Links of interest for

Italy : Tuscan Archipelago


The Italian National Association of Minor Island Municipalities (ANCIM) was officially founded on 8 June 1986 on the island of Giglio. It represents 36 municipalities with over 200,000 residents, a number that is known to grow to millions during the summer season. ANCIM list the challenges their islands have to overcome as being marginalization; gaps linked to insularity (education, social health system, infrastructures and transportation); development practices focused almost exclusively on tourism; and fractionated development efforts in the 36 municipalities to recover the strength of common and integrated actions.

Giglio forms part of the Tuscan Archipelago, a chain of islands between the Ligurian Sea and Tyrrhenian Sea, west of Tuscany. The other islands are Gorgona, Capraia, Elba (the largest island of the group), Pianosa, Montecristo and Giannutri; all of which are protected as part of the Tuscan Archipelago National Park and for this reason chosen as our case study.

Elba is the third largest island in Italy after Sicily and Sardinia and is situated 10 kms from the coastal town of Piombino. It is divided into eight municipalities, of which Portoferraio is the main one and the island has a total population of about 30,000 that increases considerably during the summer. The terrain is quite varied, and divided into several parts depending on its conformation and geology. The mountainous and more recent part of the island can be found to the west, the center of which is dominated by Mount Capanne (1,018 m), also called the "roof of the Tuscan Archipelago." The central part of the island is a mostly flat section with the width being reduced to just 4 kms. To the east, is the oldest part of the island, formed over 400 million years ago. In the hilly area, dominated by Monte Calamita, are the deposits of iron ore that made Elba famous.

In 1802 Elba became a French possession, and its economy flourished. Following the Treaty of Fontainebleau, French emperor Napoleon I was exiled to Elba after his forced abdication in 1814 and arrived at Portoferraio on May 3, 1814. He was allowed to keep a personal guard of six hundred men. Although he was nominally sovereign of Elba, the island was patrolled by the British Navy. During the months Napoleon stayed on the island, he carried out a series of economic and social reforms to improve the quality of life, partly to pass the time and partly out of a genuine concern for the well-being of the islanders. He returned to Paris on 20 March 1815 and the second restoration of King Loiuis XVIII on 8 July 1815. After his defeat at Waterloo he was subsequently exiled again, this time to the barren and isolated South Atlantic island of Saint Helena. In the Congress of Vienna the island was given to the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. In 1860 it became part of the new unified Kingdom of Italy.

Giglio is separated from the mainland by a 16 km stretch of sea from the Argentario promontory. It is mainly mountainous and almost wholly constituted of granite formations culminating in the Poggio della Pagana (496 m). The island has a population of 1,553 and 90% of its surface is covered by Mediterranean vegetation alternating with large pine forests and numerous vineyards which enable the production of the famous "Ansonaco" wine. To the southeast lies the limestone island of Giannutri with a population of 102.

Capraia is volcanic in origin, has an area of 19 km² and a population of 366. The island produces wine, and is a centre of the anchovy fishery. In 1796 it was occupied for a short time by Horatio Nelson. Part of the island was formerly occupied by an agricultural penal colony, but it was shut down in 1986. About 40 km to the north is Gorgona which was also famous for its anchovies in the nineteenth century. This diminutive island has been valued most for its wildlife, especially marine birds, and its isolation. The latter quality resulted in the foundation of Gorgona Abbey in the Middle Ages. After its closure the monastery grounds and buildings were appropriated in 1869 to become an experimental agricultural penal colony still currently in use.

Pianosa and Montecristo have no permanent residents. The latter is probably best known as a fictional setting in the novel ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’ by Alexandre Dumas, but the actual island does not correspond closely to the description in the novel. Montecristo is remote and kept as a strict nature preserve only accessible by private yacht and permit. Pianosa was the site of a maximum-security prison (1858-1998) holding especially dangerous Mafia criminals. Joseph Heller’s novel ‘Catch-22’ is set on a U.S. Army Air Corps bomber squadron base on Pianosa during World War II, but Heller conceded that he took some literary license in making Pianosa big enough for a major military complex. Heller's island also has a small community of Italian villagers, unlike the real island.

