Every year huge numbers of loggerhead sea turtles mistake the waste thrown into the sea by man for food. They eat it and die.
Maya is lucky. She was rescued and saved and has now being released into the Marine Protected Area of Tavolara – a small island off Sardinia in the Mediterranean.
The amount of waste threatening creatures like Maya increases in the summer as tourists head to this paradise.
“Unfortunately there is a lot of plastic waste in the sea, in particular plastic bags, along the whole coast,” explains zoologist, Alberto Fozzi.
“Sadly turtles take them for jellyfish and eat them and this can obviously cause their death.”
The problem is much worse in the summer when large numbers of tourists swell the winter population of just 15,000.
They bring vital revenue but also an extra 2,000 boats and much pollution.
Those responsible for the Marine Protected Area are trying to reduce the impact of tourism on the environment.
“We can narrow down tourism where it is possible. It’s not possible in an area where tourist infrastructure hosts up to 130,000 people every summer,” admits Augusto Navone, director of the Marine Protected Area.
“In our case, we believe the only solution is to regulate tourist flow, allowing people to use the territory as the infrastructure already exists, but in such a way as to curb damage.”
One role is to ensure pleasure boats do not venture into restricted areas such as protected breeding grounds.
They also regulate scuba diving. There are only 11 mooring spots within the Marine Protected Area, and no more than two boats are allowed per buoy.
And together with Reef Check Italia, a non-profit making organization, they invite volunteers to collect data on indicator species on special dives.
Marine biologist, Massimo Ponti, says it is a successful programme.
“Scuba divers have collected data about the presence or absence of some organisms we were looking for. Now all this will be sent to a national database that collates information coming from all the other Italian Marine Protected Areas as well. The data means we can take stock of the quality of our seas and the conservation of species,” he says.
But it is important to protect the shore line too. Since 2005, tourists on Tavolara have been encouraged to use special walkways to cross the dunes to reach beaches.
Notice boards explain the importance of preserving the dunes and show how effective this simple measure has been.
“There were signs that the dunes were being trampled on excessively so we decided to put into practice precautionary protection measures,” says Navone. “In just a few years we can see that the dune vegetation, which is particularly vulnerable, has been protected.”
The Marine Protected Area tries to encourage the use of low emission motors on boats in the seas around Tavolara.
Another very important step has been the setting up of a special port on the island with a system for safe liquid waste disposal. Puntaldìa is one of the few ports in Italy where this is possible.
Navone explains: “Unfortunately Italian law still allows waste water discharge three miles from the coast. This is why we are trying to have ports equipped with technical systems so they do not need to discharge waste at sea anymore.”
There are 20 Marine Protected Areas in Italy covering some 184,000 hectares of sea and 580 kilometres of coast. Their work so far shows there are ways of protecting beauty spots while still allowing tourists to admire them.