Ancient and modern interest in the Secche della Meloria has persisted among scientific communities for some time. Since as early as the 1960s, this marine environment has attracted the interest of numerous researchers, who have conducted a number of studies focusing as much on individual species as on particular taxonomic groups (Cinelli, 1971; Cognetti, 1965; Cognetti-Varriale, 1972; Katzmann, 1972; Morselli, 1970; Sordi, 1969), and all authors have always emphasised the environmental and natural richness of this particular marine landscape.
Early studies focusing on the bathymetric and hydro-dynamic characteristics of the shoal (Fierro et al. 1969), seemed to suggest that the marine environments here were dominated by a prevalence of plant and algal populations of photophilic (sunlight-loving) species. By contrast, subsequent in-depth investigations, also involving geo-morphological and micro-biological aspects, have revealed that the rugged nature of the shoal means that there are areas of both light and dark, allowing for the settlement of significant sciophilous populations and greatly increasing the biological diversity of this area (Cinelli, 1971). Studies by Cognetti-Varriale (1972) also emphasised the high number of polychaete species discovered by analysing the infralittoral level in Meloria. According to these authors, the simultaneous presence of different environments – from organogenic sands and the pre-coralligenous to photophilic algae – offer different types of substrate, allowing for considerable diversity in the populations that settle there. Among the early studies conducted, that of Bacci (Bacci et al., 1969) was the first major attempt to provide a synecological overview of the entire area. In this paper, both data on the physical and chemical characteristics of Meloria and data on the dominant biocoenosis, with particular reference to the hard seabeds, were presented. The “basins” were also analysed and described for the first time in these studies, but in this case, the focus was more on their rock faces. This study was in fact the first to show that the waters of Meloria are very rich in nutrient salts and are highly hydrodynamic, which allows nutrients to be evenly distributed from the surface to the seabed, thus providing a high productive capacity for the entire water column.
The considerable natural value of the Secca was again emphasised a few years later in studies by Cognetti (1981), and it was indeed through the insights of this study that the first proposal to establish a marine protected area came about. This recognition was not, however, implemented for many years, but the stretch of sea off the Livorno coast was at least identified as a designated area in the Framework Law on Protected Natural Areas No. 394 of 1992.
In the 1990s, the G. Bacci Inter-University Centre for Marine Biology and Applied Ecology in Livorno continued and expanded on the early studies conducted and, on this basis, renewed the challenge for the establishment of a specific protection area, promoting new investigations aimed at verifying whether the characteristics necessary to justify concrete protection actions still existed and to investigate previously neglected aspects. Diving surveys conducted as part of these studies revealed that the rocky platform is covered with sediments of mixed grain size and sometimes of organogenic origin, with a vast meadow of Posidonia oceanica, which was revealed for the first time to cover about 75% of the surface of the platform, criss-crossed by inter-matte channels varying in size from 5 to 10 metres. Within the meadow, the identification of basin formations with faces up to 3 metres high was particularly noteworthy. These studies confirmed and emphasised that, despite its relatively limited size, the Meloria area is home to one of the richest and most productive biocoenoses in the Mediterranean (De Biasi, 1999), consisting first and foremost of Posidonia oceanica meadows, but also coralligenous beds on the shoal’s escarpments and environments typical of coastal detritus, as well as the unusual features of the basins that, due to their number, cannot be considered occasional depressions, but a real habitat in their own right (De Biasi, Gai, 2000). This combination of features elevates the environment of this marine area to exceptional levels of biodiversity.
The most interesting results of the studies carried out to date have therefore been to highlight a number of features and properties of the Secche della Meloria that have made this site suitable for the creation first of a marine protected area of national interest and then of a site of EU interest as part of the Natura 2000 Network.
The studies continue today with the environmental monitoring and scientific research campaigns promoted by the managing body of the marine protected area on the basis of the indications and specific projects proposed by the Ministry of the Environment.
Some bibliographical suggestions:
- Borchardt R., Pisa, Solitudine di un impero, Pisa: Nistri-Lischi, 1965
- Martini D. G., Gori D., La Liguria e la sua anima, Savona, Sabatelli Editori, 1965.
- Donaver F., Storia di Genova, Genova, Nuova Editrice Genovese, 1990.
- Vaccari O., Frattarelli Fischer L., Bettini M., Mangio C., Panessa G., Storia illustrata di Livorno, Pisa, Pacini Editore, 2006.
- Borghi L., Interrogativi sull’ubicazione dell’antico porto di Pisa romana e dei primi secoli della Repubblica Marinara, Pisa, Accademia dei Disuniti e Comune di Pisa, 2006.
- Banti O., Storia illustrata di Pisa, Pisa, Pacini Editore, 2010.
- Casarosa N., Bini M., De Biasi A.M., 2011. Morfologie relitte e antiche linee di riva delle “Secche della Meloria”. Studi Costieri 18: 43-52.
- De Biasi A.M., Gai F., 2000 I “Catini” delle Secche della Meloria. Carta dei fondali. Atti Soc. tosc. Sci. Nat., Mem., Serie B: 63-67.
- De Biasi A.M., Gai F., Pacciardi L., 2003. Benthicassemblage in a “catino” of the MeloriaShoals (Southern Ligurian Sea). Atti Soc. tosc. Sci. Nat., Mem., Serie B: 3-7.
- Gai F., De Biasi A.M., 2004. Il macrozoobenthos dei catini delle Secche della Meloria. Biol. Mar. Medit. Vol. 11 (2): 508-511
- Mazzanti R., 2012. Secche della Meloria