Renewable Energy & Eco Housing

The President of the Tuscan Archipelago National Park, Mario Tozzi, has on more than one occasion made a proposal that the entire park should become completely free from oil and that such a move should go to the inhabitants’ popular vote for endorsement. He maintains an absence of fossil fuels would liberate the islands from pollutants mainly responsible for environmental crisis such as global warming and increase in greenhouse gases. His initiative included generation of electricity by renewable sources, vehicles switching from petrol to biofuels made from Tuscan sunflowers, an increase in recycling of the islands’ rubbish and improving the management of water resources. Not unsurprisingly, the leader of Italy’s Green Party readily accepted this proposal in 2007 but as yet not much has happened on the ground beyond the political rhetoric. One major reason is the vehement opposition from several local island groups to the introduction of any wind generators in particular which they fear will despoil the landscape.

Nevertheless, Italy’s largest power company Enel did launch a ‘Green Islands’ project on Capraia in 2007 aimed at developing sustainable energy systems on other small Italian islands. The first step involved replacing one of the Capraia power plant existing diesel generators with a biodiesel engine with its three other generators to follow. Thereafter, an 80 kWp photovoltaic system was to be installed and several solar thermal systems provided free of charge to some of the 130 homes on the island. There were also plans to introduce innovative hydrogen energy storage to generate electricity from fuel cells and provide electric vehicles. The whole project was designed to meet the peak demand of 1.2 MW in summer, when the population reaches 2000 and the total energy consumed which is 2600 MWh per year.

Giglio is not connected to the mainland grid but local company SIE produces and distributes electricity from diesel engines producing 6MW with a peak demand of 3.5MW. Two thirds of island water needs are satisfied with a reverse osmosis desalination plant but plans to power this system by renewable energy have yet to happen.

The Italian company Terna is the primary owner of the National High Voltage Electricity Transmission Grid with over 62 thousand km of lines throughout the national territory. In 2008 Terna announced a project for a new submarine cable to Elba. This included a new electricity connection with the mainland and the renewal of the existing 132 kV San Giuseppe – Portoferraio power line for a total investment of approximately 50 million euro. The total cable length will be 35 km, 32 km of which will be a submarine cable and the remaining 3 km will be underground. The cable will directly reach Portoferraio and will allow safely managing the island’s electricity system ensuring greater electricity reserves, particularly during the summer months when demand on the island reaches 40 MW. The planned cable will avoid the need to build another overhead cable on the island, considerably reducing any environmental impact.

Work to rebuild the 132 kV power line on Elba began in September 2009 but not without considerable controversy. The route that was authorized in 2008 was improved with respect to the one initially proposed in 2006. The segment of buried cable was nearly doubled, increasing from 4.5 km to 8.7 (over half of the total length). The overhead segment was reduced, from 9 km to approximately 7 km. The completion of the work will allow demolishing the existing line which involves the removal of 48 pylons for a total of 13 km: considering that only 20 new pylons will be built, the new/old ratio will be of over 1 to 2. The project also includes a new overhead route that will involve a mountainous area that is scarcely populated and will also free valuable densely populated urban areas while also protecting the special reserve in the Volterraio area. The new submarine cable, yet to be authorized, will avoid completing the 132 kV ring within the island and consequently the installation of an additional 80 pylons.

Waste Minimisation & Recycling

Waste collection on Elba is undertaken by AAMPS and the regional agency for environmental protection in Tuscany (ARPAT) produce a State of Environment report with useful statistics.

Water Management & Security

Rivers on Elba rarely exceed 3 km in length and it is common for those of lesser length to dry up over the summer period. Every year on the island there is a problem of water shortage that can leave people without drinkable water even for an entire week. This situation occurs more frequently during the second half of August when the number of tourists is extremely high and the weather is very dry. Various studies investigating the impact of freshwater conservation measures and reactions of people to them have been conducted on Elba.

