Site details

(lookup in gazetteer)
Flag of Italy
5 stars - Fully protected as a national park or Natura 2000 site by national legislation
LTBR Reference Site

Map type: Google Maps  SVG (dynamic)  Image (static)

View of a common rocky habitat in the Tuscany Archipelago Photo:

Synoptic description of site:

This is the largest system of marine protected areas in Europe; it has extensive rocky coasts providing diversified assemblages of animals and plants.

Extensive description of site:

The Archipelago of Tuscany (AT) comprises 7 islands of different size and geological history. These islands provide the largest system of marine protected areas (MPAs) in Europe, with 61.474 Km2 of protected waters. The National Park was established in July 1996 with the primary aims of preserving natural habitats and promoting eco-tourism. Public access was prohibited before 1996 on some islands because of the presence of prisons (Gorgona and Pianosa), or because the locality was already a natural reserve (Montecristo). Lack of freshwater runoff and the prevailing west-to-east winds guarantee low turbidity and maintain temporal fluctuations in salinity within the bounds set by major oceanographic events. AT includes a wide range of habitats over a broad spatial scale (km). Rocky shores constitute the prevailing habitat characterising more than 90% of mid-shore coastal areas. Sandy beaches occur at Giglio and Elba, whereas mud flats are present only in the latter island. Subtidal habitats support extensive beds of the seagrass Posidonia oceanica that alternate with rocky substrata and sandy areas. On some islands (e.g. Gorgona), an interesting habitat of freely moving calcareous algae (maerl) occurs below the depth of 40m. Organisms also experience a diversity of conditions at smaller spatial scales, within habitats, due to changes in pysical and biological features of the environment. For example, in mid-shore and subtidal areas canopy algae alternate with turf-forming and encrusting coralline algae to provide different microhabitats for numerous species of invertebrates and for other algae as well. In shallow subtidal areas, continuous rocky reefs alternate with fragmented shores of boulders and outcrops of rock that support distinct assemblages of fishes.

Habitats present:
Littoral XX
Sublittoral XX
Seagrass bedsX

Description of fauna and flora:

The Tuscany Archipelago is a collection of pristine sites offering a unique opportunity to watch species and habitats that are becoming rare on other coasts. Flourishing beds of brown algae (Cystoseira spp.) are disappearing from shores close to urban developments, but they are still present at tidal levels and in subtidal areas at these sites. Remnant populations of species in danger of extinction, like the giant limpet Patella ferruginea, still thrive at Gorgona and Capraia. Populations of predatory whelks (Stramonita haemastoma) and crabs (Eriphia verrucosa) occur at high densities and large sizes in the Archipelago, whereas they are intensively exploited on the mainland. Detailed inventories of species have been published for several groups of organisms in the Tuscany Archipelago, including Diatoms, Macroalgae, Protozoa, Cnidaria, Ctenophora, Nematoda, Platelminta, Gastrotricha, Polychaeta, Tardigrada, Crustacea (Eucarida, Ostracoda, Copepoda, Harpacticoida, Mysidacea), Pycnogonida, Mollusca, Bryozoa, Echinodermata and Ascidiacea. These data have been published in Scientific Journals and as part of a multidisciplinary research programme on the physics, chemistry and biology of the Tuscany Archipelago (Nuccio 1993). In addition, quantitative data are available on patterns of distribution and abundance of most common species at spatial scales ranging from a few centimetres up to 100’s of km over a period of 4 yrs. These measures of spatial and temporal variation are important to design appropriate programmes that can reliably detect changes in these assemblages.

Pristiness: High


The Tuscany Archipelago comprises totally pristine islands and islands that are moderately urbanised. The influence of anthropogenic disturbance can be assessed within the Archipelago as well as within single islands that have both no-access and reference areas.

Human impact:

AT provides the best example of clean waters and pristineness in the region. With the exception of Elba, which is relatively large and urbanised, the islands have few inhabitants (2-30) and negligible residential development.


Most islands are accessible throughout the year by ferry, but there is no public service for Montecristo. Research activities are possible on all islands, but special permission is required for Montecristo, Pianosa and Gorgona. Permission is provided by the Ministry of Agricultural and Forestry and by the Ministry of the Environment; agreements exist with research institutions such as Universities to guarantee continuous research activities at these sites. Laboratory facilities at the University of Pisa can be reached within 6hrs from most islands, but more time may be needed from Montecristo. Boats for field work can be hired in different places along the coast to minimise the time spent moving from one island to another. Boats providing accommodation for 6-8 researches, including facilities for SCUBA diving, can be cheaper than renting a flat. Diving facilities are available at Capraia and Giannutri.

Available database and website:

EXCEL files are available on CD-ROM for quantitative data. These include measures of abundance of the most common species, estimates of diversity (number of taxa/sampling unit), indication of the spatial and temporal scales over which the data have been collected, a description of predictor physical or biological variables (if applicable), and the timing of sampling. Inventories of species are available either as EXCEL or WORD files. The Park of the Tuscany Archipelago has an official website.


Commitment and ongoing research:

The Tuscany Archipelago is an area of special interest for research on biodiversity of marine costal habitats in the Mediterranean. Ongoing research projects undertaken at the Dipartimento di Scienze dell’Uomo e dell’Ambiente (DSUA - University of Pisa) include: (1) quantitative analyses on patterns of distribution, abundance and diversity of species at various scales in space and time; (2) experimental tests of models to explain current patterns of biodiversity, to understand the consequences of loss of biodiversity and to predict future scenarios under forecasted climate change; (3) effectiveness of MPAs; (4) mapping of segrasses. DSUA has an agreed plan for research on biodiversity in the Tuscany Archipelago with an allocated budget.