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Venice Nurtures Its Lagoon Back to Health

German Airport Dog Sniffs Out Big Cash Stashes FRANKFURT AM MAIN, Germany (AFP) — Money talks, they say, but for some, money also smells. Aki, a 9-year-old Belgian Shepherd dog based at Frankfurt's international airport in Germany, sniffed out almost a quarter of million euros in cash from travelers in a few days. Between the end of June and the start of July, Aki caught 12 passengers carrying a total of 247,280 euros ($290,540), according to the airport's customs office. In one incident, the nosy mutt sniffed out almost 52,000 euros in the belt bag of a passenger. Other cash was found in handbags, shoulder bags and inside jacket pockets. "With her keen nose, Aki supports the custom officers... in the fight against tax evasion, money laundering and international terrorism," said Isabell Gillmann, spokeswoman at the customs office in Frankfurt, Germany's business capital. All 12 travelers could face fines. People journeying into or out of the EU must declare cash valued at 10,000 euros or more. In 2019, customs officials in Frankfurt caught passengers carrying a total of around 23.6 million euros in undeclared cash. German sniffer dogs may also be put to use in the battle against coronavirus. Researchers from Hanover's University of Veterinary Medicine found in July that man's best friend could detect Covid-19 in human samples, suggesting that in future they could be deployed in transport centers or sporting events. © Agence France-Presse

VENICE, Italy (AFP) — Venice may be famed for Saint Mark's Square or the Bridge of Sighs, but the Italian city has another jewel that is often overlooked: its lagoon.

Once home to a rich variety of fish and birds, mankind's meddling has raised the water's salt content dramatically. 

However, an environmental project aims to restore it to its former glory, by introducing more fresh water.

"The idea is to recreate an environment that has been lost over time, because rivers were diverted out of the lagoon," Rossella Boscolo Brusa, the project's leader, told AFP. 

The diversions were done to clean up swampy areas and combat malaria, said Brusa, a researcher at the Higher Institute for Environmental Protection and Research (Ispra).

But the move had an unforeseen consequence.

"It led to increasingly salty water and drop in the number of reeds, a very precious habitat for protected species, or species of commercial interest," she said.

It is peaceful out on the lagoon — the only noise comes from the occasional tourist boat or the calls of a lapwing, sandpiper or egret.

Expert Adriano Sfriso, of the Ca Foscari University in Venice, said that over half the lagoon used to be reedbeds and salt marshes — around 42,000 acres.

The city's Cannaregio district was even named after the plants — "canna" being the Italian for "reed."

Today, only 84 hectares remain, he said.


The reeds tolerate some salinity. 

But in the inner part of the lagoon, where the water should be between zero and 15 on the salinity scale, it is 30 — not far off the amount found in seawater. 

Dubbed "Life Lagoon Refresh," the project, launched in 2017, diverts a freshwater flow from the Sile River into the lagoon.

A man-made canal, operational since May, allows the flow of water to be modulated according to the project's needs or high tides.

Barriers made of biodegradable coconut fibers contain the fresh water in the target area and help the reeds develop.

In total, the project aims to restore about 49 acres of reeds, Sfriso said.

Replanters Carlo Marchesi and Adriano Croitoru meticulously uproot reeds, taking care not to disturb the birds, before punting a few miles away to replant the clods.

"We're going to rebuild the lagoon as our great-grandfathers knew it, much richer in fish and birds," says Marchesi, 56.

Local fishermen and bird hunters are also roped in to help transplant seagrasses that will speed up the return of aquatic plants.

'Our world'

"The lagoon is our life, our world," said Massimo Parravicini, head of the main amateur fishermen and hunters' association. 

"If we preserve it, we will be able to enjoy it as much as possible, and pass it on to our sons," said the 58-year-old, who regularly volunteers with the project, which he describes as "fundamental to the ecosystem."

The salinity is continuously monitored, as is the water quality, vegetation and fauna. 

A large net is dragged vertically through the water as per the seine fishing method. 

A team is tasked with tallying the species.

Some, such as the grass goby, are protected, while others, including the sea bream, mullet, flounder or branzino, are important for small-scale fishing, Luca Scapin, also a researcher at the Ca Foscari University, said.

The project, supported by the European Commission, also aims to draw birds such as the purple heron.

The results will be shared with sites with similar issues, from Hyeres in France, to Albufera in Spain, and the Nestos Delta and Porto Lagos in Greece. 

by Céline CORNU
© Agence France-Presse

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