The incredible black coral forests discovered in Marettimo: “But now we have to preserve them”

The incredible black coral forests discovered in Marettimo: "But now we have to preserve them"


The secret of all that fish, of the island’s extraordinary biodiversity, is revealed on a warm July evening. The inhabitants of Marettimo, together with the tourists, are all there, sitting under the stage of the Scalo Nuovo, when the National Geographic documentary “Il Bianco nel Blu” is projected: suddenly, as soon as the real protagonists of the story appear on the screen – the black corals – from the fishermen to the children, everyone is amazed. “But did you know it was down there?” exclaims a gentleman in strict Sicilian. Who knew it, or at least always believed it, is the marine biologist Giovanni Chimienti, National Geographic Explorer and researcher at the University of Bari.

For over two years he had been thinking that the incredible biodiversity of the Egadi island could also depend on the presence of black coral forests, animals that appear underwater as an expanse of white saplings. From the past stories of the fishermen, who occasionally brought up some coral with their trawls, up to the study of current models, Chimienti was sure that at certain depths he would have encountered that casket of life that corals represent, animals unfortunately today threatened by bleaching and warmer water temperatures, by overfishing up to anthropic pollution, but which are invaluable elements for guaranteeing both biodiversity (25% of that of all seas) and the economy, given that they are often at the base of the ecosystems where the fish. However, to be able to track them down, demonstrating their presence and the need to preserve them, Chimienti and his team needed funds and support: thanks to the support of the Prada Group and the Unesco Sea Beyond project, the necessary support has arrived to continue the explorations and give life to that dissemination, through the documentary made by the director Igor D’India and signed by National Geographic, necessary to make everyone understand the importance of conserving the sea and educating even the little ones to protect the oceans.

The documentary “Il Bianco nel Blu” thus shows the difficult race against time, between unfavorable sea conditions and the need to obtain results in order to continue the studies, in search of those corals which finally – thanks to the help of the Marettimo community – are finally found at a depth of over 60 meters, with lush forests filmed by ROVs (Remotely Operated Vehicles) even at 600 meters towards the abyss. “When we found them it was a unique emotion – explains Chimenti as he thanks all those who have participated in this success – but now the work is not finished yet”. While we try to ask him exactly where the coral forests are, the biologist explains that “it’s better not to say, because first we have to protect them”. Despite the various marine areas used as reserves on the island, black coral forests are in fact also present in some areas where “today there are no fishing bans and where we hope, albeit for small stretches, to be able to widen the restrictions, in order to help the conservation of these delicate organisms”. A conservation that will be possible by continuing to study marine ecosystems and increasingly promoting a union of efforts, even between institutions and private individuals, as is the case for the Sea Beyond project which sees the close collaboration between Unesco and Prada.

Right from the stage in Marettimo, in the talk conducted by the director of National Geographic Italia, Marco Cattaneo, the Senior program officer of IOC-Unesco, Francesca Santoro, recalled the importance of insisting on ocean education projects, the same ones that led, for example, to Venice to inaugurate the first “Asilo della Laguna” at the beginning of January, an educational program dedicated to children to discover the lagoon ecosystems. Sea Beyond’s activities today are increasingly possible thanks to the commitment of the Prada Group which a few weeks ago announced that it will donate 1% of the proceeds from its Prada Re-Nylon collection to the project, born precisely from the recovery and recycling of nets and plastic materials present in the ocean. Furthermore, the collaboration between the two realities will lead to greater support for scientific research for the protection of the sea, the same which, for example, has allowed Chimenti to discover black corals. An action necessary to create “shared knowledge”, explains Lorenzo Bertelli, Head of Corporate Social Responsibility of the Prada Group, who arrived in Marettimo to present the documentary together with the other realities involved.

“Today – explains Bertelli a Green&Blue – I am convinced that individuals, institutions, families and governments must all row in the same direction for the health of the planet. If we succeed, educating future generations, perhaps in twenty years or in 2050 we will truly have a more aware and active society in preserving the Earth. In every sector, including fashion, we need to move urgently and with the right partners, capable of leading this change, such as UNESCO, for example. Personally, even in my small way, I’m trying to adopt more and more sustainable behaviors, from the electric car to the commitment to self-tax myself for CO2 issued, perhaps in the case of long journeys. It is a small personal thing of mine, but I believe that those who have more must do more: therefore I find it right to have my own carbon tax. Another commitment in which I strongly believe is the one for the sea, which is my passion. While diving, I’ve noticed how useful protected areas are to restore ecosystems, to help fish. But we should act more on the oceans: for example, more rules in terms of maritime traffic, engines and pollutants would be needed, with a concept similar to the one that is being applied to cars. The sea is there, but not seeing what’s underneath we often don’t give it the right weight: yet, as shown with the project to discover black coral, an animal that must be preserved, it is obvious that it is in great need of help”.


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