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Maritime Forum

European Atlas of the Seas short interview – Martina Gaglioti

This short interview is part of a series of publications that will allow you to discover the work and activities of experts. This time, we meet Martina Gaglioti, a marine biologist and a diver in Italy.


Martina Gaglioti is a marine biologist with a background in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and scientific diving. She is a diver since she was 9 and she is absolutely enthralled by the marine environment in all its life-forms and geological features. Until now, she has worked for several research institutes and universities and her daily commitment to date is in the field of ocean literacy. Since 2021 she is also a member of the European Marine Science Educators Association (EMSEA) Med working group and she collaborates with the main SCUBA Diving teaching agencies and IOC-UNESCO in order to fill the gap between the world of academic research and the other representatives of civil society. She has been among the first recipients of EMODnet prizes in the framework of the OPEN SEA LAB Hackathon held in Antwerp in 2018 and since then she proudly followed the growing of the EMODnet cartographic infrastructure, up to the current version of the European Atlas of the Seas. Her research interests are focused at the interface between marine conservation and socioeconomical implication of this delicate field of research.

How did you get interested in marine biodiversity?

Very nice question, maybe my first approach with marine biodiversity came even well before being able to define it in a proper way. My father was a diver, I was around 4 or 5, but I still clearly remember every time he came back from his dives and rinsed the equipment in the terrace at home. It was the moment when I secretly tried to breathe from his regulators hoping to taste the sea from some residual salty droplets that might come out of the mouthpieces. Fortunately, a few years later I had the opportunity to officialise my role in the diving community, acquiring my first diving license, as Junior Open Water Diver, in a small islet of a Maldivian Atoll. Since then, I continued exploring the sea travelling around the Globe with my diving and photo equipment as most loyal travelling companion and adding academic and research skills a few years later, to find some answers and finally classifying with the correct terms some of my ancient curiosities. Beside the underwater experiences, even living in the first Biosphere Reserve of the World had a crucial role in shaping my interests: in summertime I was used to spending spare time along the sandy shores or diving in the small islets around the Circeo Promontory and having a look on the coastal wetlands nearby. These are still intriguing places, belonging to the Natura 2000 network, definitely suitable to discover biodiversity in all its fascinating forms and complexity.

You have recently developed a manual on marine biodiversity for divers. What gave you the idea to do this and what would you like divers to learn from this manual?

I’m one of the main authors of the manual, this is correct, but I’d like to clearly define it as the most successful outcome of a fruitful collaboration, conceived with a bottom-up approach, engaging other environmental scientists and representatives of the diving industry sector. Indeed, this is part of a wider initiative which moved its very first steps from a personal idea aimed at translating the recently published “Med Sea Literacy Brochure” into a more tangible outreach tool applicable in the diving daily work life. You know I’m a diver since I was 9, so I knew this field even well before turning this “fatal attraction” into a multi-perspective professional commitment. Therefore, I daily try to keep what I learned from my “under pressure” experiences, reasoning below the surface, to fill the gap which unfortunately still existing between the scientific community and other society representatives. If you have the occasion to read it, you will discover that the manual actually is more than a simple teaching material on marine biodiversity or diving techniques. We conceived it as a travel between the geological history of an ecologically relevant area - the Tavolara Marine Protected Area (MPA) - and the outstanding demonstrations of biodiversity developing around this intriguing seascape. In this travel tour, our funny diver “Bloop” is constantly supported by local ecological knowledge and the graphic component of his novel comes out from photos and drawings entirely obtained from field-based observations. In the attempt to build on our previous experience and in order to provide a tool with a popular slant that can be understood by a wide audience of users and at the same time rich in scientific value, we decided to combine our strengths and our forces and technical-scientific skills. We hope that this popular project will, in addition to enriching the existing educational offerings of our reference educational agencies (PSS- Professional SCUBA Schools;, also represent the first step towards a shared model and an example of a participatory approach to marine conservation, potentially exportable to other MPAs and coastal areas.

What is the most amazing discovery you have made while diving?

This is not an easy question, especially after thousands of dives, since every dive hides its own amount of surprise. What I can say is that every dive, even if finalised several times in the same site, is different from the previous one. In these 22 years of diving activities, I explored several ecosystems: from the Indonesian and Maldivian tropical reefs, to the Sardinian caves, to the Mediterranean seagrass meadows or macrophytes, up to the coralligenous outcrops and shallow water hydrothermal vents in Southern and Central Tyrrhenian Sea. I travelled a lot also in Northern Europe (Germany, Belgium, France) and in the Black Sea (Bulgaria, Turkey) where my “dives” where mainly walking or swimming along the coastline shores, but in the same way rich of hints from the “wet world”. To date, the most wondering moments have been when I had the occasion to discover the presence of invisible microorganisms exploiting particularly favorable conditions in volcanic seabed or bubbling gas emissions in the Aeolian Archipelago, or when, after hundreds of dives in the same area of Tavolara MPA, the most representative seagrass of Mediterranean Sea gave me a clear hint of the “season ending” through an unmistakable and surprisingly fall flowering event. Another event I often like to remember is when I worked as a dive guide in another protected site of Sardinia where I was used to showing to incredulous divers colonies of red coral at a depth of about 6-7 m: a sign that if we know how to preserve our resources, even our home-sea is capable of surprising us.

What should we all know about marine biodiversity?

Marine biodiversity is the higher expression of nature greatness. Understanding the rules behind ecosystem complexity and life-traits behind single organisms’ life means disclosure of essential rules which may guide us even in our daily life onshore. Every species extinction is a heritage loss in terms of functions, genetic information, diversity, complexity and healthiness. We might consider it when we act in an unsustainable way or moving far from the nature’s rules. We should reflect on these aspects when we act in an unsustainable way or moving far from the nature’s rules animated from other thought.

What is your favorite map in the Atlas? Why?

My favorite map layer is “submarine volcanoes”, rather than being the most relevant in terms of data amount maybe because I have an ancient curiosity toward this field of research. Just consider that for my parents the only way to take me away from the water when I was a child and I went to the beach in summertime was building volcanoes with the sand instead of the more common “sand castles”… Except from this personal insight, I really appreciate the multidisciplinary approach of the European Atlas of the Seas because it reflects the attitude which characterized my scientific activities since the very first stages: I’m a marine biologist but I’m fascinated by the Earth Sciences in general and after a MSc thesis on hydrothermal vents I specialized also on GIS analysis for conservation purposes, with a more socioecological perspective, in order to broaden my skills on other aspects historically closer to geological and social disciplines.

Could you say, in your mother language (with a translation into English), how you feel connected to the ocean?

“Non possiamo proteggere ciò che non conosciamo” (“We cannot protect what we do not know”). I think this might be the leitmotif in the daily life of those who work with nature and even more so with the marine environment. Ecosystems are complex subjects and even the socio-ecological aspect behind their preservation requires a deep understanding of different dynamics. I believe that the Ocean (yes, there is just one Ocean!) starts many miles away from coastal areas and relies on our daily habits and our cultural awareness to survive and provide a healthy lifestyle.

Thank you, Martina!

Wish to learn more about Martina’s work? Read the publications below!