To look at the Naples coast from the Pacific Ocean, you might have thought that it’s yet another beautiful and scenic vacation destination.
Behind the pristine waters and postcard resorts lie major ecological dangers. Dams and lagoons were built and, as the waters rose, they eroded the sea wall and the coast started eroding.
Residents at the time came up with the idea of a barrier across the sea and started building it up. The barrier, while well-intentioned, has destroyed some habitat and did not do what it was supposed to — keep the sea level level down.
Wild animals were killed and locals worried that now their family farms would be washed away.
No one knows for sure whether the barrier will prove to be effective, but in the years that followed, environmentalists have brought thousands of square miles of coastline to shore and rehabilitated it.
Today, the barrier is neither a predator nor predator’s nest. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), only seven avian species have been tagged as being in the protected area of the Italian barrier. And of those, two are endangered: the Brazilian cockatoo and the green fig.
Today, tourism is the lifeblood of most Italian towns. One of the main reasons why Naples has survived its Venetian heritage for so long is its wealth of tourists. But conservationists say the tide is slowly turning.
In January, UNESCO declared just this area as endangered and ordered the protection of the approximately 1,200 square miles of land there. The move comes after Italy took urgent action in 2015 to upgrade the country’s coastal defenses to make them more resilient to sea level rise and the increasing frequency of major earthquakes. The move was a wake-up call to conservationists.
That’s when the campaign began.
The campaign “Fighting for Our Future” sees the protection of the coastline of Naples and around Venice as vital to its future tourism.
Their one-sentence campaign theme captures the direness of the situation: “We need tourism, not tourism kills” — in English.
The campaign was prompted in part by the spread of climate change, but it’s also critical for coastal areas to have an adequate housing stock.
The Naples Campaign will place ads in local newspapers across Italy and Paris. They also want to enlist the help of top Italian authorities such as the senate.
It’s a long shot, but certainly worth a try. Scientists say that the major six Mediterranean nations — Italy, Spain, Greece, Turkey, Lebanon and Syria — will be underwater by the end of the century unless there is some drastic action taken to curb sea level rise and counteract the effects of climate change.
And they know that tourism plays a role, if not a major role, in Italy’s economic survival.
That was underscored in last November when the Italian Chamber of Deputies voted to exempt offshore tourism operations from having to respect Mediterranean coastal standards and protect them from coastal erosion.
Advocates for the Naples campaign say tourists understand that protecting coastal tourism is key for the future of the region. Italy is dealing with a major crisis brought on by the lack of tourism, as Europe struggles to combat falling visitor numbers.
And it’s not just cities like Rome and Naples at risk. Italy’s coastline is in fact the most trafficked in Europe, which has led to the degradation of many ecosystems there and a rise in trash and pollution.
“The problem isn’t just the congestion and the pollution. It’s the impact on nature,” the foundation director said.
In just the last six months, 70% of its habitat has been altered in Venice alone, the director added.
“I don’t have to point out how thousands of tourists are turning Venice into a concrete jungle of trash and garbage. I know it very well,” the director said.
And what are they doing about it?
No one knows for sure, but they have to start somewhere. The Francesco Grimaldi foundation is working on this with coastal communities and is also tackling the problem from a different angle. The foundation, founded by the spirit of Niarchos, last month began a five-year project to repair and replenish the habitat of the Acropolis, starting in collaboration with local communities in Greece and dubbed “Project Bond”.
“What do you do about the environment when you already have the tourists in cities and you’re living in close proximity to them?” the director said. “We are living in a village within a city, yet our whole national policy is done based on tourism.”
So the plan is to attract more tourists to nature in Italy.
They’re training volunteers, offering surfing tours, and improving beaches to attract more bird-watchers.
Experts say that over the next five years, Italy will spend around $40 million with the help of the Francesco Grimaldi foundation, all designed to help return Italy’s beaches to their