Kayaking ban in Venice – the city’s proposal

The City of Venice has issues a wide ban on kayaks, canoes, SUPs, dragon boats and more.

Yesterday I had a meeting with a representative of the municipal government, sufficiently high up in the hierarchy to be able to influence municipal policies. While the meeting itself was rather inconclusive, there was a recognition that there is a real problem to solve, and another meeting will be called later, with both politicians and technicians present, in an attempt to find a solution.

The proposal from the municipal administration is to ease the ban a bit, allowing free passage for everybody after 5pm on Monday to Friday, after 1pm on Saturdays and all day on Sunday.

We have no idea whether they’ll stick with this or if we can still make suggestions. We will no doubt make our suggestions.

For Venice Kayak the proposed modifications will be worth very little. We will have to move our longer tours to later hours, and the viable season for longer tours will be cut from 7-8 months a year to 3-4 months, if we are to avoid returning after dark.

Kayaking ban in Venice – dialogue with the city administration

Venice has issued a ban on kayaks, canoes, dragon boats and more, which is effective from Sunday, March 1st.

Currently it is illegal to go by kayak, canoe or dragon boat on the Grand Canal and several other canals in the city.

As a consequence, the city’s canal network has been cut to pieces, from a kayaker’s point of view, where it is not longer possible to go from one part to another.

Today I have had a meeting with the city official who have signed the new regulations, and it was not as bad as I had anticipated.

As things stand now, the ban is there and it is an offence to even paddle across the no-go canals.

However, the city administrators have finally understood that they have made a mistake by issuing a blanket ban like they have. Being unable to turn back, there will be a modification to the new rules, which will give kayaks, canoes and dragon boats more room so it will be possible to move around the city in a reasonably rational way.

In short, there will be some points on the no-go canals where passage will be allowed, most notably on the Grand Canal.  There will be some limits on when you can pass, it’ll be mostly in the afternoon, and maybe even on who can pass, for example a requirement that there is a qualified coach in a group of kayaks.

It is my hope that they will also allow passage, at least in the afternoon, on parts of the lower Canal Grande, so we can still visit the ancient gondola shipyards in the Dorsoduro area, which will otherwise be unreachable.

While this will not be a perfect solution, it will be a marked improvement on the no-exceptions-allowed ban they have made for now.


The current rules banning kayaks etc from the Grand Canal and more, are not made by the city administration alone, and the city administration cannot therefore change them alone.

The changes from February 11th were published after a meeting of what they call a conferenza dei servizi, where all the different public bodies meet to coordinate.

A change to the new rules will have to pass the same way. This means that there will be a meeting on March 12th, where a commission will meet to prepare everything for the next meeting of the conferenza dei servizi, where a change can be formally decided.

Once we get there, we’ll know what they’ll come up with.

I do not know the date of the next meeting of the conferenza dei servizi, but I’ve been told that they’re normally held once a month.

Legal Challenge

The legal challenge to the kayaking ban in Venice will not stop before the city administration publishes what exactly they intend to do, and they cannot do that before the meeting of the conferenza dei servizi has met, and at than point they have also decided.

There will be no public hearing, beside the kind of privately requested meetings with city officials, like the one I had today.

The Arcobaleno association has no intend of backing down before they know what the new rules will be, so the process will go forward.

The collection of funds in support of the legal challenge continues.

 The meeting

My appointment today was  on behalf of my company Venice Kayak,  so I did not represent anybody else there.

Besides explanations about what we’re doing — kayaking excursions in Venice lead by qualified guides, and not any kind of rental to whoever shows up — the discussion was mostly about what kind of modifications we would need to be able to continue our work.

This maps shows the ‘dispensations’ we’ll need to be able to carry on in the way we have done now in seven years, without accidents or conflicts.

Venice kayaking ban - suggested changes

Summarised we need

  • a few passages on inner city canals to connect the otherwise detached segments of the city’s canal network,
  • some predetermined points where we can cross the Grand Canal, on each of the three parts of the canal, and
  • the possibility of transiting on a part of the lower Grand Canal to reach otherwise unreachable areas.

For now we’re crossing our fingers, hoping for the best.

If the city administration cannot come up with a working solution for us and the other paddlers in Venice, we will have no choice but the throw all our effort at the legal challenge the Arcobaleno association is preparing.

Kayaking ban in Venice – legal challenge

Venice has issued a ban on kayaks, canoes, dragon boats and more, which will be effective from Sunday, March 1st.

