Skip to main content
Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary National Marine Sanctuaries Home Page National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Home Page

Summary of Site Visits to Some of Italy's Marine Protected Areas: Isola di Asinara

map of Asinara
Map of Asinara Island marine protected area, on northwest corner of Sardinia.

Isola di Asinara

The Ministry of Environment's former Director General of Italy's protected area programs, Dr. Aldo Cosentino, has aptly observed that coastal and marine protected areas in the United States and Italy are fundamentally different in that Italy's coastline has been used by humans for many thousands of years and heavily developed for many hundreds of years. Most of the national marine sanctuaries in the United States typically protect areas of relative wilderness or marine waters offshore of public owned parks or protected seashores. Or they protect no coastline at all and only offshore ocean areas.

However, Dr. Cosentino recognized that there is one marine protected area in Italy that today encompasses wilderness—the Island of Asinara. In 1997, the government of Italy completed procedures to close a prison on Asinara and turn the island and its many buildings over to the national park system. In 2002, the waters offshore of the national park were zoned and the area was instituted as a marine protected area, encompassing 49 miles of coastline around the island and 41 square miles of its coastal waters.

rare male muflone
Rare male muflone, a species of sheep found on Asinara Island.

There are many species of native and introduced mammals on the island, including horses, asses, goats, sheep, and pigs. The island's vegetation is an interesting mix of plants native to Sardinia, plants common throughout the Mediterranean, or introduced plants found in other bioregions, including North America.

The cultural history of the island is also quite diverse. While known most recently as a maximum security prison, the island also was used to house terrorists during the 1970s and as a quarantine facility for people with various diseases such as small pox around the turn of the century. In World War I it was used as a military concentration camp. In the 1800s, Sardinian pastoralists and Ligurian fishermen set up habitations on the island, and there are Roman and Greek ruins on the island that date back several thousand years. Recently, Roman amphorae found in a bay near the former quarantine facility contain what is thought to be the remains of dried fish, sardines, caught nearby and readied for transport.

bath house window
The bath house built by patients quarantined on Asinara Island, now sits abandoned on the shoreline, with nonetheless striking views.

There are extensive facilities on the island, including the prison facilities, but also small cities built for and by the inhabitants of the quarantine camp, and for the staff servicing the camp and the prison. All of these have been turned over to the national park, and in tandem the marine protected area, who are sorting out which will be kept and what restoration is needed.

The park and MPA share some administrative and enforcement staff, as well as advisory councils with the local communities, but have different core staff focusing on the different terrestrial and marine management duties. Given the physical facilities and spectacular natural resources, whether with one team or with two, the marine protected area and national park have a tremendous opportunity to protect a rare piece of wilderness in Italy.

For more information on Asinara Island marine protected area, go to the parks website at:






admin offices on Asinara
Refurbished administration and research offices at former quarantine area on Asinara Island.

no fishing zone on Asinara Island
One of two no access, no fishing zones (Zone A) on Asinara Island.