INQUIRY Marine Protected Areas. A great opportunity wasted?

Marine Protected Areas - 1
Marine Protected Areas: In Spain you can moor. The beautiful natural park of Cabrera, south of Mallorca (Balearic Islands), where you can access with your own boat. The park was established in 1991; anchoring is done through a system of buoys that protect the Posidonia meadows in the harbor bay; access is through a park permit, which must be applied for online.

Along Italy’s coasts are treasures often inaccessible to boaters, the Marine Protected Areas. Managed differently they would become an invaluable asset to be exploited for nautical tourism while preserving the environment. What is the real situation and what needs to be done to navigate today’s foreclosed havens

Marine Protected Areas. Where you can’t navigate

In Italy 228 thousand hectares of sea, 700 kilometers of coastline, are protected by the Ministry of Environment and Energy Security. There are more than 30 Marine Protected Areas, known as MPAs (we will reveal them all in a future article).

They have sprung up in precious and fragile coastal stretches of the Peninsula to monitor and protect biodiversity. But, as is the case in most other nations, they should also be usable by all boaters, with the benefit of bringing in economic resources to fund MPA activities. But in Italy, except in rare cases, this is not the case.

Some Marine Protected Areas are poorly managed, entangled in a jungle of rules and a lack of essential services for nautical tourism. The absence of equipped buoy fields and shore services deter its visit.

Here are some of the critical issues and reasons why so much investment in the MPA, without overall coordination, ends up dispersed in projects of dubious utility and does not turn into wealth or true protection. Some virtuous examples should set a school for all other MPAs.

Where the funding goes

When we read that among the winners of the 10-million-euro PNRR call for proposals intended for the enhancement of Natural Parks and MPAs (Marine Protected Areas), projects entitled “Recovery Center and Activities for the Protection And Reproduction Of The Crested Newt Triturus carnifex,” or “Monitoring And Characterization Of MPA Biodiversity Through Innovative Digital Technologies,” appeared, we realized that none of those funds would materialize into useful works for the boater.

It is the classic short circuit between Italian-style entities. In fact, we expected that all funds allocated to MPAs would be directed to ISPRA (Superior Institute for Environmental Protection) for the construction of new buoy fields, in the construction of docks to go ashore, in the installation of essential services such as drinking water sources and services, or in the creation of recycling collection.

Instead, by allocating these funds to the NBFC (National Biodiversity Center) an entity spawned by NextGenerationEU, 10 million euros were scattered among MPAs and Parks, in projects of dubious usefulness where the words “boater” and “tourism” never appear next to the words biodiversity, and sustainability.

Marine Protected Areas, lack of coordination

From the yachtsman’s point of view, it seems clear that in the management of MPAs, and in general environmental and marine protection projects something is not working, because in the face of large investments, services to those who would like to benefit from the natural heritage of the state property, to know and respect it, are often lacking or even a fee is charged for access without services!

Of the 32 areas established, some are well managed and do schooling, some are badly managed, and some are then so small that they only appear as useless entities. Lacking in our opinion is a national coordination of the areas.On the MASE website, the list of marine protected areas appears, linking to 29 other websites, but there is no overview, not even a public census of buoy fields or services. How can we expect a tourist who is not familiar with our area, to have a view of the tourist-naturalistic opportunities if we do not list what our resources are.

The utopia of equal rules for MPAs in areas A, B, C

Let’s start with the simple, standardize the rules. By law, all MPAs are already divided into areas A, B and C. Areas A are those of integral reserve, where all activities that may disturb the marine environment are prohibited (for many even free swimming!) and areas B and C where conservation of environmental values should be combined with sustainable enjoyment and use of the marine environment. It should be simple to define access rules and the same prohibitions for all marine areas throughout the territory.

Boaters should not have to go crazy looking up on double-entry tables what types of boats they can access, maximum transit speeds, whether they can sail, motor, SUP, swim, snorkel. It would be necessary to present these rules with clear, multilingual graphics and to standardize MPA regulations with other states. The French have been making marine environmental protection policies for years, and the information is consistent and also shown on nautical charts, and pilot books.

In France, wide open to boaters. In Port-Cros, in the French Mediterranean, administrators were able to show that every euro invested by the state in that marine protected area generates as much as 92 for the local economy. You arrive by boat, step off the floating docks, and find yourself surrounded by nature and a pirate village.

The mismanagement of Marine Protected Areas.

Of MPAs that can be better managed in favor of boaters there are many, the issues become obvious to boaters.

In Liguria for example, in 2023 for we don’t know what misunderstandings, in Portofino MPA, the buoys at San Fruttuoso Bay were not available for a long period of peak tourist season, and in September, the buoys in front of Punta Chiappa remained “unmanaged” and finally removed. Not setting up a buoy camp is tantamount to preventing people from visiting the area or finding safe shelter, especially in a heavily visited area where it is impossible to give bottom due to depths and bottoms.