This ban will harm the activities of several groups.


The local kayaking association Arcobaleno has initiated a legal challenge to the new regulation banning kayaks and canoes in Venice.

Arcobaleno is one of the oldest kayaking clubs in the wider Venice area, and they have been active for many many years.

A Paypal account ricorso@arcocanoa.org has been set up to collect funds for the legal battle ahead. The needs aren’t huge, all in all around €3000 will be needed, but it is more than the club and its supporters have.

Even contributions of €5, €10 or €20 will be a help in the fight to keep Venice open for paddlers.

Kayaking ban in Venice – where and how to help

Venice has issued a ban on kayaks, canoes, dragon boats and more, which will be effective from Sunday, March 1st.

This ban will harm the activities of several groups.

All of these groups, together with the Italian Federation for Canoe and Kayak (FICK) and other organisations are trying in various ways to counter this blanket bans of most paddle crafts in Venice.

Salviamo Venezia andando a remi e pagaie

A lot of discussion is going on the Facebook group called Salviamo Venezia andando a remi e pagaie.

Most of the discussion is in Italian, but it is open for all interested parties. I try to put in something in English every once in a while, but I’m neither the creator nor an administrator of the group.

Screenshot from 2015-02-26 21:39:34

There’s a petition on change.org asking for the new regulations to be recalled.

At the time of writing it is approaching 2000 signatures, and you can all give us a hand by heading over there to sign.


The local kayaking association Arcobaleno has initiated a legal challenge to the new regulation banning kayaks and canoes in Venice.

Arcobaleno is one of the oldest kayaking clubs in the wider Venice area, and they have been active for many many years.

A Paypal account ricorso@arcocanoa.org has been set up to collect funds for the legal battle ahead. The needs aren’t huge, all in all around €3000 will be needed, but it is more than the club and its supporters have.

Even contributions of €5, €10 or €20 will be a help in the fight to keep Venice open for paddlers.

Who’s affected by the new prohibitions in Venice

The new regulations banning kayaks, canoes and dragon boats will affect quite a few clubs and activities in Venice.

The association Venice Canoe & Dragon takes (or rather, has taken) school kids in dragon boats through the city. Until now they have done so for 9000 kids, but that is a thing of the past now. Now the kids cannot experience the city on water from the water any more, unless they take a taxi.

The Pink Lionesses of Venice is an association for women who are survivors of breast cancer. Their pink dragon boat was once a common sight on the Grand Canal, but they too will have to paddle elsewhere.

Several of the rowing clubs based on the mainland will no longer be able to row or paddle in the Grand Canal. This also seems to apply to Venetian rowing, if the club is not based in Venice city or on the lagoon islands. This will affect the Società Canottieri Mestre and, I believe, the Voga Veneta Mestre, both well respected members of the Venetian rowing community.

All the individuals, clubs, associations and companies from outside Venice, that used to do the occasional tour to Venice in kayak, canoe or dragon boat will now face a fine if they venture onto the Grand Canal or any of the no-go canals in the future.

Due to the massive exodus from Venice towards the mainland during the last decades, there are actually more Venetians living in Mestre and Marghera than in Venice proper, and they will now be excluded from experiencing their native city as it was always intended, in a rowed by from the water.

At a cultural level, this new ban in a blow to the heart of everything that is Venetian.

My company Venice Kayak will at least be impeded by the published ban on kayaking on the Grand Canal, but we will probably be less hurt than the others, since we can still use some of the smaller canals in the city, where dragon boats cannot go.

“Detourism” in Venice

The City of Venice has a project they call “Detourism” supposedly promoting sustainable tourism in Venice.

They describe it this way:

Travel Venice like a local

DETOURISM  is a new project of the City of Venice for curious travellers who enjoy wander off the beaten path looking for the Venice most unusual and secret places and discovering its original characters.

Because Venice is the perfect place to get lost.
Travelling in a different way.
Experiencing Venice like a Venetian.
Discovering another Venice.
So ditch the itinerary and become a detourist, find out what travel guides never tell, and discover an unexpected Venice.

The idea of  DETOURISM is to invite guests to the lagoon to put themselves in the shoes of the local people; not to be a tourist but to travel the city slowly and with love, to get lost in search of a more authentic and lesser-known Venice.

And then they ban kayaks, canoes and dragon boats, harming a whole series of very off-the-beaten tracks offers of sustainable tourism.

Vogalonga and the ban on kayaks in Venice

As I have written earlier, the City of Venice has made a partial but extensive ban on kayaks, canoes, dragon boats and others, effective from March 1st, 2015.

