolito Turco, a friend of Fanciulli and president of the non-profit Casa dei Pesci, which they created together to protect the sea. The result: a Carrara quarry offered 100 huge blocks of marble, artists donated their time and locals fundraised for the project.

“I thought it was a brilliant idea: it would attract more attention to the problem,” said British stone sculptor Emily Young, who contributed three colossal heads. There are now 39 underwater sculptures and marble blocks silently guarding the sea, and another 12 are ready to join them.

The good news is that this ingenious solution has already completely eliminated illegal trawling around Talamone. It seems that once you've snagged and lost your nets, you don't return to the neighbourhood.

However, just to the north, the municipality of Grosseto is now being targeted by these illegal gangs, so they have teamed up with Casa dei Pesci to place additional sculptures and blocks on the seabed there.

“There could be dozens of underwater museums guarding the entire coastline,” observes Turco.



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