The underwater meadows of Pollica

26 May 2023

Swimmers may not like it but the presence of Neptune grass is important for the environment. The plant is endemic to the Mediterranean, and has roots, a stem, and ribbon-shaped, long, thin leaves, much like a terrestrial plant.

On the seafloor, there are Neptune grasslands which provide an ideal habitat for the proliferation of other marine organisms. In short, its presence is an excellent indicator of biodiversity and water cleanliness.

But, to return to the swimmers: what exactly is the problem? It’s the fact that, just like many terrestrial plants, Neptune grass has its own life cycle, at the end of which it loses its leaves. These are then carried to the beaches, causing an accumulation of leaves on the shore. These are widely disliked by beach-goers who are perhaps unaware of the service performed by the Neptune grass in terms of protection from coastal erosion. We talk about this with Stefano Pisani, a speaker at Slow Fish and Mayor of Pollica, where a major recovery project has been launched to make better use of beached Neptune grass leaves.

Beached Neptune grass: a resource

In Pollica, efforts to restore Neptune grass meadow go back quite some time. In 2014, Pisani talked about the experience of replanting Neptune grass in his town to curb the phenomenon of coastal erosion.

Neptune grass was seen as a long-term, completely natural solution to a problem which we find along much of the Italian coastline. The Mayor and his city did not stop there, however: “We will soon inaugurate n innovative plant to treat beached Neptune grass leaves, cleaning them of sandy debris and reusing them for energy production.”

This small processing plant will not be situated in an inconspicuous place, but on a nature trail frequented by locals and tourists alike. This, too, on closer inspection, is a forward-thinking action, as “our intent is to make everyone aware of the good practices being put in place by the local community. To explain how what is commonly seen as waste is actually an important resource.”

Restoring the beauty of the sea – June 3 at 12 p.m.

This conference gives a platform to a series of initiatives that are collecting waste from the sea, study the behavior of plastics in the water and on the coasts, that recover and recycle Neptune grass, and that propose alternative solutions to plastic nets for mussel farming… Together with Stefano Pisani, speakers include: Paolo D’Ambrosio, director of the Porto Cesareo Marine Protected Area; Franco Borgogno of the European Research Institute; and Marco Capello, oceanographer at the University of Genoa.

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100% sustainable

There’s more. In addition to having designed an innovative plant that is not aesthetically impactful, the entire Neptune grass recovery mechanism speaks of real, concrete, waste-free sustainability: “To clean the Neptune grass we use only non-potable water used for irrigation or washing boats. In addition, the energy produced will be used to cover the energy needs of 500 families.”

So here in Pollica tourists are not only greeted by the beautiful sea and the promise of good food. Here there is something more. Visitors have the chance to learn, and to become an integral part of a community which, in summer, swells from 2400 to over 40,000 inhabitants. As Pisani concludes: “The recovery of beached Neptune is just one of the many projects we have put in place. We’re at the vanguard of campaigns for waste sorting, water and public transportation, social housing, and against cigarette butts and single-use plastics.”

A small community, but one that’s evolving and adapting to meet its local needs with local resources: a community we invite you to come and meet for yourself at Slow Fish!

by Silvia Ceriani,

Slow Fish 2023 is organized by Slow Food and the Liguria Region, with the support of the City of Genoa. We’re in the Porto Antico of Genoa from June 1-4. Sign up to the Slow Food newsletter for the latest updates. #SlowFish2023

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