Forty-five minutes on a bus, then forty-five minutes on a hike. Then this view.
Ieranto Bay is part of the Marine Protected Area (MPA) of Punta Campanella that hugs the western coast of the Sorrento Peninsula. 6 square miles of sea and 20 miles of coast are under the ecological protection of the MPA. While certain areas restrict all access, the organization uses other areas, like Ieranto Bay, to emphasize environmental education through eco-tourism, kayaking, and volunteerism.
Students from Sant’Anna Institute in Sorrento contribute something special to the cause: Time, energy, and their semester. Thanks to the partnership between Sant’Anna and the MPA, students travel here to complete an internship with the Marine Protected Area while earning college credits through Sant’Anna and their U.S. partner Jacksonville University.
Over the course of five weeks this summer, Jonathan and Sara take the forty-five minute bus, then made the forty-five minute hike. Their time is split between working in Ieranto Bay and conducting research in the nearby marine institute. Neither of them have backgrounds in marine science. They are both biology majors with medical school in their futures. The draw to Ieranto Bay and southern Italy, however, enriches their personal and professional skills beyond their chosen field.
Along with a group of volunteers from the EU and Project M.A.R.E. the interns work to preserve the bay through functional activity and education. One of Sara’s projects with the MPA has involved researching U.S. marine protected areas and their methods, documenting her findings on the website. Jonathan is completing research on algae, measuring density, location, and taking inventory of the bay. He has previously demonstrated interest in marine environments, presenting an undergrad capstone project on the effects of algal blooms on human health. For both student interns, this experience is a rewarding highlight of the summer.
“The environment is something I’ve always been passionate about, but I’ve never really been actively involved,” Sara says. She has enjoyed the hands-on experience at Ieranto Bay, and is willing to talk about it with anyone who will lend an ear. The experience has been “honestly amazing.”
While actively fighting the ecological threats faced in the Mediterranean Sea, the interns educate the public and eco-tourists who visit the bay, as well as the boats that enter the prohibited area. The MPA aims to preserve posidonia, a slow growing sea grass unique to the Mediterranean Sea that is vital to fish survival. Nearly one-third of the posidonia has been destroyed in the past 50 years, due to boat anchors and water pollution.
By deterring motor boats from the bay, the interns are helping to preserve the posidonia. Jonathan’s favorite responsibility is “kayak police,” for which he paddles out to the boats before they drop anchor, educating them about the area and the MPA’s mission.
In addition to the internships, Sant’Anna offers a marine biology class that includes hands-on learning trips to Ieranto Bay and the surrounding Punta Campanella area. “Our students appreciate when they come and get to collaborate with them, whether it’s with a simple marine litter activity where we’re helping clean up the host community in these beautiful places… or the more intense and involved internship,” said Emily Hammeren, internship coordinator at Sant’Anna Institute.
The beauty of the Mediterranean Sea benefits from the involvement of ecologically active students. Detrimental human activity, the effects of climate change, and the invasion of alien species, are threats no single organization can solve. But the Marine Protected Area in Punta Campanella is on the front lines, educating and preserving what they can.
Jonathan and Sara say that the sweltering heat and required weekend work is totally worthwhile. They feel fulfilled in part because of the environmental mission of their work, and the message that they will continue to share long after leaving Sorrento. Preserving the environment is a passion and skill that will translate into any language wherever their future careers take them.
Photo credit: Sara Shahidi