Extensive Agriculture & Organic Food Production

Farming has recently regained some vitality after having been almost abandoned during the early 20th century. The pest that destroyed all vineyards, the emigration and division of property and the illusion of easy-earned money from the extraction of minerals and thereafter tourism all led to a cessation of agriculture. Ironically the subsequent upswing, particularly on Elba and Giglio, is partly due to mass tourism and the rise in demand for local wines during the summer months. Today, Elba has several renowned DOC wines that are the perfect accompaniment to the typical dishes of local cuisine.

The International Slow Food Movement was founded by the Italian, Carlo Petrini, in 1986 so it is not surprising that the Association has a presence on Elba at the Enoteca Fortress in Portoferraio. Here you can sample the very best of local food and wine from around the island. A few of these producers like Due Palme and Sapereta are also members of the Farm Tourism Association. In 2009 the first Festival of Taste of the Tuscan Archipelago was held in the village square on Capraia in collaboration with Slow Food and repeated again in 2010. During the festival it was possible to taste many typical products from the islands like cheeses from Capraia and Gorgona, salami, fish carpaccio, bread, jams, honey, olive oil, wines and myrtle liquers.

Several botanical collecting expeditions & have been made to the Tuscan archipelago as part of a special research programme into safeguarding crop genetic resources of Italian small islands.  


Elba is connected to the mainland via the two ferry companies, Moby Lines, and Toremar both offering routes between Piombino and Portoferraio. There is an airport on the island, served by Intersky, with flights to Germany and Switzerland and ElbaFly with internal flights. Giglio is connected to Tuscany by two ferry lines starting from Porto Santo Stefano.

Sustainable Tourism & Niche Marketing

Isole Italia is a web portal that provides a detailed description of Italy’s smaller islands and allows all structures operating in the tourism and hospitality sectors to acquire visibility on the Internet. It also enables visitors’ straightforward access to all information necessary for organizing a ‘do it yourself’ holiday. Within the website you will find numerous initiatives managed directly by the local operators themselves.

The official tourist board (APT) for Elba offers comprehensive information in four languages as does the Elba Hotel Association. There are 22 Ecohotels on Elba which together with the boutique Hotel Ilio can arrange or provide a range of outdoor activities like trekking, mountain biking, climbing, diving and bird watching. There are also specialist companies like Emozioni Mediterranee, Pelagos and Tuscan Trekking offering a wide selection of organized tours and day trips to all the islands in the Tuscan archipelago. The annual Tuscany Walking Festival has a comprehensive programme of events and excursions throughout the park.

The idea behind Elba's Mineral Park was to regenerate a vast area of the island used for iron mines from the dawn of time right up to the early 1980s. It covers the Municipalities of Capoliveri, Rio Marina - home to the Park's headquarters - and Rio nell’Elba, where there are three mineral museums. There is widespread archaeological evidence of the mining industry and mines have been painstakingly rebuilt using original materials and machinery. Several are open to the public. The minerals found on Elba are extraordinary for their variety and quality. There are over 200 types, many of which were discovered here for the first time. These include ilvaite and elbaite, named after the island.

Biodiversity & Protected Areas

The principal factors which influence the vegetation and the flora of the Tuscan Archipelago are the Mediterranean type of climate (characterized by high levels of summer dryness, accompanied by continual sun exposure and frequent marine winds), the isolation, and the connection with the Italian peninsula and with the Sardinian-Corsican system, let alone the added factor of the ancient presence of man. Evergreen plants dominate, such as those with coriaceous leaves protected by a robust and hardly impermeable epidermis, or alternatively, plants with extremely reduced leaves like thorns, or those without leaves, like brooms. Only a few of the great holm-oak forests, which once covered the islands of the Archipelago, survive today on Elba, Giglio and Gorgona, while single specimens can be found on Giannutri, Capraia and Montecristo.

The orographic complexity and the altitude of Elba have favoured the conservation of chestnut woods Castanea sativa. In the cooler valleys, the rare fern Osmunda regalis grows on the hills, and particularly on Mt. Capanne you can see the yew tree Taxus baccata and the hophornbeam Ostrya carpinifolia. On Capraia and Elba the cork-oak Quercus suber and the downy oak Q. pubescens grows, whereas on Gorgona and Elba there are different types of pinewoods - the aleppo-pine Pinus halepensis, and the stone pine Pinus pinea, and the cluster-pine P. pinaster. Today the most widespread vegetation formation in the park is the fragrant Mediterranean macchia, a shrub-like vegetation around 2-5 metres in height.

