Woes of Venice Lagoon tackled in U.S.
The Venice Lagoon is struggling with pollution and rising sea-levels. The Forum for the Venice Lagoon has come to the United States for help.
The Laguna Veneta or Venice Lagoon in all its charm and splendor is the focus of a new saga that doesn't involve art or wealthy Venetian shipping families. It has been plagued by pollution, and lots of it, for a long time.
Canals throughout Venice serve the purpose of transportation and sewer system. Farming, manufacturing plants and large ships add to the growing list of polluters.
The Forum for the Venice Lagoon, a non-profit organization for the protection and development of Venice, Italy, and the lagoon surrounding the historic city is setting up shop at the University of Minnesota's College of Architecture and Landscape Architecture to try and solve some of the problems the lagoon is currently up against.
The group recently made an agreement with the college for ongoing collaboration on a program of work to help the lagoon and as part of the agreement the college will provide an office to the group for its American-branch operations.
"The Venice Lagoon is very important. Venice is a world heritage site. We would like to work closely with them (the forum) to help develop research projects and an educational agenda and the issue of how to develop the islands in the lagoon," said Dr. Arthur Chen, professor of architecture at the University of Minnesota. "Because commercial purchase is imminent."
"Those sites could become disasters because (purchasers) will not have a good idea about the ecological issues in the lagoon," said Chen.
The Venice Lagoon has struggled with pollution and rising sea levels for years. This summer, along with a campaign by the Venetian authorities to dissuade some
of the city's 12 million annual visitors to take it easy on the islands' 70,000 residents, Greenpeace activists are giving tours to polluted areas of the lagoon.
For many years a petrochemical and vinyl chloride plant at Porto Marghera, on the mainland, have been accused of polluting the lagoon. Greenpeace activists take tourists on a 40-minute "poison tour," showing them evidence from the 1920s industrial era. Participants see sights from smokestacks to red mold on the banks a sign of toxic waste.
Greenpeace's most recent claim is that mussels poisoned from carcinogenic pollutants in the lagoon are illegally gathered in the dark of night and sold to nearby restaurants. Venetian authorities have denied this accusation.
In addition to mussels, anemones, crabs, cuttlefish, oysters and sea bass are some of the animals that call the lagoon, with an average depth of two feet, home. And since all this food is readily available, swans, cormorants, ducks and spoonbills soar above the gray water.
Pollution in Venice's waters ranges from agricultural runoff to human waste.
Agriculture runoff is also a source of lagoon pollution. Every time it rains, chemicals are washed into the lagoon, creating a thick layer of algae that clogs the lagoon during the summer months. This is a serious problem in dead areas called laguna morta, which aren't washed out by the fluctuating tides of the Adriatic Sea.
Venice is also struggling with rising sea levels that often flood the city, causing repetitive damage to ancient structures. The results of an archaeological project reported in the June issue of Antiquities show the inhabitants of Venice, as far back as the third century, dealt with rising tides. The study's lead author also said the proposed remedy, a series of mobile floodgates, might not be the answer to the problem.
The Forum for the Venice Lagoon plans to meet with representatives of scientific institutions with specialized knowledge related to problems of the Venice lagoon and learn from successful citizen-based projects. They also plan to solicit support for joint projects that deal with, among other things, sustainable development for the unique conditions characteristic of the lagoon, re-settlement and revival of the economy on the smaller abandoned islands, job creation for young residents and re-naturalization of previously reclaimed areas.
Founded in 1991, Forum for the Venice Lagoon has supported and participated in many environmental information and participation initiatives with financing from local authorities, the Italian Ministry of the Environment and the European Union.
The group is also a member of the European Network of Urban Forums for Sustainable Development and has EU support to start a network for environmental education and job creation in Mediterranean and Black Sea countries.
The group has planned two open-house meetings, one in Boston on Oct. 4 at 6 p.m. at The University of Massachusetts and another in New York on Oct. 7, 6-8 p.m. at The Italian Institute of Culture.
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