Marine Protected Area of Portofino: on a Monday morning, in a place, under the surface of the sea, which many years ago decided to wear the party dress.
A place that was already beautiful, one of those that you could see it has great potential. A rocky oasis of particular biological and environmental importance, in short, what is now called a “hot spot” of Mediterranean biodiversity.
The establishment of the Marine Protected Area
The institutions were careful to understand these potentials and more than twenty years ago they decided to protect it, perhaps with the intention of making it one of the most scenic and vital diving destinations. And the positive effects of the protection regime have been, for a long time, extraordinarily evident, to the point of giving rise to one of the most visited underwater places in Europe, after the Medas Islands in Spain and the Port Cros National Park in France.
The establishment of the Marine Protected Area and the favorable economic cycle allowed this area to rise to the undisputed role of capital of Italian diving. Swarms of divers came from the big cities from their suburbs, but also from the mountains from the countryside, to invade the local diving centers. The full inflatable boats in every order of place and space departed a short distance from each other to reach the buoys that have recently delimited the diving areas.
Twenty years of diving
In twenty years thousands of divers have dived here, with their noise, with their deplorable attitude, with their fins that raised sand and collided with gorgonians in full development and madrepores clinging tenaciously to the walls. Divers who rushed with enthusiasm and curiosity on the fish that slowly began to repopulate these waters, divers who with the powerful lights of their torches and the flashes of their cameras literally cooked the poor nudibranchs that swayed innocently on the hydrozoans to the rhythm of the sea current .
But despite these highly invasive, annoying and in some cases destructive presences, in these twenty years the gorgonians have managed to grow tall and luxuriant while the small and timid branches of red coral have gradually repopulated many ravines of the rocky walls. The groupers then colonized every boulder and filled every den. They even stopped being afraid of man and began to approach him, becoming familiar with these strange, colorful and noisy patrons of the abyss. Today this environment is made alive and lived by snappers, sea bream and ravens, which are not shy here, they do not hide; because they are not afraid of guns.
Barracudas and tropicalization
Then came the barracudas as well. There are many, they swim in groups and you can stay close to them, even in mid-water, swimming back and forth, perhaps carrying a bit of the current. You can pass through it, slip into the counter and experience the thrill of feeling like one of them, following their flow, turning them together, in the vortex they create.
But I am told that barracudas are not a good sign. They are tropical fish and their increasingly massive presence means that the average water temperature is slowly overheating. And perhaps this could be the cause of the slow worsening of the conditions of some gorgonians, particularly at certain dive sites. It is a bit as if the Niño had also arrived here.
On a Monday morning, in a place where there are more fishermen than divers
But today is a very normal Monday morning in December and, today, there are many more fishermen in this place than divers. There are fishing nets and abandoned lines. A boat with about ten divers on board moves zigzagging between boats from which long fishing rods rise towards the sky. Certainly there are no patrol boats who should be watching.
The divers’ boat docks at the buoy that indicates the dive site they have chosen. Their boatman is often forced to signal, waving, whistling and sometimes shouting, the presence of divers to all the other boats that pass, completely unaware of what is happening, or worse of what might happen.
But nature is stronger. Stronger than the scuba divers’ fins and stronger than the fishing nets that uproot everything they find on the seabed or the lines that lose and choke the gorgonians.
And so, on a normal Monday morning, in a Marine Protected Area where there are fewer divers than fishermen, you dive in and see all this.
Because this is the Marine Protected Area of Portofino, a submerged place that one day decided to put on a party dress and has never taken it off since that day …