The Vogalonga is a rowing event that has been held in Venice every year for the last forty years. It is organised by a non-profit committee, the Comitato Vogalonga.

After the publication of the new regulations on February 11th, everybody expected a reaction from the Vogalonga committee, but they were silent. After much soliciting online, and maybe also offline, they finally made a statement on the 20th, on Facebook but not on their web site, and in Italian only.

The Facebook post received quite a lot of comments, and in there one of the members of the organising committee made a further statement.

I find it important that everybody knows the stance of the Vogalonga committee, so I have reproduced and translated (to the best of my abilities) the two statements below.

First statement (in Italian)

Il Comitato Vogalonga, valutati i vari aspetti della questione e le molteplici proteste anche a livello internazionale, si esprime rispetto all’ordinanza del Comune di Venezia circa la restrizione ad alcuni tipi di natanti a remi, come canoa e kayak, per la circolazione lungo alcuni canali del centro storico.

La congestione del traffico sempre più pressante e l’utilizzo di natanti da parte di persone inesperte e non edotte in merito alla navigazione nei canali interni di Venezia giustifica la presa di posizione del Comune che andrebbe però formulata in senso cautelativo per l’incolumità delle persone più che in senso restrittivo. Quindi, sarebbe auspicabile che i vogatori in questione venissero informati, preparati ed eventualmente accompagnati da persone qualificate prima di affrontare i percorsi cittadini piuttosto che interdire la navigazione a determinati tipi di imbarcazioni.

Rispetto alle proteste che stanno arrivando numerose da parte di circoli e associazioni italiane e da varie parti del mondo, il Comitato Vogalonga, che confida di poter fruire della deroga in occasione della prossima edizione, invita i vogatori a seguire itinerari che corrano nei canali non interdetti del centro storico e lungo i margini dello stesso e che soprattutto li portino a godere degli ampi spazi ed impagabili orizzonti lagunari.

Il Comitato Vogalonga sottolinea anche in questa occasione il proprio impegno per la salvaguardia della laguna e la lotta contro il moto ondoso.

First statement (my translation)

The Vogalonga Committee, having taken into account the various aspects of the question and the numerous protests, also internationally, expresses itself regarding the City of Venice’s new regulations, restricting the circulation of some types of oar driven crafts, like canoes and kayaks, in some of the canals in the city centre.

The ever worsening traffic congestion and the use of boats by inexpert persons, not informed in matters of navigation in the inner canals of Venice, justifies the intervention of the city administration, which, however, should have been phrased in terms of safeguarding the well-being of the persons rather than as a interdiction. Therefore, it would have been desirable that the rowers in question be informed, prepared and eventually accompanied by qualified persons before they embark on routes in the city, rather than prohibiting the circulation of certain types of boats.

With regard to the protests which are arriving in great numbers from clubs and associations in Italy and various parts of the world, the Vogalonga Committee, confident that it will receive a dispensation for the upcoming event, invites all rowers to follow routes which runs in the non prohibited canals in the city centre and along the edges of the same, which will also allow them to enjoy the ample spaces and priceless horizons of the lagoon.

The Vogalonga Committee wants to underline in this occasion too, its commitment to the safeguarding of the lagoon and the fight against wave pollution.

Second statement (in Italian)

This second statement, from a member of the Vogalonga committee and not officially from the committee itself, was in response to a comment of mine, that the committee has thrown in the towel.

Il Comitato Vogalonga non ha gettato la spugna …

La posizione del Comitato (di cui mi onoro di far parte), a differenza di qualcun altro che lucra sul noleggio e sulle visite guidate con kayak a Venezia, è quella di un confronto con la pubblica amministrazione che tenga conto delle esigenze e dell’incolumità di tutti senza prevaricarne i diritti. Il fatto che alcuni canali di Venezia siano eccessivamente trafficati, ha portato alla necessità di rivedere la regolamentazione del traffico interessando tutti i settori della navigazione. Il fatto che qualche mezzo pubblico di linea sia stato fatto fermare in mezzo al Canal Grande perché un paio di kayak a noleggio senza accompagnatore si stessero fotografando vicino al Ponte di Rialto non è da sottovalutare né da demonizzare, ma va presa in seria considerazione. Ovviamente il problema sta nel conducente o vogatore e non nel mezzo che si conduce, ed è su questo che bisogna focalizzarsi.

