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"Race against the clock" to save Venice from sinking. How can such a catastrophic scenario be avoided?

Will Venice be swallowed by the waves in 2100? To avoid this catastrophic scenario evoked by scientists, the City of Doges tries to sensitize the younger generations regarding the protection of the lagoon.

"Acqua alta", a particularly high tide, regularly floods the famous St. Mark's Square, a phenomenon that entertains tourists, but which endangers the foundations of the ancient palaces of the Serenissima, included in the UNESCO World Heritage, writes AFP, quoted by Agerpres.

UNESCO threatened in 2021 to include Venice on the list of World Heritage in Danger, but the lake city escaped in extremis due to the ban imposed on large cruise ships entering the center of the lagoon.

To contribute to the protection of Venice, UNESCO, in collaboration with the luxury group Prada, launched an initiative on Tuesday aimed at introducing students between the ages of three and six to the secrets of the lagoon.

The island of Torcello, located to the north of the lagoon, with its salt marshes whose banks are eroded by the waves caused by motor boats, was the scene of the first outdoor lesson of this educational program called "Kindergarten in the Lagoon".

Fish made of recycled paper, samples of seawater, drawings that reproduce the colors of nature... the small group of about forty enthusiastic five-year-olds learned something about the lagoon.

"We want these children to learn to observe nature and the lagoon, learn to know it, love it and protect it better," Francesca Santoro, coordinator of UNESCO's Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC), told AFP.

Artificial dikes

This educational project is considered useful by Georg Umgiesser, director of research at the Institute of Marine Sciences in Venice (ISMAR-CNR), because "it is not enough to show simple graphs illustrating sea level rise".

"Under the effect of Venetian land subsidence and rising waters, the average sea level has risen by 30 cm in the last 150 years and is expected to rise by more than 50 cm by the end of the century," he explained to AFP.

San Marco Square, located in the lowest area of the city, is the first to be flooded, and "in 2100, half of Venice risks being underwater", fears this German oceanographer who has lived in Venice for 40 years.

Since October 2020, a system of artificial dykes called MOSE (Moses, in Italian) is activated as soon as the rise of the waters of the Adriatic Sea reaches an alert level of 110 cm.

Will this system, develop in the 1980s, before global warming accelerated, be enough to prevent Venice from being swallowed up?

According to Umgiesser, this mechanism risks reaching its limits. “MOSE was designed to shut down a maximum of 50 times a year. If sea level rise continues at this rate, it should be triggered 300 to 400 times a year by 2100," he said.

Biodiversity in danger

At that moment, the lagoon would be effectively closed, which would prevent the exchange of water with the sea, essential for the preservation of biodiversity.

One solution remains, which would consist in "raising the land of Venice by 30 to 50 centimeters by injecting seawater into its basement", explained Umgiesser. However, such a scenario is still far away.

Meanwhile, Jane da Mosto, director of the non-governmental environmental organization We Are Here Venice, relies on salt marshes as natural barriers to slow down the "acqua alta" and thus mitigate the currents.

Restoring these wetlands, decimated by climate change and urbanization, would be, according to her, a natural solution to save Venice and its lagoon.

"Salt marshes act like sponges and can, therefore, slow down the currents, dampen the energy of the waves and thus reduce the water level," the environmental specialist explained to AFP.

"It's a race against time. We must act now. We are in a (situation of) climate emergency, the disaster is already happening", warned Jane da Mosto.

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