Bernini and Botticelli may be renowned for their impressive marble sculptures, but this Italian fisherman has ingeniously found a way to utilize the beauty of art to save the Mediterranean from overfishing.
Paolo Fanciulli, an Italian fisherman from Tuscany, was concerned by illegal trawling practices, which were depleting the fish populations in the waters off the Maremma coastline, where he has been fishing for over 40 years. Trawling is a technique utilized by fishing boats that involves dragging large nets behind boats in order to catch mass amounts of fish. The trawlers’ nets were not only responsible for the decline in fish but also for tearing up the sea’s Posidonia, a Mediterranean marine plant that plays a crucial role in the environment. Fanciulli began to worry that this trawling would not only have a negative effect on the underwater ecosystem off the Tuscan coastline but that it would also take a toll on his business and subsequently the livelihood of his small village, Talamone.
In the past, the government of Tuscany and WWF Italia attempted to combat this illegal trawling by dropping concrete blocks into the sea in order to destroy the trawlers’ nets. However, these efforts were unfortunately futile, as Fanciulli claims the blocks were spaced too far apart for them to disrupt the trawlers’ activities.
As a child, Fanciulli, or “Paolo il Pescatore”, as he’s fondly called in Talamone, was always fascinated with shipwrecks. Their sunken beauty and newfound purpose of providing sealife with underwater abodes sparked an idea within him. Instead of using concrete blocks, why not fight overfishing with underwater sculptures?
To bring his plan to fruition, Fanciulli asked a quarry in Carrara, the same area where Michelangelo famously sourced marble for his art, if they would be willing to donate a few marble blocks. To his surprise, the quarry generously offered to donate 100 marble blocks for Fanciulli’s project. Through online crowdfunding, Fanciulli was able to commission artists from all over the world to transform marble blocks into beautiful works of art. These sculptures were then placed in the sea, forming an underwater museum known as the Casa dei Pesci (House of Fish). The Casa dei Pesci consists of 39 sculptures, with 12 currently in the works.
The results of the underwater sculpture park were unprecedented. Acting as obstacles for the nets to get entangled in, these works of art have brought illegal trawling in the area virtually to a halt. Since the installation of the sculptures, the waters are now seeing a resurgence in marine life, renewing local fish populations as well as lobsters and turtles. Not only is the Casa dei Pesci protecting the local environment from unsustainable fishing practices, but it's also providing Talamone with a new source of tourism. Tourists can take boat and snorkeling trips out to the sunken sculptures, bringing more awareness to the issue of overfishing and how art can be a creative vehicle for environmental conservation.
To get involved in the cause, check out their site here.
Emily Rascon is from San Diego, California and is currently in the process of completing her Masters in Human Geography through the Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz. She has always had a passion for traveling and learning new languages, having lived in Germany and now Italy. Emily loves reading books, going hiking, and of course, practicing her Italian! In addition, Emily enjoys creating content on TikTok, where she documents her life abroad and encourages people to find the confidence to pursue their inner wanderlust.