Il Comitato non è interessato alla sola voga alla veneta a scapito di altri tipi di voga, ne ad ottenere la deroga per la manifestazione (che tra l’altro è già prevista nell’ordinanza anche per altre manifestazioni). La precisazione è stata fatta poiché ci sono state richieste da tutto il mondo in merito al regolare svolgimento della manifestazione.

Prima di prendere una posizione, il Comitato si è confrontato con esponenti delle associazioni e delle federazioni per stabilire una presa di posizione ed è in attesa di un incontro per cercare una mediazione.

La Vogalonga vive grazie ai vogatori e ai sostenitori che vi partecipano e non è una attività commerciale ne sponsorizzata e vuole accogliere tutti i vogatori che amano Venezia e questa manifestazione partecipando e credendo nei valori che cerca di trasmettere.

Fomentare una protesta per salvaguardare la propria attività, come fa qualcuno, non è l’unico modo di affrontare i problemi che vanno prima analizzati e condivisi per cercare primariamente una soluzione condivisa.

Scrivo a titolo personale per spiegare cosa sta alla base delle scelte fatte, non avendo ancora avuto modo di confrontarmi con il resto del Comitato.

Second statement (my translation)

The Vogalonga Committee has not thrown in the towel…

The position of the Committee (of which I’m honoured to be a member), in opposition to other who profit from rental or from guided tours in kayak in Venice, is that of a confrontation with the public administration which takes into account the needs and the well-begin of everybody without infringing their rights. The fact that some canals in Venice has too much traffic, has lead to the necessacity of a revision of the regulations of traffic, with regard to al the sectors of navigation. The fact that some public transport vessels have been forced to an emergency halt in the middle of the Grand Canal because a couple of rental kayaks without a guide had stopped to take photos of the Rialto Bridge from close up, should be nor underestimated, neither demonised, but taken seriously into consideration. Obviously the problem is the pilot or the rower and not the vessel conducted, and focus should be on this.

The Committee is not exclusively interested in Venetian rowing at the cost of other types of rowing, nor in obtaining a dispensation for the event (which is already foreseen by the new regulations also for other events). This is underlined because there have been inquiries from all over the world about the execution of the upcoming event.

Before taking a stance the Committee has met with representatives of associations and federations to to find a common stance, and it is currently waiting for a meeting in search of a compromise.

The Vogalonga Committee lives thanks to all rowers and supporters who participate, and it is not a commercial activity, neither sponsored, and it wants to welcome all the rowers who love Venice and this event, participating and believing in the values it tries to transmit.

Instigating protests to save one’s own business, as some do, is not the only way to confront the problems, which should frist be analised and shared searching primarily for a compronise.

I write this on my own account to explain what is behind the choices made, as I have not yet had the possibility of hearing the rest of the committee.

Venice about to ban kayaks in the city

Ever since the fatal accident in August 2013 there has been a lot of debates about what to do to make boat traffic safer in Venice.

There has been little change in the year and a half since the accident. All changes have been blocked or sabotaged by the various vested interests in the city: the taxi cooperatives, the transporters, the gondolieri and the city administration itself, through the public transport company ACTV.

In short, nobody has wanted to give any concessions to make the city’s waterways safer for everybody.

Traffic today is more chaotic than ever.

Change is on the way, it seems. Articles in local papers refer to new regulations, which has not, however, been published on the city web site.

This might be a thing of the past
This might be a thing of the past

The new rules would (it seems) prohibit the passage of kayaks, canoes, SUPs, water cycles, dragon boats, yole and even some types of traditional Venetian boats (‘sandolini’), in the Grand Canal and about a dozen of other unspecified city canals.

Already published changes include limitations of the movement of all kinds of rowing boats on the Grand Canal, including the traditional Venetian boats from the local rowing clubs.

Venice is selling its soul for short term profit.

Now, how come such draconian changes come just now?

The thing is that Venice has no elected city administration. The former mayor fell on a corruption charge, and the entire city council sent in their resignation. Without a city council, the city is governed by a state appointed official until the next local elections in May this year.

The city is therefore run by people who have no knowledge of local affairs and traditions, and it seems they just try to manage by finding compromises acceptable to the most powerful lobbies.

When changing the rules, the city administrators have heard the taxi cooperatives, the transporters and the gondolieri, but they have failed to communicate with the local rowing clubs or any other with interests in how the city traffic operates.

Venice is ruled by the lobbies now.

We all know how it’ll end when decisions are taken exclusively based on short term economic interests. This does not bode well for Venice.

