They are our sentinels of the sea – iO Donna

They are our sentinels of the sea - iO Donna

OREach of these marine scientists, five young Italian women, has a passion. They all chose to leave to follow her.

“Out of the comfort zone for the salvation of corals”

Alessandra Giannascoli 39 years old, Cairns, Australia

alessandra giannascoli

Alessandra Giannascoli

The passion for the sea and corals was born in his Pescarabut Alessandra Giannascoli’s dream job found it in northern Queensland. After graduating in marine biology in Ancona, a masters degree at James Cook University led her to work for the Great Barrier Reef Park, 2300 kilometers kept in constant eye by the sea and the sky. A double job, Master Reef Guideto sensitize tourists on the need to protect marine ecosystems, e researcher engaged in monitoring.

Save the corals from bleaching

“Corals are at risk of bleaching due to rising temperatures, one degree in the last twenty years,” he explains. «A catastrophic variation also determined by the little rainfall. Rainwater, in fact, stratifies and maintains the temperature of the cold sea, something that does not occur with drought ». Due to thermal stress, corals expel zooxanthellae, the unicellular organisms that live in their tissues, and that determine their colors. “Bleaching is not an end in itself, but triggers a chain: corals become more fragile and vulnerable to attack by viruses and predators, until they die“.

An increasingly frequent phenomenon. The latest alarm came last March, after a very dry season. «Most of the monitoring is carried out on approximately nine per cent of the Barrier, which represents the statistical average of the areas visited daily by tour operators. That’s why my next step will be to buy a boat and get out of this “comfort zone”: corals are a mission to which I have decided to dedicate my life“.

“Ocean acidification reduces algae species”

Lucia Porzio 39 years old, Tsukuba, Japan

Marine biologist Lucia Porzio: from Pompeii to Tsukuba, Japan.

Marine biologist Lucia Porzio: from Pompeii to Tsukuba, Japan.

Among the lesser known consequences of global warming is ocean acidification. He studies it at Tsukuba University Lucia Porzio, marine biologist originally from Pompeii. “The acidification is due to the lowering of the oceanic pH, caused by the absorption of carbon dioxide present in the atmosphere”. The sea absorbs about 25 percent of anthropogenic CO2, but in recent decades its neutralization has become more precarious due to the greater quantity of emissions. “According to forecasts, by 2100 the pH could drop by 0.3 points.” Sentinels of these changes, algae.

Observe the algae to save the seas

“The species more sensitive to acidification, such as the calcareous ones, are replaced by simpler algae, while rising temperatures are causing the disappearance of underwater brown algae forests. At the same time, the vegetation of the warm seas tends to move towards the north with the establishment of tropical alien species; a widespread problem especially in temperate latitudes, including the Mediterranean, which has a slower turnover than the open sea ». A study just published in the journal Frontiers in Marine Science from the Zoological Anton Dohrn station of Naples, Ischia and Amendolara has shown that acidification even alters the odors emanating from macroalgae. The phenomenon could lead the organisms that inhabit them to behaviors that are harmful to their survival.

“Dance with the sharks and overcome fear with them”

Sara Andreotti 38 years old, Stellenbosch, South Africa

Sara Andreotti, from the study of coral reefs to that of large predators.

Sara Andreotti, from the study of coral reefs to that of large predators. Photographer: Stefan Els

Swam with any type of shark, but Sara Andreotti, Friulian marine biologist transplanted to South Africa, has a soft spot for white ones. “They are the most curious, they come close to see what I do underwater,” she says from Stellenbosch, where she has worked since 2009. Sara is one of the founders of Shark Safe Barrier Ptya start-up that he created a barrier to promote a peaceful coexistence between sharks and people. “It mimics kelp forests, the giant algae that grows along ocean coasts. The idea was born observing the behavior of sea lions, which to escape predators take refuge in these intricate systems of macroalgae “, he explains.

An ecological reef for sharks

“Made with a series of flexible tubes anchored to the seabed, the barrier has inside of the magnets that act on the Lorenzini ampoules, the sense organs with which the sharks identify the electromagnetic fields emitted by any prey: in front of the barrier they stop“. The poles adapt to the wave motion, emerge about half a meter from the water and are clearly visible from boats and swimmers. “There are no contraindications. Over time the system becomes a natural reef and does not harm any species“. The testing of the first prototypes, carried out in South Africa and the Bahamas, has given excellent results, and now the project is looking for funding to be exported. “The aim is to eliminate the gill nets, installed to” protect the beaches “but which, in fact, trap and kill sharks and other animals”. Furthermore, barriers create work. “Once installed, they require little maintenance, entrusted to previously trained local staff”.

Orlando Bloom, thrilling encounter at sea: a shark passes him within a meter

Orlando Bloom, thrilling encounter at sea: a shark passes him within a meter

“Among the ice, listening to the song of the killer whales”

Valeria Serafini 31 years old, Skyervøy, Norway

Valeria Serafini, guide and scientist.

Valeria Serafini, guide and scientist. Photo Daniel John Benton

From Italy to Norway, passing through Egypt, Spain, Ireland and Australia, following the passion for the sea: Valeria Serafini, 31, originally from Riccione, works between Skyervøy and Tromsø. «Since 2020 I have been part of the team of Ocean Soundsa private company that studies the impact of noise pollution on cetaceans. I mainly deal with killer whales and the consequences of noisesboth temporary and permanent, on their auditory system. ”Studies also confirm behavioral alterations.

Silence the killer whales

Killer whales are very vocal, they communicate with each other with an infinite number of dialects: when a boat approaches they become quieter, or increase the tone; the hypothesis is that the noise of the engines could mask their calls ». The way they move is also affected. “Sometimes, for example, they disappear and spend more time underwater, to disperse without being seen.”

Valeria is also engaged as a guide. «I collaborate with Brim Explorera company that uses a hybrid boat, to reduce the problem of pollution in the sea: I tell tourists that just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. More awareness and respect are needed, that’s what I try to convey every day“.

“Guaranteeing rights and tranquility to whales”

Giovanna Bertella 48 years old, Tromsø, Norway

Giovanna Bertella, economist and researcher.

Giovanna Bertella, economist and researcher.

At the University of Tromsø, Giovanna Bertella, from Florence, in Norway since 1999, teaches Economics and at the same time is involved in research. To push it, the evolution of local tourism, which in the last twenty years has exploded, transforming the Arctic capital into a popular destination. “Visitors come mainly for whale watching, from October to February, when the cetaceans follow the migration of the herring and choose these seas to feed. Un moment it should be quiet, but it isn’t“.

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Protect the whales from tourists

Norway has no precise regulation. “There is a lack of laws, both local and national, on how many boats can approach animals at the same time, at what distance and at what speed. Potentially dangerous episodes are frequent, this is why with international researchers we propose a regulation of whale watching“. A challenge that has not yet been taken up by the authorities. «Unfortunately, the economy comes first. The migratory flow of cetaceans is cyclical and in a few years they could choose other seas: you want to take advantage of the moment as much as possible to take advantage of it, but we don’t give uprespect for animals must be a priority ».


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