In the Cinque Terre, another example, to enter the MPA area, one even has to apply for access permits and obtain a fee card with few seasonal moorings that are active for too short a time. Basically an obnoxious access fee that would discourage boating even for local boaters. What am I going to do there if I can’t even stop to take a picture or take a dip? Yet for years there has been talk of overcrowding in the 5 Lands and unsustainable tourism by land, the obvious answer would be to facilitate access and overnight stays by sea as much as possible, fostering among other things a far more rewarding tourist experience than arriving at dilapidated stations.

Exaggerated costs, different rules

Access and buoy prices are often exaggerated compared to what you get, and it is not clear why each individual entity can deliberate different prices for the same service in a state-owned concession area. A buoy then should not cost nearly as much as a dock space with water, gas light and services. Sometimes behind the price of the buoy, there are real attempts to fleece the yachtsman, such as the prices of “per person” shore transportation by the moorers’ dinghy.

With permits targeted at private entities for diving activities or tourist access, some MPA resolutions tend to favor some and disfavor others, all reasons why national coordination would be appropriate, including for transparency.

The MPA Tremiti Case

It made headlines in May 2023, the appeal of Arturo Santoro, world champion freediving fisherman, who in an open letter to the minister, complains about the bad management of the Tremiti MPA. He stresses the total lack of responses, despite reminders from the body, the failure to comply with access rules, which pose serious security problems, and the existence of unclear rules issued by the MPA and Gargano Park that create uncertainty, confusion in boaters, visitors, tourists and the same Law Enforcement Agencies that fail to apply them.

Apparently the demonstrations have moved the waters, because in July 2023 the MPA website announces that the buoy field has been reactivated, that mooring reservations have been activated with the Blue Discovery app, and, that “the process of approving the Regulations for the Implementation and Organization of the Marine Protected Area, 34 years after its establishment, is underway.”

Marine Protected Areas, the virtuous examples

Seeking clarity, we then wrote, contacting them one by one, all the agencies in charge of the 29 Marine Protected Areas in Italy, setting off an inquiry to find out what facilities were actually present and under construction for the benefit of boaters. Unfortunately, our hopes for a global picture have faded, only the Punta Campanella MPA responded to us in a timely manner, however, we do have some good news. The MPA participated in the PNRR MER call for “the preservation of the seabed through the provision of mooring fields” receiving funding that provides, by June 2025 the installation of no. 6 mooring fields for a total of about 200 buoys, and also provided us with information on prices from 20 euros per day for vessels up to 80 euros per day above 20 meters, bookable with the same APP “Blue Discovery “mentioned earlier.

The others, including the ministry and its press office, did not dignify us with a response. We found, however, that good examples in MPA management at least from the boaters’ point of view do exist, MPA Capo Caccia Isola piana for example managed to get PNRR funding of 1.7 million to increase the number of available buoys to 216, or MPA Torre Cerrano and Egadi Islands provide clear information on buoy fields and booking services.

But is the buoy there or not?

In addition to the rules, fines, and lack of services, the obligation to reserve buoys, for example, are a disincentive for boaters and a bureaucratic addendum in our opinion unnecessary. For example, at Baia Rinella, (as in many other MPA buoy fields), to use the mooring buoys “one must ask at least 24 hours in advance, for authorization from the Capo Milazzo Marine Protected Area Management Consortium.” Just make the reservation optional only for those who want to be assured of a mooring at the buoy for the night. Those with reservation apps have made it easier for boaters, but speaking of apps. let’s talk about digitization.

The digitization of MPAs

One hundred million euros is the PNRR amount earmarked for the digitization of marine protected areas aimed at “improving services for visitors and raising their awareness of biodiversity, encouraging more sustainable tourism and more responsible consumption of natural resources.” A flood of money that is being reduced into an agreement with SOGEI S.p.a. for the administrative simplification and evolutionary implementation of the Naturaitalia.it portal containing information on biodiversity and the conservation status of habitats and species in the system of national protected areas and the development of a (another ed.) app. Hopefully this investment will at least result in a single app from which to access the booking of all Italian buoy fields!

Ministry of Tourism, wake up!

There seems to be a lack of dialogue between the MASE (Ministry of Environment and Economic Development) and the Ministry of Tourism. MPAs are the ideal place to promote eco-sustainable tourism, which is now the most sought-after tourism by the sea, as well as in the mountains, especially by young people. In Italy per year, the charter sector alone has about 1.2 million overnight stays on boats (equivalent of overnight stays in the hotel sector), and that tourists on average on boats from 10 to 24 meters spend 115 euros per day, alone, this is a 1.6 billion euro economy per year. You can imagine how much these numbers could go up if MPAs, with national coordination between protection and tourism, became the equivalent of a national marine park spread across the territory. it is necessary to invest in infrastructure and encourage boating access to MPAs, getting the message across that, as they do in France, nautical tourism is fully sustainable.

A young person is happy to pay more for a buoy than a port, because he understands that a dead body protects the poseidonia while an anchor or the concrete of a dock destroys it. Facilitating new generations to Italy’s most beautiful coastal areas through eco-tourism in MPAs is the true investment of the Blue Economy to ensure the protection and respect of biodiversity today and in the future.

Luigi Gallerani

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