The geographical isolation has favoured the presence of many endemic species. On Elba there is the Mt. Capanne cornflower Centaurea ilvensis, the violet Viola corsica ilvensis and the lemon scented evergreen Limonium ilvae. On Capraia the Centaurea gymnocarpa cornflower and the yellow orchid Orchis provincialis capraria are endemic, while the toadflax Linaria Capraria is exclusive to the Archipelago. Micro-environments, rare on other islands of the Archipelago, still exist on Elba where species typical to mountain areas, like the lily Lilium bulbiferum croceum, or sub-Mediterranean species like the brooms Genista desoleana Valsecchi, are present. The spectacular blossoming aquatic buttercup Ranunculus aquatilis, the rush Juncus articulatus and the penny-royal Mentha pulegium grow on the shores of the Stagnone of Capraia, the only natural lake in the entire Park.

The islands are noted for a certain presence of endemic fauna species, although the number is less than on the adjacent continental mass. Amongst the most representative endemic species, for instance, are the gastropod molluscs Oxychilus pilula and Tacheocampylaea tacheoides of Capraia and the Oxychilus gorgonianus of Gorgona. Other important species are the Elban butterfly Coenonympha elbana, the cricket Rhacocleis tyrrhenica, the lizard Podarcis muralis colosii, the viper Vipera aspis francisciredi, all found on Elba; the lizards P. muralis insulanica and the P. muralis muellerlorenzi on Pianosa; and finally the viper Vipera aspis montecristi on Montecristo. The presence of the Corsican citril finch Serinus citrinella corsicana, the Alpine accentor Prunella collaris, the Tyrrhenian tree toad Hyla sarda, painted frog Discoglossus sardus and gecko Phyllodactylus europaeus help make this a unique environment.

Amongst all the habitats rich in bird life, worth special mention, are the rocks of the Cala Maestra in Gorgona, the Palmaiola rocks, Cerboli, Topi Island, Cala Scirocco and Cala Grande on Montecristo, Cap Enfola on Elba, Point Capel Rosso on the west and Punta del Trattoio on Capraia. The nesting of the fastest winged predator, the peregrine falcon on Elba and Capraia is of great importance. Other attractions for birdwatchers are wall creepers found on the rocky areas of Giglio and Capraia, the pale swift on Giannutri, and the colonies of shearwaters that exist on all the islands and the breeding colonies of Audouin's gull and shearwaters that exist on the islands.

The land mammals are those typical to the Mediterranean environment. The pine marten, rare anywhere else, has a strong presence and is an agile inhabitant of the woods of Elba. The wild rabbit is also widespread on Capraia and Giglio. The wild boar of Maremma was already extinct on Elba at the beginning of the eighteen hundreds, and so the central European wild boar was introduced approximately thirty years ago, and later, probably became a hybrid of wild boar and local pigs. With the absence of local predators, this extremely prolific breed has reproduced beyond measure on Elba and is becoming a real threat to both floral endemic species and the agricultural crops. Strong measures of control are underway to reduce the numbers of these hoofed animals to a reasonable level. On Montecristo, too, the presence of the wild goat has caused problems in the management of the protected area. The introduction of the Sardinian mountain goat to Elba and Capraia has created several ecological problems. Another major pest species is the Black rat and in the last six years eradication or local control programmes have taken place on ten Tyrrhenian islands.

The National Park Authority was established in 1966, with headquarters at Portoferraio, Elba. The surface area of the Tuscan Archipelago park is aproximately 18,000 hectares of land including sites of geological and natural interest, and 60,000 hectares of sea which form part of the Pelagos Sanctuary for Marine Mammals in the Mediterranean (87,500 km²) and  Founded in 1999 under an international agreement, the sanctuary is designed to protect a vast area made up of 'zones situated in internal and territorial waters' belonging to France, Italy and the Principality of Monaco, as well as the adjacent high seas. It is also one of the Specially Protected Areas of Mediterranean Importance (SPAMIs) covered by the Protocol on specially protected areas and biological diversity in the Mediterranean (SPA Protocol), under a framework Convention for marine and coastal protection in the Mediterranean (Barcelona Convention). The Governance and Integrated Marine Observation of Natural Habitats (GIONHA) project  works to protect marine habitats and raise awareness of environmental issues within the Pelagos sanctuary.

