Oceana urges Italy to protect marine wildlife hotspot in Sicily

New research highlights biodiversity value of Sicily’s Aeolian Islands, with 900 marine species found in an area the size of Rome

Press Release Date: May 21, 2019



Marta Madina | email: mmadina@oceana.org | tel.: Marta Madina

Discoveries include sixteen species threatened with extinction and exceptional underwater forest of bamboo coral, Mediterranean’s most endangered coral

On World Biodiversity Day, Oceana is calling on Italy to create a marine protected area (MPA) in the Aeolian archipelago, a Mediterranean wildlife hotspot where Oceana has documented more than 900 marine species over 1,100 km2, an area the size of Rome. A new report by the international marine conservation organisation shows that the underwater volcanic slopes and deep-sea waters of the Aeolian Islands are home to a rich diversity of marine life, including 16 species threatened with extinction.    

The call to protect the marine biodiversity of the Aeolian archipelago – situated off the northern coast of Sicily – comes after a 2018 Oceana research mission to study its deep-sea ecosystems, which had previously been little explored or studied. 

During the month-long expedition, marine scientists discovered giant oysters, black corals that can live up to 2,000 years, a species of glass sponge found only twice before in the Mediterranean Sea, and one of the largest known forests of the most threatened coral in the Mediterranean: Critically Endangered bamboo coral. Preserving this area would also be the first time Italy protects hydrothermal vents, features that are found near deep-sea volcanoes and which house rare organisms.

“Finding such an incredible, vibrant and unique array of marine wildlife in such a relatively small area confirms that the waters of the Aeolian Islands are a biodiversity hotspot”, said Ricardo Aguilar, director of research and expeditions at Oceana. These waters were known for iconic species such as loggerhead sea turtle, sperm whale, and bluefin tuna, but our research has now discovered that the deep waters of the Aeolians hold spectacular and endangered marine life. On World Biodiversity Day, Oceana is urging Italy to show it cares about its seas and officially declare the Aeolian Islands a marine protected area. There really is no excuse now not to do so,added Aguilar. 

Critically Endangered bamboo coral (Isidella elongata)

Garden of sea fans (Paramuricea clavata)
© OCEANA / Juan Cuetos

Red starfish (Echinaster sepositus)
© OCEANA / Juan Cuetos 

MPAs are one of the most effective tools for protecting ocean life and mitigating damage from pollution, marine litter, destructive fishing, and maritime traffic.

Recognition of the high biodiversity value of the sea surrounding the Aeolian Islands goes back decades, with the region first being formally identified by the Italian government in the 1980s as a potential area for protection. More recently, in 2016, the government announced a commitment to designate an MPA in the Aeolians, but no protective measures have been put in place to date.

The at-sea research by Oceana contributed to a wider Aeolian Islands project that is being carried out by the Blue Marine Foundation in collaboration with the Aeolian Islands Preservation Fund.

The research was made possible thanks to the generous support of IF International Foundation, Fondation de Bienfaisance du groupe Pictet, SmileWave Fund, and several individual donors.

Report: Towards the Creation of a Marine Protected Area in the Aeolian Islands: Results of the 2018 Expedition

More on the Aeolian Islands (web link + storymap)

#ProtectTheAeolians #WorldBiodiversityDay #Aeolians2018