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Italian divers’ captial? land-locked Milan

By Eleonora de Sabata, 13th February 2013

As of Friday morning, Milan will be the hub of all Italian divers meeting for the 21st EUDI dive show. It will be a golden opportunity to meet old and new friends and ask them about the mermaid’s purses – the eggs of the larger catshark – they see in their dives, which is our low-tech way to pinpoint some of the breeding areas of this shark. Direct interviews to the owners/staff of diving centers will be a key step to close the first part of our survey.

So far results have been very interesting – see the poster we presented at the European Elasmobranch Association meeting last November. The picture emerging is quite clear: this shark does not live (anymore? never has? who knows) all along the coast, but there are some hotspots where lots of eggs can be seen at any time while scuba diving.

Divers lucky enough to visit the Gulf of Naples and its enchanted islands – Capri, Ischia, Procida, a little further up the coast in Ponza and Ventotene – unanimously agree: this is the place to go. A seamount in particular, Banco di Santa Croce, stands out as the nursehound "creche". Other hotspots can be found further north on the Tuscan coast and up in Liguria, and south in the Strait of Messina. We did not expect to find many along the Eastern side of Italy, where the seafloor is mostly muddy. And yet wherever small reefs emerge – as they do roughly off Venice – mermaid’s purses AND nursheounds can be found as well.

These results are the first picture of the breeding ground of a near-threatened species, and they are due entirely to the help of divers, unknowingly doubling up as scientists: citizen-scientists, on whom MedSharks relies so much for many of our research programs like Operation Baslong Shark. Many researchers around Europe told us they’ll try to replicate it in their waters. Meanwhile, thanks to all the divers who partecipated and thanks to SOSF and co-sponsor ADISUB for helping us!

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