Since 1990 the Tethys Research Institute has been organizing whale and dolphin field courses in the Pelagos sanctuary dedicated to those willing to contribute to research and conservation campaigns. The Cetacean Research Centre is also operational throughout the year in the sanctuary using their research vessel Altair currently berthed in Elba at Marciana marina.

In 2010 due to Italy’s financial crisis their government announced it was cutting its national parks budget by half and the future of the island of Montecristo in particular was suddenly thrown into question. The park director gave his grudging consent to the idea of charging the permitted 1000 annual visitors to Montecristo 50 euros per guided tour, to offset the costs of looking after it. However, it is an open question whether the Berlusconi government, in its hunger for savings, will be satisfied with the meagre income that these nature-lovers would bring. There is another possible future for the island – one closely aligned to the sort of up-market coastal development Mr Berlusconi’s brother Paolo has been pushing for years in Sardinia. During the 1960s a company called Oglasa (an archaic name for the island) launched a bid to build an elite yacht harbour and resort in Montecristo. The scheme was thwarted when the island was taken under state protection in 1971, but it may only a matter of time before Montecristo is auctioned off to the highest bidder and the last pristine wilderness in the Mediterranean gone forever.

Integrated Development Planning

The Regional Institute for Economic Planning of Tuscany (IRPET) came into being in 1968. In the early years of its activity the Institute focused on structural interpretation of Tuscany’s social and economic system but in recent years this strand of analysis has been complemented by the analysis of trends, resulting in an Annual Report on the Tuscan economy and in a series of reports on individual sectors. The Institute’s website has some interesting information pages on Tuscany mainly from a structural point of view.

ANCIM and Tuscan Region organised the first European Conference on Minor Islands INSULAE on Elba in May 2008 to learn, share and communicate about issues and policies of common concern. This comprised an entire week of workshops, seminars, exhibitions, concerts, markets for tasting and selling typical island products and guided tours. This event was repeated in September 2009 again on Elba on an even grander scale and besides being a celebration of life in the Tuscan archipelago, the workshops in particular were attended by many local people who discussed all sectors of their economy. They talked about competitiveness, quality of life in the islands, accessibility and maritime connections, tourism and fishing, education, energy resources, waste disposal, water supply and how they all might become better integrated to achieve lasting sustainable development that in turn could be replicated on other small Mediterranean islands. Numerous presentations were given at this conference and one report on Integrated policies for the Tuscan Archipelago (2008 – 2010)  is particularly illuminating.

Climate Change Mitigation & Adaptation Measures

A paper published in 2007 details how “a megaflood, with an estimated recurrence time of approximately 200 years, affected Elba in September 2002. In several pocket beaches, active and reactivated creeks discharged a huge volume of unsorted sediments to the coast. Since the morphological and sedimentological conditions of one of these bays (Gulf of Procchio) was known due to topographic and sedimentologic studies performed in 1999, the impact of this event was easily evaluated through a survey performed a few days after the flood. The main beach responses were the formation of ring deltas, the increase of the fine fraction in the nearshore sediments and the coarsening of those in the swash zone.

A further survey in 2004 allowed monitoring the recovery of the beach, which is still returning to the pre-event conditions, at a slow rate. Although only the widest delta among those formed is still identifiable on the shoreline, and in spite of the nearshore sediments having lost all the fines, gravel and cobbles are still present from the step to the berm crest in the sectors adjacent to the old outlets and gravel is moving alongshore. The erosion that affected some pocket beaches at Elba during the second half of the 20th century, firstly attributed to the agriculture abandonment and to the consequent forest recovering, now has a new or additional cause: the return of the bay to pre-flood conditions within cycles of catastrophic accretion followed by mild erosion.”