Photography classes II

I did a basic level photography course back in the spring, and in September and October I did the next level course.

The teacher was Marc De Tollenaere.

This course covered several themes which all build on the basics from the first course, requiring manual adjustments to ISO, aperture and shutter speed to get the required result.

  • panning,
  • using a flash in low light situations,
  • low light photography with a tripod,
  • photography of architecture,
  • street photograhy.


The first exercise was panning.

The general idea is to create a sense of movement by turning with a moving subject, while using a slower shutter speed and corresponding smaller aperture for correct exposure.

It can be a bit tricky getting the right settings and moving the right way, but the effect is quite interesting.

Most of the photos below are taken at ISO 100, shutter speeds between 1/10th and 1/20th second, and apertures between f/20-f/36.

We did the exercises at the Certosa island during a weekend, so we walked down where loads of boats move up and down a fairly narrow canal. Panning only really works if you have a background to blur.


The next time we talked about using a flash in low light situations without making it obvious that you have used a flash.

On the automatic setting the camera will chose a mid-range shutter speed (mine will do 1/50th) and expose entirely for the subject in the flash. The background will be dark and anonymous as the flash doesn’t reach there.

The technique Marc taught us was to move to manual mode, turn ISO up depending on the natural light available, set the aperture to the maximum available, and shoot with very low shutter speeds.

That way the camera will take in as much as possible of the natural light, and the flash will only be on for a small fraction of the exposure time to illuminate the closest part of the composition.

All the photos below are taken at ISO 400, f/3.5 (maximum aperture for my lens at the shortest focal length of 27mm) at progressively slower shutter speeds. The shutter speed is shown by moving the mouse over the photo.The first three photos form one series, and the last six photos another series.

The location is the medieval Corte del Milion in Venice, where Marco Polo’s family lived in the 13th century.


One evening we met at St.Mark’s to take photos of architecture and in low light situations, using tripods.

The lesson touched on a lot of subjects, such as looking for different angles at well known locations, horizontal and vertical lines and geometrical shapes in the composition, looking for hard to spot details, and naturally, focusing and exposing correctly for the light available.

At the same time the group was scattered around the square, and lots of things were happening at the same time, so I didn’t catch it all.

I did get this photo hurriedly before the group moved on to other activities.

St. Mark’s basilica and campanile – ISO 200 f/3.5 2s at 27mm

The next exercise was to take a ‘different’ photo of the Tetrachs.

I spent most of the time fighting with tripod and camera, and wasn’t very successful, but I got this photo of the others at work.

Class at work on the Statue of the Tetrachs - ISO 200 f/3.5 4s at 27mm
Class at work on the Statue of the Tetrachs – ISO 200 f/3.5 4s at 27mm

Low light photography

The final task on the evening at St.Mark’s was to take one of the classic photos of the gondolas in the water with the island of San Giorgio Maggiore in the background.

The problem here is that with little light you need to use a slower shutter speed, but at the same time the gondolas move and get blurred in confusing ways.

I did loads of experiments, and these two are the better photos from that exercise.

ISO 3200 f/3,5 1/2s at 27mm
ISO 1600 f/3,5 1/2s at 27mm

Street photography

Street photograhy in black and white is Marc’s great passion, and he has shown us a gazillion amazing photos where all sorts of things are going on at the same time.

His message was that a photo with one subject can work if the subject is strong and catches the viewer’s attention completely; a photo with two subjects will quickly get boring as the possible interactions are limited, while a photo with three or more subjects can get very interesting.

At the same time you need to take care of light and composition, lines and symmetry, movement in and out of the frame, etc etc.

The examples he showed us would often have one dominant subject, and then others around that the viewer would only notice after watching for a while.

This kind of photography is very hard, as you often need to get very close to people you don’t know. It is rather intimidating.

I have tried a bit, without great success, but here are a few.

Via Garibaldi in the morning – ISO 100 f/8 1/80
Via Garibaldi in the morning – ISO 100 f/4.5 1/80s
vm10km martin
My brother finishes the 10km Venice Marathon run – ISO 100 f/9 1/320 s
Rialto markets – ISO 100 f/5.3 1/20 sec
Rialto markets – ISO 100 f/4.5 1/80 sec
sconvolti a rialto
Not used to live crabs on sale – ISO 100 f/4 1/30 sec

Self portrait

The last task we were given was to make a self portrait in any way we wanted to.

I made this where I’m reading on my tablet in the dark.

