Field work: The Italian Job

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So the field season is fast approaching and for me that means five long weeks toiling under the summer sun in Italy… and I cannot wait!! Before Easter I made a mini-trip to Italy over 4 days to scout out my field sites, meet my collaborators from the Portofino Marine Protected Area authority (PMPA) and the local fishermen, all of whom have kindly given their time and expertise to help my project.

The day I arrived was the Santa Margherita Ligure Spring Festival where lines of people thronged the pavements and little cafes along the beach to enjoy the first day of spring with singing and freshly cooked treats handed out to the crowds. A particular favourite of mine was a salted crispy dumpling with flakes of fresh fish that tasted wonderful (like a savour doughnut!) What a welcome!

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The PMPA office is based in Santa Margherita, a large town which tumbles down the steep hillside to the sea. I am lucky enough to be staying here too, commuting via the PMPA boat to the local fishery in Camolgli, just around the headland. The fishermen use a type of small tuna trap, locally called the Tonnarella, where they catch a range of mid-sized pelagic fish (which are sold locally) alongside hundreds of ocean sunfish! These are considered toxic in Italy (owing to their close relationship to the puffer fish) and so cannot be landed. As such, they are removed from the net and put back into the water alive as unwanted bycatch, which should provide me with access to a ready supply of wild fish to work with.

While I am in Italy I will be attaching custom-made harness systems to ocean sunfish as this will provide me with a means of non-invasively attaching data-logging equipment to the fish. This harness is fastened like a belt, and releases by means of a weak link which will dissolve after a couple of hours. The belt will then release from the fish (leaving it totally unharmed), and float to the surface where a radio transmitter will enable me to recover it (all going well!) As a back-up plan, in case of bad weather or equipment failure, I have attached my details with a 30 euro reward for any harness which is returned to me or the PMPA.

So if you happen to be in the Italian Riviera this June/July and spot a long grey rubber belt on the beach with attached float please please please collect it, send it to the PMPA or pop in and claim your reward!! (along with my eternal gratitude!)

As always please feel free to contact me on:

nphillips01@qub.ac.uk or tweet me @sunfishresearch

And hopefully we will see many sunfish when I return in June… watch this space!!

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