On the morning of May 27th, the eighth day of Sea Shepherd's Operation Siracusa, a poaching operation was halted in the B-Zone of Plemmirio Marine Reserve. This was the fourth illegal operation quickly blocked since the start of this anti-poaching campaign.
The Polizia Ambientale (Italy's Environmental Police) intervened promptly and two divers carrying spearguns were caught in flagrante delicto ("red-handed"). The two poachers were fishing illegally, and the intervention by the Polizia Ambientale saved 500 sea urchins from certain death.
These sea urchins, along with the 500 confiscated from poachers and released back into the sea earlier in the week, make a total of 1,000 sea urchins saved during just the first eight days of Operation Siracusa.
Catching sea urchins is forbidden year-round throughout the entire Reserve. The fact that this poaching activity was carried out in the current preservation period constitutes an aggravating circumstance.
"The sea deserves the same level of protection that cathedrals are granted, and this is even more relevant in a seaside town such as Siracusa, a town which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site," said Captain Peter Hammarstedt.
Andrea Morello, National Coordinator of Sea Shepherd Italia and Leader of Operation Siracusa, added: "Thanks to the liberation of 1,000 urchins in a time-span of eight days and to three interventions against illegal fishing in cooperation with the Guardia di Finanza, the Coast Guard and the Polizia Ambientale, the sanctity of life within the Marine Reserve has at long last been given protection."
On May 28th, Sea Shepherd's crew disrupted another poaching operation - bringing the total to five since the campaign began only nine days earlier.
During the night, Sea Shepherd volunteers spotted a poacher onboard a boat with no lights on. The boat came to a stop in the B-Zone of the Plemmirio Marine Reserve, and then proceeded to the A-Zone. When the boat was just a few meters off the coast, the poacher set a longline into the water.
The Operation Siracusa team immediately alerted the Coast Guard, which responded with prompt intervention, stopping the poaching activity and escorting the poacher to the Port Authority Office. Once again, direct action made it possible to bring illegal activities to a halt in the Plemmirio Marine Reserve.
"Just as the Sea Shepherd Australia crew who took part in Operation Relentless were indeed relentless in saving 784 whales from poachers in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary, the crew of Operation Siracusa is relentless in enforcing the law to preserve life in the Plemmirio Marine Reserve", stated Andrea Morello, Campaign Leader and National Coordinator for Sea Shepherd Italia.
This week, a youth sadly lost his life in the Plemmirio Marine Reserve. The Sea Shepherd volunteers taking part in Operation Siracusa on the ground lent their assistance in the search-and-rescue operation. A second youth was saved, thanks to the deployment of naval and aerial rescue units of the local authorities.
Operation Siracusa is Sea Shepherd Global's first Italian Campaign. The aim is to protect the delicate ecosystem of the Plemmirio Marine Reserve, located in Sicily, by documenting poaching activities in this protected marine reserve and reporting to the local law enforcement authorities, with whom Sea Shepherd is cooperating in order to stop illegal fishing. The sea urchin and the Dusky Grouper are among the most at-risk species in the area. They are listed as highly threatened on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
The Plemmirio Marine Reserve is divided into three zones, each having a different level of protection relevant to the marine ecosystem -- from the A-Zone, where the most inflexible protection measures apply, to the C-Zone, where provisions are the least rigid. The A-Zone enjoys complete protection. No boats can sail in it or drop their anchor within its boundaries; it is forbidden to fish, to gather marine wildlife, and to dive. Underwater fishing is prohibited in all three zones; this also applies to gathering sea urchins, both using aqualungs and free-diving.
Moreover, a nationwide preservation period has been instituted and will be in force until June 30th, 2014. This means that sea urchins and other species may not be gathered during their reproductive season, in order to allow the animals to have a safe span of time for reproducing, growing and repopulating the area.
Sea Shepherd's direct intervention sends a clear message to the poachers who operate illegally within the Marine Reserve. They now know they are being watched and that the law will be enforced.