Reading in the dark – ISO 400 f/3.5 4 sec no flash


Contorted Venice

In the 1960s a deep canal was dug across the Venetian lagoon to give access to bigger ships to the commercial harbour at Marghera, and since then Venice has been flooded by ever more frequent and ever higher tides.

To counter this threat to Venice’s existence a system of mobile flood gates was devised at the three openings between the lagoon and the sea. They’re still being built. The costs are now over 6bn Euros, nobody knows if they will ever work, and the whole affair has become a cesspool of corruption and mismanagement of public funds.

Now, to make sure the next generation of still larger cruise ships will be able to enter the lagoon,  a new branch of the canal from the 1960s will be made to take the 70m wide and 360m long future ships into Venice. The project is being sold as a necessity to avoid having the ships pass in front of St.Mark’s, without promising that they won’t, and as an environmental project to repair the massive damage caused by the first canal.

These are all lies. There is absolutely no doubt that this new canals will wreak havoc with the fragile ecosystem of the lagoon, already seriously compromised by the first canal, yet the government in Rome and their lackeys in Venice wants to force this new canal on a city that doesn’t want it.

 The Canale dei Petroli

About a century ago, when the harbour in Venice city was no longer adequate for the traffic of the time, a new industrial harbour was built on the mainland at Marghera and a canal (called the Vittorio Emanuele) was dug to allow the still bigger ships to pass through Venice on to the new harbour behind the city.

In the 1950s traffic and ship sizes had reached a level where having them pass straight through the centre of Venice city was no longer viable, and a new canal was dug, the Canale dei Petroli,  leading from a more southern opening to the sea at Malamocco/Alberoni about 15km south of Venice, straight across the lagoon and up north along the mainland to the industrial harbour at Marghera.

Two huge areas destined for further industrial expansion were created at the bend of the new canal,  by filling up large tracts of lagoon. They’re called the casse di colmate, but much of this was never finished and the areas lie waste even now.

Central lagoon
Shipping routes through the Venetian lagoon

This new canal has all but destroyed the central lagoon where it starts, and it has made huge changes to the tidal characteristics of the southern lagoon.

Winding and bending shallow canals have been replaced by a 12m deep 100m wide canal which channels a massive amount of tidal water through the lagoon at full speed. The erosion has been enormous. The following three maps show the average water depth in the lagoon in the 1930s, in 1970 and in 2002 (darker blue is deeper).

Central lagoon - avg depth 1930
Average depth of the central lagoon in 1930 (source: Atlante della laguna)
Average depth of the central lagoon in 1970
Average depth of the central lagoon in 1970 (source: Atlante della laguna)
Average depth of the central lagoon in 2002
Average depth of the central lagoon in 2002 (source: Atlante della laguna)

Tens of millions of cubic metres of sediment has been lost to the sea over the last four decades.

The map below summarises the changes in depth in the central lagoon over the period 1970 just after the digging of the Canale dei Petroli, and in 2002.  Darker orange/red is deeper, green is shallower.

Changes in average depth of the central lagoon 1970-2002
Changes in average depth of the central lagoon 1970-2002 (source: Atlante della laguna)

The entire area has become deeper, the most affected parts up to 2m deeper, except for the ancient natural canals which have silted up as less water now follows that path.

In short the bottom of the central lagoon has been levelled out by the tidal current through the new canal.

The tidal watershed

Besides having turned the central lagoon into a branch of the sea, now complete with flying fish and dolphins, the tidal flow through the canal have moved the tidal watershed in the lagoon.

A rising tide enters the lagoon through each of the  three opening to the sea and in between there are two areas where the opposing tidal currents meet. At these tidal watersheds there is no current at any time, being the meeting point of two opposing currents.

Historically Venice has depended on the tide for cleaning the city canals. One could say that nature flushed their toilets twice a day, and the Venetians knew this and were always very careful to monitor the watershed whenever they made changes in the lagoon.

There was no such foresight when the Canale dei Petroli was dug.

The tidal watershed in the central lagoon, where the tides from the San Nicolò passage and the Malamocco passage meet, has therefore moved, pushed north by the now larger volume of water entering at Malamocco having a wider and more direct passage.

It used to be roughly in the middle, but with the Canale dei Petroli the watershed was pushed up behind Venice, just outside the city.

The map below show where the tidal watersheds have been approximately, before the Canale dei Petroli, after the canal and if the new cruise ship canal is dug.

