Vasto: The Surfers Saving Our Seas to Save Ourselves

 Did you know that Abruzzo has a cherished surf spot where the waves rise two metres outside the summer months and are visible on Google Earth?  This special bay, Grotta del Saraceno, attracts the 100,000-strong Italian surfing community and international surfers in the cooler seasons.  They adore this SiC (official site of community importance) that neighbours the Punta Aderci Marine Park.  

Back in time surfers were seen as hippy dudes, rarely portrayed as sportsmen in media or film. But the times changed and in 2020 surfing became an Olympian sport, so watch out for it in this year’s Summer Olympics! Surfing is now a serious international sport, the practitioners of which enjoy a keen relationship with the sea, ranking them amongst the most knowledgeable & vocal custodians and activists for our oceans.

Abruzzo’s surfers are no different; their waves, clean sea and ecosystem are threatened and they are in court to protect a vibrant living monument. It’s a precedent for Italy, a David and Goliath fight.  Italy is the famous champion of the fee-paying private lido beaches that last for one season, despite encountering recent blows from the EU for its dwindling free beaches.

 

An old-style form of breakwater made up of ballast and flooded barriers costing €3.5 million is being rushed through to shelter this ‘free’ space by the Mayor of Vasto, who is also the President of Chieti Province.  There are no critical issues that justify the breakwater’s construction; there are no homes or infrastructures which are endangered in this bay which, despite being a public area, gives the impression of a private area due to the lack of access routes to the sea and abundance of private property signs that have flourished with the growth of the campsite’s ‘sandy’ beach.

It aims to protect the camping village that sits above the cliffs.  Over the years this campsite has built itself a bigger and better sandy beach on Grotta del Saraceno to accommodate its customers while it is open for three months of the year.

Enroachment or Erosion

1999 Camping Il Saraceno

1999 Camping Il Saraceno

2001 Camping Il Saraceno

2001 Camping Il Saraceno

2005 Camping Il Saraceno

2005 Camping Il Saraceno

2009 Camping Il Saraceno

2009 Camping Il Saraceno

2013 Camping Il Saraceno

2013 Camping Il Saraceno

Carving Your Business a Beach

Trees have been cut down and imported sand gets washed out with the tide placed over earth-friendly pebbles that slow down erosion, it’s incredible to view how the ‘sandy beach’ has grown over the years.

Beyond a free beach and waves enjoyed by sportsmen, seven habitats and three species are threatened by this proposed breakwater construction. This is contrary to Regional Resolution 494 of 2017, which approved conservation measures and highlighted the need to implement objectives and measures to protect these habitats, with particular attention to the “reconstruction of coastal dunes”. Neither does it comply with Italian national directives set between 2016 -2018 on coastal erosion.  How has such a law-breaking construction been allowed to get to this stage?

Added to this is Vasto’s existing problem of blooming Ostreopsis Ovata algae that flourish in warm waters with poor circulation.   For example last year, swimming was restricted at some of Vasto beaches between the 8th and middle of August 2023 because of the algae.  It does seem odd to exacerbate this problem and chance an outbreak on existing waters that don’t suffer.

Funds for the Many, Not the Few

It is estimated that replacement sand costs €30k per annum, pretty affordable for a campsite whose annual turnover is almost €2 million.  If its 16 shareholders reduced their premium payout by a smidgen and lost €1.600 per annum, surely that would be fairer than imposing a split of €3.5 million upon the local taxpayers, who may not even visit this beach, and the culling of popular activity for others the rest of the year-round that causes no environmental damage.

More Facts, Less Fiction Please

The online news portal Wanted in Rome summed up the politics and power play of national beaches, “In Italy, where local administrations play a key role in regulating and policing the activities of lidos on beaches, local politicians and lidos have often fostered close relationships. It is well-known that regional votes can be won in small coastal communities by turning a blind eye to illegal constructions on beaches and their shadow economies, where cash is often king.”  

This coupled with compliant local media that portrays the sea as a devilish force that is out to submerge low-lying coasts and trigger landslides yet refuses to add in the same breath that erosion is down to climate change means on the question of erosion there is a bottomless pit of ignorance. Talk to most people and they will blame the sea for erosion and talk about breaking it rather than fighting against climate change.

Surfers and local citizens have joined together as a committee named ‘Litorale Vivo’ to fight this.  It aims to promote a modern vision in fighting erosion and preserving the coast. “We are against this type of project,” explains Antonio Mercorio, president of Litorale Vivo, “because basically it does not take real needs into account and will irreversibly modify a stretch of coastline that is still immaculate.”

Breakwaters should only be considered as the last resort of a holistic adaptive management policy that carefully considers a site’s local characteristics and the potential effects on the whole coast. There are already low-cost design alternatives with lower environmental impact that had been signed off in 2017, why spend more and lose a bay to anything beyond lying on the beach for the summer?

Help Litorale Vivo Fight for Grotta del Saraceno

If you can make a small contribution to the committee’s GoFundMe to pay for their legal fees, please consider donating to save the ‘wave’ and save the bay.

Latest Press by La Repubblica

 

With thanks to Riley for setting up meetings and alerting Life In Abruzzo

Sam Dunham
Author: Sam Dunham

Sam is a very lucky midlife 'mamma' to A who is 12 and juggles her work as a self-employed freelance SEO food and travel copywriter and EFL teacher. She is the founder of the Life In Abruzzo Cultural Association, co-founder of Let's Blog Abruzzo. she is the founder of the 'English in the Woods' initiative, teaching English outdoors in a forest style school.


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