70% Less Poaching: How We're Saving the Mediterranean Seas

Thursday, 07 Dec, 2023

At Sea Shepherd, we recognize the critical importance of the Mediterranean Sea, a unique marine ecosystem that comprises only 1% of the world’s salt water but is home to an astonishing 10% of all known marine species. Our mission is to protect this precious habitat, which is currently facing unprecedented challenges. The Mediterranean is the most overfished ocean in the world, and the situation is further aggravated by the significant plastic pollution from discarded fishing gear.

One of the many octopus rescued in 2023 by the Sea Eagle crew.

Frontline Efforts of Sea Shepherd

Our vessel, the Sea Eagle, is at the heart of our campaign, Operation Siso. Throughout the year, our dedicated team works tirelessly to combat the threats facing the Mediterranean:

  • •  We've removed over 60km of plastic lines, including Fish Aggregating Devices (FADs), longlines, and other illegal fishing gear in the past year alone.
  • •  We've established a strong presence in these waters, deterring poachers who are now aware of our continuous and prolonged patrols.
  • •  Last year we had the biggest confiscation of illegal fishing gear on record, saving thousands of octopus, which are the primary food source for the endangered Mediterranean Monk Seals.
  • •  Our efforts have led to a 70% reduction in Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) fishing in the sea between Calabria and Sicily.
  • •  As a result, marine wildlife in these areas is showing significant signs of recovery since the inception of Operation Siso in 2017.
Sea Shepherd Italy Director Andrea Morello inspects the illegal fishing gear with Italian authorities.

A Team Effort: Our Partners in Conservation

Our successes in the Mediterranean are not ours alone. This mission is a collective effort involving our volunteers, individual donors, the private sector, and local and national authorities. Each group plays a vital role in our operations, from direct action at sea to recycling initiatives on land.

Since the start of Operation Siso, Sea Shepherd has been working in cooperation with local and national Italian authorities such as the Coast Guard and Guardia di Finanza (Ministry of Finance Officers) to crack down on poaching activities and confiscate illegal fishing gear. In 2023, thanks to a Calabrian regional executive decree, Sea Shepherd Italy has launched a groundbreaking project introducing the first-ever Sea Rangers. These volunteers are specifically trained to defend and protect marine wildlife and monitor compliance with national laws regulating fishing in Italy. Sea Shepherd volunteers are now patrolling the coasts of Calabria together with the Coast Guard and the Capitaneria di Porto, with jurisdiction over national public and private waters.

“This is a testament to the trust placed in us by the Italian authorities. This status not only empowers us to take action, but also serves as a deterrent to poachers. They know we are there for weeks and weeks to protect the sea, which isn’t something that the authorities can always do because they have so many other priorities. We’re now able to cooperate even more proficiently with the authorities in Calabria, directly providing support in enforcing regulation with our vessels and volunteers. Qualified volunteers are authorized to act as public officers within the framework of fishing and environmental protection, carrying out monitoring, sanctioning, prevention and information activities."

Andrea Morello, president of Sea Shepherd Italy.
Turtle crate by iMilani on the Sea Eagle.

Turning Confiscated Fishing Gear into Turtle Crates

What happens to all of the illegal fishing gear our crew has retrieved from the Med? Our approach is not just to remove this debris from the water but also to prevent it from causing additional harm on land.

For the past two years, iMilani has been instrumental in collecting and recycling all of the illegal FADs (fish aggregating devices) Sea Shepherd has confiscated in Italy. iMilani is a family-owned company in Vicenza specializing in the sustainable production of plastic boxes and containers from recycled plastics. This partnership has led to the creation of the innovative Sea Turtle Crates, each made from 8.6 kg of plastic marine debris such as confiscated FADs.

These crates are specially designed to safely transport injured sea turtles, and are now onboard all of Sea Shepherd’s vessels, as well as Coast Guard and Guardia di Finanza ships. To date, iMilani has processed almost 4,000 kg of plastic fishing gear recovered by our team, potentially creating more than 450 crates.

Support from Allianz has been crucial in keeping our ship at sea for extended periods throughout Operation Siso. They have not only provided financial backing, but also donate their time as volunteers to crew on the Sea Eagle.

Confiscated fishing line being recycled by iMilani.

Challenges and Future Goals

By protecting the biodiversity of the Mediterranean – including fish, octopus, monk seals, and whales – we are not only preserving these species but also guarding against the incursion of intrusive species. Our actions have a direct impact on maintaining the ecological balance of this vital marine environment. Despite the progress, there are still significant challenges ahead.

“Our biggest challenge is scaling our proven methods to cover a larger area,” says Morello. “Ideally, to protect the Mediterranean Monk Seal, we’d need to patrol its entire territory, from Sardinia to the Ionian Sea. At the moment we only have the resources to cover half of that. We’d need to double our current resources to be able to properly cover it all, to increase the number of volunteers and extend the number of days at sea.”

Our journey in protecting the Mediterranean Sea is ongoing and evolving. With each passing day, we see the positive impacts of our efforts, giving us hope for a healthier marine ecosystem. This wouldn't be possible without the joint venture of our volunteers, donors, the Italian authorities, and private sector partners. Together, we are making a real difference for the marine wildlife in the Mediterranean. As we continue our efforts, we remain committed to expanding our reach and increasing our impact, ensuring that this precious ecosystem is preserved for future generations.

We're headed to port now for maintenance and repairs and to get ready for next year's campaign, but we need your help. Please consider donating to help us get the ship back at sea for the next operation Siso!  >> DONATE HERE


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