Approximate position of the tidal watersheds in the central lagoon
Approximate position of the tidal watersheds in the central lagoon

In short, the flushing effect of the tide has been very reduced since the digging of the Canale dei Petroli, and with the new canal planned it will be a thing of the past.

With the new Canale Contorta the water in most of Venice will be stagnant.

The frequency of  high tides

Following the digging of the Canale dei Petroli Venice has suffered from ever more frequent high tides, as a consequence of the changes in the hydraulics of the lagoon.

The city administration has a tidal forecast office which also keeps detailed statistics of the tides, and their graphs are revealing.

This is the frequency of tides over 110cm (which floods 12% of the city) aggregated over each decade since measurements were made.

Frequency of tides over 110cm
Frequency of tides over 110cm (source: Istituzione Centro Previsioni e Segnalazioni Maree)

The same graph for tides over 120cm which floods 28% of the city.

Frequency of tides over 120cm
Frequency of tides over 120cm (source: Istituzione Centro Previsioni e Segnalazioni Maree)

The conclusion is evident: mess with the lagoon and you mess with Venice.

The MOSE project

However, rather than trying to roll back the changes made, another technological fix was chosen.

The MOSE project is for a set of huge floodgates to be built at each of the three openings between the sea and the lagoon, at San Nicolò in the north closest to Venice, at Malamocco in the middle where the Canale dei Petroli starts, and in the south at Chioggia.

The gates will lie at the bottom filled with water when not in use, and when a tide of 110cm or more is predicted, they will be pumped full of compressed air and swing up on hinges to impede the water from rising.

A tidal level of 110cm is already problematic for the city, but if the flood gates are activated at a lower level, they will be closed so often as to compromise the entire lagoon as a tidal marsh. The ecosystem of the lagoon breathes with the tide, and it will morph into something else if the tide is removed.

The original project was expected to cost little over 1bn Euros, but costs have inflated repeatedly and the bill now stands at over 6bn Euros.

The flood gates are still not operational. That is expected to happen in 2017.

The whole project has become a cesspool of corruption and mismanagement of the public funds involved. Rumours speak of about a quarter of the entire cost non being accounted for, and arrests have been made in the leadership of the consortium of companies building the flood gates, and in the public offices supposed to supervise the construction, both at the level of the state and the various agencies involved, the region of Veneto and in the city of Venice.

Most of Venice has been opposed to the building of the flood gates, in part because of the still unknown environmental impact of the project, and in part because it has diverted all the funds Venice used to received from the state for protecting and maintaining the city.

As the situation is now, the flood gates are not operational, nobody knows if they’ll work and it is not clear what the final  environmental impact of the gates will be. What is sure is that a lot of well connected people have become a lot wealthier with all the money they have managed to extract from the project.

Until now, all that has been done to stem the high tides flooding Venice has had no positive effect whatsoever.

Cruise ships in Venice

Cruises and ferries were the only harbour activities which remained in Venice after most commercial shipping moved to Marghera.

Lately the ferries have moved to the mainland too, leaving only the cruise ships. They have, however, taken a huge upswing.

An ever rising number of cruise ships enter the cruise harbour of Venice every year, up to 600-700 visits a year, with as much as 12 ships in the harbour at any one time.

The ships have also become ever larger. The current generation of cruise ships are over 300m long, 50m wide, 50m tall with a draught of 10-12m, and with a displacement of 140,000 tonnes. They carry up to 3500 passengers and a crew of 1500-2000.

These ships are flowing cities.

The Titanic in comparison was 40,000 tonnes and not even half the width of a modern cruise ship.

The size of the Titanic compared to a modern cruise ship
The size of the Titanic compared to a modern cruise ship

The next generation will be even more gigantic, measuring up to 360m in length and 70m in width, with a displacement of 200,000 tonnes. They will not be taller or have a larger draught, as that would prevent them from entering many of the harbours they’re working from. The only way to make the ships bigger is to make them longer and wider.

The current route followed by the cruise ships to the cruise terminal in Venice is marked in blue on the map below.

The current and proposed route of cruise ships in Venice
The current and proposed route of cruise ships in Venice

This huge cruise ships pass straight through the centre of the city, and to say the least they’re an eyesore.

Various measurements of the air quality indicate that each of these ships pollute  like 15,000 cars. With up to 12 of these passing on a good summer’s day, its like living on the side of a very busy motorway.

The route from the sea to the cruise terminal is very narrow as only a part of the basin in front of St.Mark’s have the required depth for the cruise ships to pass. The tight passage and the many sharp turns are beyond the manoeuvrability of the ships, and they’re always accompanied by two tugs, one in front and one behind, to help them turn the corners. They’re not able to navigate the passage on their own.

