Most mornings, you won't find me scrambling out of bed to make it to an 8 a.m. ecology class. But when the teacher is Paolo Fanciulli, the classroom is a fishing boat off the Tuscan coast and the lesson plan involves an onboard lunch of freshly caught fish, I'm up as early as I need to be.
On a recent, sunny Tuesday morning, I arrived with some friends at the port in Talamone to spend a day with Fanciulli, an energetic 41-year-old fisherman who takes tourists for boat rides along the coast of the Parco Naturale della Maremma, a national park of umbrella pines and wild, scrub-covered hills on the Tuscan coast about 60 miles south of Siena. Fanciulli has been leading these trips for 10 years as one of the pioneers of the eco-conscious pescaturismo trend, which combines outdoor adventure with an up-close look at the local environment. The tours are Fanciulli's way of helping to protect the sea where his father taught him to fish, and of showing off the beauty of his native region. Besides having spent a lifetime as a fisherman, Fanciulli is an official park guide and a member of Greenpeace; his fishing boat, Sirena, flies World Wildlife Fund flags.
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Our group met in front of Sirena, stowed our bags in the cabin and departed for Le Cannelle, an inlet where icy freshwater springs meet the sea. As we navigated along the mostly rocky shoreline, Fanciulli pointed out some rare dwarf palms, a peregrine falcon in her nest and an old Etruscan port that local fishermen call Grotta del Buco, where he found an amphora as a kid. We cruised over sea-grass meadows, patches of nutrient-rich vegetation that, Fanciulli said, have been partially destroyed by illegal dragnet fishing; without sea grasswhich produces oxygen, protects the coast from erosion and serves as a habitat and food source for many young fishthe ecosystem is endangered.