The wreck of the cruise ship Costa Concordia in Italy is a sobering human tragedy, with at least 11 deaths and more missing. Sadly, it could become an environmental tragedy as well.
The Costa Concordia capsized Friday night near the Tuscan Archipelago National Park, the largest marine sanctuary in the Mediterranean. The park is home to a variety of dolphins and whales, and its corals and seagrass create an important habitat for a variety of other plants and animals. Oceana visited the area during a 2006 expedition, documenting the health of the marine life there.
If the ship’s fuel leaks before the salvage team has a chance to drain it, the endangered and threatened species that live near the wreck will suffer.
"The tragic wreck occurred in a protected area that is home to many endangered species, so a spill would cause severe damage to organisms such as cetaceans, sharks and coral," said Ricardo Aguilar, research director at Oceana Europe. This would be a great tragedy for the area, which in the past has suffered coral death due to climate change.
We here at Oceana extend our sympathy to the victims and their families. We can only hope that the tragedy ends here, and does not have a lasting impact on the underwater inhabitants of Giglio Island.
This is the fifth in a series of posts about this year’s Ocean Hero finalists.
Maria D’Orsogna is a physics and math professor in California, but in her spare time, she has been fighting offshore drilling in Italy, where she spent 10 years of her childhood. She has even earned the nickname “Erin Brockovich of Abruzzo” for her efforts to rally the public and officials to end drilling in the region.
Abruzzo, which may be familiar to you from Montepulciano d’Abruzzo wine (a bottle of which I have sitting at home), is a primarily agricultural region east of Rome. The Adriatic Sea is nearby, along with a marine reserve (Torre del Cerrano), a Coastal National Park (Parco Nazionale della Costa Teatina) and several regional reserves, such as Punta Aderci, where dolphins are often spotted.
Maria’s activism started in 2007, when she discovered that the oil company ENI planned to drill in the coastal town of Ortona, Abruzzo. The company would uproot century-old wineries to build a refinery and a 7km pipeline to the sea.
Maria reports that there was very little information about the industry’s drilling plans, nor analysis on what it could mean for the region’s agriculture or fishing industries. At the time, Italy had no laws regulating offshore drilling.
While fighting the onshore refinery, which was ultimately defeated, Maria said via e-mail, “the attack on the sea began. I had to get involved.”
In a big victory for our colleagues in Europe, yesterday the EU Court of Justice found Italy in violation of EU law for the country's continued use of driftnets, a fishing gear banned since 2002.
Driftnets, which float freely, sometimes for miles, are a serious threat to cetaceans, sea turtles, sharks and fish in the Mediterranean. Hundreds of thousands of whales and dolphins are killed each year by driftnets.
The day before the decision, Oceana presented its latest report on the use of driftnets in the Mediterranean and stressed that the Court's judgment was an essential step in eradicating the use of the fishing gear.
The Oceana report contains photographs from 2008 of 92 vessels with driftnets on board, 80 percent had already been identified during campaigns in previous years.
Xavier Pastor, Executive Director of Oceana Europe, said, “The judgment is an important milestone in the elimination of driftnets from the Mediterranean. At last we may be moving towards the end of this illegal fishing gear, seven years after the EU banned their use."
Over several years of campaigning in the Mediterranean, Oceana has documented and reported how driftnets, despite the ban, continue to be used, not only in Italy, but also in other areas of the Mediterranean such as Morocco, Turkey, and until recently, France.
Congratulations, Xavier and team!