It is very unlikely that the next generation of cruise ships, being 20% longer and wider, will be able to negotiate this passage.

The Canale Contorta or Caotorta

Hence the need for the powers that be to find another passage to the existing cruise terminal, which have received substantial investments in recent years.

The residents have helped a bit. There is a marked hostility in the city of Venice towards the cruise ships passing through the city centre. They are very very ugly, the pollution scares people and they bring very little if any economic benefit to the populace in general.

Even the association of hotel owners in Venice have stated that they’d rather be without the cruise tourists who generally spend very little in Venice as they both sleep and eat on board.

The harbour authority has for a long time had the project for another access way to the cruise terminal in their drawers. With the mounting pressure to remove the cruise ships from the centre of the city following the Costa Concordia disaster in Tuscany, the plan for the Canale Contorta was taken out again.

The plan is to make a branch on the Canale dei Petroli that will lead straight to Venice.

The current and proposed route of cruise ships in Venice
The current and proposed route of cruise ships in Venice

The Canale Contorta already exists and always have. It is about 15m wide and has a depth varying between less then 1m and about 2m. It can only be used by small boats and as all natural canals in the lagoon it is winding, not straight.

What the harbour authority proposes as a “recalibration” of the canal, will take it to 100m in width, over 10m in depth and straighten it out.

They’re taking a pretty country lane and making it into a motorway surrounded by mounds, calling it a “recalibration”.

The 6 million cubic metres of polluted mud they’ll have to dig away will be used to create what they call “marsh islands” around the canal. This is most likely to contain the waves caused by the displacement of the ships, and probably just as important, to dispose of the mud as close to digging site as possible to keep costs down. This is marketed as an environmental investment to return the central lagoon to what it was before the Canale dei Petroli was dug.

Other projects have been tabled, such as a new cruise terminal in Marghera as large parts of the old industrial harbour is unused and the canal already exists; or an off shore cruise terminal outside the MOSE flood gates at San Nicolò, but all alternatives have been swept away as inadequate, and only the Canale Contorta project has been examined.

This decision was taken by the government in Rome in mid August.

The project has to undergo a VIA, valutazione dell’impatto ambientale, or environmental impact assessment. This process should have taken two month including public debates, but the harbour authority has managed to fast track the procedure, claiming the project is of strategic national interest, so the VIA will be just 30 days and without any kind of public debate.

The residents of Venice has taken up the fight. They have collected almost 30,000 signatures online and around the city; and groups are contesting the project and the way it is forced through the system through legal means.

The impact of the canal will be to exacerbate the damages the Canal dei Petroli has already done to the lagoon, and mostly likely undo whatever positive effect the MOSE project might have on the lagoon in the future.

State versus city

How come such decisions are taken when the locals are clearly against them?

It is all a matter of state versus local administration.

The harbour of Venice is not the harbour of Venice city. It is a state harbour. The managers and directors are appointed in Rome, and they appoint people who share the government’s view of what should happen in the harbour.

Venice city and the local population has no say whatsoever in what the harbour authority does or doesn’t do.

What money the cruise industry brings to ‘Venice’ doesn’t benefit Venice city. All the money goes to Rome, to the government, the owner of the harbour.

When the Canale dei Petroli was build there probably wasn’t much of a public debate, but the MOSE project was fiercely contested locally. Yet the project was steam rolled over the city and local objections, channelling all funding from safeguarding the city to pouring cement in the lagoon.

As the mismanagement and corruption of the MOSE project has been revealed in the last few years, it has been clear that the opposition back then was right all the way, yet they were derided in the press, dragged to court and almost bankrupted, had their academic careers damaged.

Now the same procedure is repeating all over. Government agencies are forcing the project through against local opposition, and with all likelihood the canal will be dug, and with all likelihood the environmental damage will be massive and irreversible.

As an extra little finesse this time the powers that be have managed to force the mayor of Venice to resign after accusation of corruption related to the MOSE project, so the city of Venice has no democratically elected local government any more. The city is currently managed by a government appointed commissioner, who doesn’t speak up against the government in Rome, his employer.

That is Venice’s future if the Italian government gets it their way. In the process a lot of people will get richer and more powerful, and the mess they leave behind will be left to the future residents of Venice, who never wanted any of the projects from Rome.

The high tides will be ever higher and ever more frequent.