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Hero fisherman builds incredible underwater sculptures to stop dangerous and illegal fishing practices: 'It's working'

"The area is attracting more marine life."

Paolo Fanciulli builds underwater sculptures to stop illegal fishing practices

Photo Credit: @sambentley / Instagram

Italian fisherman Paolo Fanciulli has a beautiful and effective solution for illegal trawling: a garden of giant marble sculptures that can tear through a fishing net, the Guardian reports.

Fanciulli started his fishing career at 13 in the Tuscan village of Talamone. At the time of the Guardian article in 2020, Fanciulli was 60 years old. Early in his career, he started to notice that trawling affected the local fishing grounds.

As Instagrammer Sam Bentley (@sambentley) explained in his video on Fanciulli's work, "Trawling is a type of fishing that drags heavy nets across the sea floor, massively reducing fish populations and destroying marine habitats."

In particular, Fanciulli told the Guardian that trawling destroys the native seagrass. 

"The nets are weighed down with heavy chains to be dragged on the sea bottom, so they uproot all the posidonia, the sea grass that is key to the Mediterranean ecosystem because sea bream, lobsters and red gurnards lay their eggs there," he said.

For this reason, trawling is illegal within 3 miles of Italy's coast. But it brings in so much money that at night, some fishers do it anyway.

Even when Fanciulli was in his 20s, he saw the effect of this destruction on his own legitimate fishing business. In protest, he and other local fishermen blocked a port in Tuscany.

Fanciulli has worked against trawling ever since. He's destroyed trawling nets with barbed wire, pretended to be a police officer to scare a trawler away, and even received threats from the mafia over his activism.

Sixteen years ago, Fanciulli started his most famous and effective anti-trawling campaign.

In 2006, the Tuscan government dropped concrete blocks into the ocean to snag trawling nets, the Guardian reports. However, there were too few of the blocks, and they were spread across too large an area, so Fanciulli got permission to add 80 of his own.

But he didn't want to just drop concrete blocks, the Guardian reports. Inspired by the beautiful shipwrecks he loved as a child, Fanciulli wrote to a local quarry to ask it to donate marble blocks for sculptures. With the help of sculptors including Giorgio Butini, Massimo Lippi, Beverly Pepper, and Emily Young, Fanciulli got started creating an underwater museum with heavy sculptures close enough together to stop trawling in the area for good.

"The best thing about it is, it's working," Bentley said in his video, which included photos of the dreamlike sculptures, now covered in seaweed. "Seagrass beds … are growing back, and the area is attracting more marine life, like lobsters, turtles, and even dolphins." 

According to Fanciulli, the project isn't finished. 

"We put in the first statues in 2007, but our goal is to reach 100," he told the Guardian

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