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Reflections before moving on
Giuseppe Di Carlo, WWF Mediterranean Marine Initiative

After twelve incredible years, I will be leaving WWF at the end of this month. In 2011, I relocated from Washington DC to Rome to take on a job with WWF. I was excited to be able to put my skills at work for the Sea that is my home.

At that time, WWF had less than a handful of regional projects and the idea of a regional initiative was still brewing. In 2014, the WWF’s Offices in the region committed to a regional initiative, which I had the opportunity to lead from 2015 to today. Looking back, I felt the opportunity to build a regional initiative was a once in a lifetime gig. We needed to create cohesion internally while engaging partners and donors. Yet we were certain that it was the right approach. And we were right. Today, the WWF’s Mediterranean Marine Initiative is a solid and well-established program, with over 20 regional projects that deliver on a single strategy for the Mediterranean Sea. Through the initiative, we significantly scaled up our engagements, impact, and funding, both public and private.

None of this could be possible without the support of the WWF Network, but most especially of partners and donors. When I think back at the last ten years, it is impressive to see how much the Mediterranean marine landscape has changed. Many partners have grown and consolidated their business, new partners or coalitions emerged and the donor community grew to be more diverse. The role of civil society and NGOs have been more central in decision-making and that helps to accelerate progress towards a better management of resources.

Recently the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM) published their State of Mediterranean Fisheries Report. The report shows incredible grow in biomass in certain species (i.e. sole and mullets) and an overall improvement for fish stocks. This is a new trend for the Mediterranean that for decades was considered the most overfished sea in the world. For several years, WWF’s biggest conservation battle was focused on the recovery of the Atlantic Bluefin Tuna. Today, data shows how bluefin biomass has grown significantly above expectations and the stocks fluctuates around safe biological limits. The last decade, which I was fortunate to witness, has seen an outstanding positive change for the Mediterranean Sea. This year alone, the Mediterranean was the first regional sea convention to adopt the 30x30 protection target, now also adopted by the CBD in Montreal. MPAs and no-take zones have flourished and demonstrated their proof of concepts, with more and more local fishing communities engaging in protecting the resources they depend on. WWF was likely one of the pioneers of fishing co-management (through our work in Spain). Today co-management is embedded in several resource management regulations, it is a keystone of the Regional Plan of Action for Small Scale Fisheries, and it will soon become a component of fisheries management laws in several countries.

I could probably go on for a while to show how the last decade saw significant progress, including new policies and directives (i.e. ban of single use plastics) and the newly established SECA (sulphur emission control area). I won’t, don’t worry. But I am very proud of how WWF engaged in several of those battles; the approach has always been to bridge policy and work on the ground, remaining close to the needs of stakeholders and attentive to practical solutions that account for the impact of conservation on the livelihood and welfare of coastal communities. It has been said that our approach was (at times) tarnished by being too close to fishers or the fishing sector. However, only by being close to fishers you can understand their problems and challenges and you can co-design solutions. Campaigns that are designed away from the reality of the fishing sector are always bound to fail. I can certainly say that our relationship with MPA managers, fishers, tourist operators and the like has never prevented us to demand policy and regulation changes that are needed to achieve conservation and the sustainable use of resources.

None of what we did or achieved could be done alone and I am grateful to several partners who joined us, supported us and in some cases opposed us. Everything helped us to grow and do better. Several donors, from a diversity of countries, believed in what we did and funded our work. This helped us to remain focused and make strategic choices while growing our program. When I started in 2015, the Mediterranean Marine Initiative had about 10 staff across the region. Today we have over 40 staff operating and implementing projects in more than 12 countries.

The frustration of how much is still left to do is, of course, still there. The most iconic example for me are sharks: how several species are caught illegally and how so many countries still turn a blind eye. The killing of the pregnant female of white shark early this year in Tunisia is iconic of how much awareness, engagement, education and enforcement still needs to be put in place. Sharks are a fundamental element of healthy oceans and yet the level of shark killing, bycatch and illegal fisheries is still enormous, despite good policies and regulations in place (recently CITES included over 50 new species of requiem sharks in its Annex II).

As I prepare to leave, I reflect on the past twelve years, and I am overwhelmed by memories. I remember fondly the capacity building work for MPA managers conducted with MedPAN and RAC/SPA; the discussion that created the basis for the establishment of the MedFund; the MAVA partners meetings, and of course all the GFCM Commissions and Monaco Blue Initiatives I had the pleasure to contribute to.

I treasure the memories of being in the field, whether in Lastovo (Croatia), tagging bluefin tuna in Sicily, visiting Lavezzi (Corsica), visiting fishing ports in Malta, Israel and many other countries and working closely with MPAs in Italy and Turkey, sailing among sperm whales and pilot whales in the Pelagos Sanctuary onboard WWF’s Blue Panda.

The Mediterranean Community has been my family and will continue to be so. I am grateful for every opportunity and every memory. I am grateful to partners and friends. But I am most grateful to WWF’s Mediterranean Marine Initiative team for their trust but most especially for their dedication and passion that thought me so much. They are a team of conservation heroes. We went above and beyond our own expectations. It’s been a wonderful journey and this leg is over.

Now we look at what the next leg looks like and where it will take us.

Onwards and Upwards, Giuseppe