FILICUDI — The most-hated man right now on the Aeolian islands wasn't looking for trouble.
A die-hard lover of deep-sea fishing and diving, Dario Lopes, 53, has taken and posted various videos of jellyfish in recent years. But then one clip, shot off the coast of the island of Filicudi, went viral around Italy.
"It was on June 2, I had been fishing and I had my underwater camera with me," Lopes recalls. "I found myself in the middle of thousands of them. It was a breathtaking spectacle."
The images from the video are certainly impressive: Throngs of sea-creatures were lulled from sea currents to just a few meters from the island’s coastline. This bloom of jellyfish was in full reproductive mode too.
After Lopes’ video made the rounds on the Internet, La Stampa spoke to Ferdinando Boero, professor of Zoology at the University of Salento, who calmly explained what was happening, though certain media sources who transmitted the images certainly did not skimp on words like "dangerous," "invasion," and "emergency."
It is not surprising that tourists have abandoned the island, leaving the locals furious.
Lopes is bitter about the entire situation because, "the mayor was so angry. So was the President of the Hotel Association. But all I did was post the umpteenth video on my YouTube channel that documents my life in the sea."
Filicudi has 270 inhabitants, four restaurants (open for the summer season only), three pebble beaches, some caper plants, and one extinct volcano. The sea surrounds the island like a blue table, and it’s here that the supposed island invasion is taking place. However, diving into the waters of the Pecorini Sea — where Lopes’ video was filmed — you won’t find very many jellyfish at all.
Summer's Public Enemy No. 1 in these parts is called the Pelagia noctiluca: Violet-colored, its umbrella mass is around ten centimeters and has long transparent tentacles. If it stings you, it leaves a searing memory.
Biophysicist Monica Francesca Blasi has left her chaotic life in Rome to come to study the turtle and dolphin populations in the Aeolian islands. "Jellyfish? They have always been here," she says. "It is true that in that video there were a lot, but that happens every year between April and May. They come from the deep and for a day, they fill the sea. Then, just as fast as they appear, they disappear back into the Tyrrhenian Sea."
No emergency then, at least on the islands. This archipelago is one of the reproduction centers for the species, unable to avoid strong water currents that can subsequently send them drifting anywhere. Those jellyfish in that video may now be in Ostia, near Rome on the mainland, or as far up as the island of Elba off the Tuscan coast.
What about the tourists?
Granted, June's weather wasn't its usual sunny self — but could it really be that vacationers are also fleeing from jellyfish that aren’t even there? "Dozens of families have called and many decided to cancel their reservations," confirms the receptionist at Hotel Phenicusa in Filicudi.
A plumber in winter and taxi-driver in summer, Pietro is waiting on the pier for the ferry to arrive. Two people get off. His face is sun-burnt, and a bit dejected: "This year, nobody has come."
Nearby, a man with reddish hair and an epic Homeric beard who was born on the island 30 years ago, is gazing out at the sea. "When we were kids and we went swimming, we believed that being touched by a jellyfish was good luck. Back then, we were more than happy. Then, the rich people came and then, all of a sudden, we discovered we were poor."
He laughs out loud, then suddenly becomes serious again. "The most beautiful season here is the fall. The tourists leave, the colors change and Filicudi becomes wild again." A final goodbye, and the man goes back to watching the sea.