Photo by Eleonora Sovrani

Venice wetlands to be “restored” with Green Deal funds

Venice is one of the wetlands — "transition" areas between water and land — that have been compromised by human activities. Venice and its lagoon are prime examples of this diversity and frailty. 

Thanks to Ca’ Foscari University of Venice and to the NGO We are here Venicea portion of the salt marshes among the more than 55,000 hectares of lagoon will be restored by WaterLANDS, in one of the first projects funded by the European New Green Deal. This first step will serve to demonstrate the importance of restoring this type of ecosystem.

WaterLANDS (Water-based solutions for carbon storage, people and wilderness), which passed a competitive selection in the Horizon 2020 programme, has been fully funded by the European Commission with over €23 million. It has 32 partners in 14 countries and will last 5 years — a period longer than most European projects —  in order to ensure that the best practices that will emerge from the project will be adopted on a local level.

These funds will also promote the development of new solutions that can be applied in different and wider areas starting with the 6 European sites that have been selected, including Venice.

Comprising diverse ecosystems including peatlands, fens, riparian marshes and coastal estuaries, wetlands are home to 40% of the world’s species. They also store and capture carbon, remove pollutants, and protect communities from flooding. Europe has already lost up to 90% of its original wetlands, resulting in massive biodiversity loss, water and food shortages, devastating floods and fires, coastal subsidence and erosion.

WalterLANDS aims to reverse this trend by addressing these challenges to ensure the resilience and health of both wetland habitats and the communities who rely on them. 

Venice as an 'action site'

The Venice lagoon is the largest coastal wetland in Italy (8% islands, 12% sandbanks, 13% mud flats, 67% water) and hosts a unique range of biotypes, sandbanks, reeds, seagrass meadows, and expanses of mud.

The integrity of the ecosystem is at risk due to the dramatic loss of salt marshes, ongoing erosion, and the limited addition of new sediments. These phenomena are exacerbated by urbanisation and erosion due to navigation, local water traffic, and the dredging of canals.

WaterLANDS aims to draw attention to the quality of the lagoon ecosystem by involving the local community and institutional and economic players. It aims to illustrate and explain the economic, social, and environmental benefits that are connected with the lagoon’s health. The project aims to accelerate and improve the regeneration of the lagoon, optimising the colonisation process of species that are typical of salt marshes, in order to maximise their ecological performance — especially in terms of carbon sequestration, water purification, and restoration of biodiversity.

Ca’ Foscari's focus on on economic aspects

In addition to field work, the project involves activities with communities and stakeholders in every project site, including Venice. The Department of Economics of Ca’ Foscari will work on analysing aspects such as intangible value, cost-benefit and cost-effectiveness.

"We will analyse value in terms of income and work for the activities in each site,” says Carlo Giupponi, head of the Ca’ Foscari WaterLANDS team and professor of Environmental Economics. “We will also study financial measures for the restoration solutions that will be identified.”

The loss of biodiversity is a risk that has economic and financial implications. In fact, making innovative investments in the restoration of these crucial areas could be very beneficial. Some Ca’ Foscari experts in sustainable finance, coordinated by professor Monica Billio, will explore this area. Investing in biodiversity could prove to be an attractive option for public and private investors, and it could benefit local communities.

The project is therefore part of Ca’ Foscari's research and teaching activities dedicated to the topical issue of sustainable finance.

“We are here Venice” is active in the field

The NGO We are here Venice (WahV) was created in 2015 with the goal of facing a fundamental challenge for Venice — that of remaining a “living” and “livable” city. We are here Venice will deal with everything related to the ecological part of the scientific research linked to the project. WahV is co-founded and directed by environmental scientist Jane Da Mosto and its mission is to promote an understanding of the city and the lagoon as inseparable elements within a single system, with a focus on the interaction between the natural environment and human intervention. Jane da Mosto will represent WahV as lead partner for the Venice “action site” of Waterlands.

The project’s scientific director is Camilla Bertolini, head of research at WahV and Marie Curie researcher at Ca’ Foscari. Bertolini is already working in the lagoon for the restoration of native oysters. She has carried out local and international knowledge reviews on intertidal zone restoration, and she has created a mathematical model for vegetation increase, to test optimal strategies for restoration (such as planting density) in the context of carbon offsetting.  

WahV’s artistic director Eleonora Sovrani will work on community involvement in the WaterLANDS project, focusing on the artistic field with a programme of artist residencies linked to the project.

"These issues are inseparable from WahV's mission, “ says Jane da Mosto. “We have an excellent knowledge base of the territory and we will be able to continue this work even once the European project has ended. Collaborating with the partners of this project is an extraordinary opportunity to create a network of excellence in the field — starting with Ca’ Foscari University of Venice, which we are really happy to collaborate with."

An international network

The project will start in December 2021 and will be coordinated by University College Dublin. It will bring together 32 organisations from research, industry, institutions and non-profit sectors in 13 European countries and the United Kingdom. “Previous attempts at wetland restoration have often been too localised or too fragmented to make a significant difference to the re-establishment of wetland ecosystems and species,” says Craig Bullock, project coordinator and researcher at University College Dublin. “In WaterLANDS, we aim to co-create a more effective means of restoration which captures ecological, social, governance and financial aspects, to connect habitats and communities across Europe, ensuring both thrive for many generations to come.”

Author: Enrico Costa / Translator: Joangela Ceccon