Fishermen and our project: a message from Daniela
I arrived in Lampedusa 20 years ago, involved in the protection program for sea turtles that WWF Italy had carried out at national level since 1985 in collaboration with the University of Rome. I certainly did not think that this island so far away from my loved ones, from my world would become my home for so many years. I knew it would be exciting, but didn't fully understand how exhausting the efforts could be to save a precious treasure of the Mediterranean - the sea turtle. Yet today, after more than twenty years, I cannot imagine having done anything else.
More than the thousands of tourists, enchanted by the beauty of this rock and its surrounding waters, I was fascinated with the rough and little understood life of the fishermen. It is almost impossible to describe the differences I saw in Lampedusa many years ago, when it was but a small lost village in the sea. My first meetings with the fishermen, were and continue to be unforgettable. Their amazing stories describe the sea through their adventures, their labors, the dangers they encountered - and the damage they had unconsciously done to sea turtles, not having known the vitality of all animals to the delicate balance of the sea that sustains them.
Understanding that sea turtles are sometimes burdens to their humble yet vital work as fishermen makes it even more rewarding to convince them to do the right thing and respect this animal. Turtles are bulky and strong, have a painful bite, and get caught in their nets and on their lines that they would much rather have trap fish.
Yet, through consistent education efforts, we have the fishermen of this region to thank for saving over 3500 sea turtles. From originally conflicting views, and sometimes frustrating relationships, came a beautiful relationship.
I am so proud of the captains and their crews- men of few words, repeated gestures, few questions, and many answers.
The team at the Lampedusa Turtle Rescue Center and I try consistently to improve intervention and education activities, still without funding. We do because we understand the importance of the fisherman population in our work.
There are moments of frustration and many challenges despite the great work form our collaborators and volunteers, but work must continue, as it does for the fishermen as well. Every time we release a turtle, relieved to be back in its native environment, I think to myself how wonderful it is that our work can bring together many different worlds - scientists and fishermen alike.
-Daniela Freggi, Director