Lieutenant Colonel Falcone, diver hunting for ghost nets

Lieutenant Colonel Falcone, diver hunting for ghost nets

In search of the invisible against the evidence of the decline of the seas. Lieutenant Colonel Luca Falcone, commander of the underwater carabinieri center based in Genoa, has been diving for over twenty years: “If I started this job – he says – I owe it to the passion for the sea and the protection of Nature, the one that interests us and our children. For this reason, when the WWF contacted us, I immediately agreed to collaborate, with my eyes closed”. SEND YOUR STORY Together with other colleagues, Falcone is part of the operational arm of an important initiative which in the Ligurian waters of the protected marine area of ​​Bergeggi, in the province of Savona, aims at the recovery of ghost nets, kilometers of pots abandoned in the depths which create serious damage to marine ecosystems but which, if recovered, can find new life thanks to the circular economy circuit. The project is called EcoeFISHent and is funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 programme: the goal, the WWF informs us, is “to build a territorial cluster of sustainable and replicable circular economy focused on the Liguria region and north-western Italy and aims to create an industrial symbiosis system for the implementation of the principles of the circular economy that will allow the eco-efficient valorisation of waste from the fish supply chain, including ghost nets”. Basically, the purpose of this initiative which will last five years and is coordinated by Filse, the Ligurian financial institution for economic development, will be to transform the detritus of the world of fishing from a problem to a resource. However, to succeed in the vastness of the sea, an almost “surgical” operation of study of the seabed and recovery is needed. And this is where Lieutenant Colonel Falcone comes into play. “We immediately joined the project with great enthusiasm. Our task is to map the seabed in the protected marine area of ​​Bergeggi using the side scan sonar instrumentation which allows you to draw a grid and obtain information on a given area where it is possible identify the so-called ghost nets, often trawling tools abandoned on the seabed for some time”. Once the point where the nets lie has been identified, the underwater carabinieri use the ROVs (Remotely operated vehicles) to better study the situation. “The ROV is like an underwater drone – explains the military – which allows us to verify with precision. We lower it and use it to obtain details on the conditions of the ghost nets. Once found, the next phase will then be a study to understand which ones can remove and which ones cannot: we must always imagine that perhaps these nets have been abandoned for some time and in the meantime Nature has made gorgonians grow there, or algae, marine plants etc. In some cases we then also evaluate the position of the nets: if they remain at mid-height they often unfortunately continue to “work” catching fish and making useless victims. That’s why, for each specific case, it is good to study the situation”. The next step will then be to descend, usually “between 20 and 70 meters”, for recovery operations that are not always simple. “In some cases – Falcone specifies – we divers operate, in others the use of the ROVs supplied to the Arma and the technical instrumentation we have is fundamental”. Eventually, with a little luck, the nets are “fished” and brought back to the surface, freeing marine ecosystems from the excessive pressure that these gears cause on dozens of species. “As underwater carabinieri we happen to come across these networks during our many activities ranging from judicial police, to the protection of cultural heritage and clearly to the environmental one. I always find it unpleasant to see them and it is very important, as the WWF also does, work a lot on prevention and awareness, sometimes even in dialogue with the fishermen, inviting them to always report the loss of the net, which must always be marked. Obviously, however, the poacher remains who, operating illegally, does not report the loss”. With over twenty years of diving behind him, Falcone has seen the Italian seas change a lot, often in a negative way, but he remains confident about the future. “Those who do our job – comments the lieutenant colonel – often have a great passion for that environment which you see change over time, for example at the level of plastic, a constant source of pollution that we see in underwater debris. But also at the level of species: the alien ones are more present and personally with the rise in sea temperatures I have seen various changes, trivially also the number of barracudas, fish that once were not seen here in Bergeggi, but now we almost always encounter them. , as far as I can and for the future of the seas, I think it is important to lend a hand to projects like this that do good for Nature”.

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