A nursery to save the noble pen shell

90% of the bivalve specimens have disappeared. Now, a project by Triton Research is seeking to recover the Pinna nobilis...

In the Gulf of Trieste, there’s a small nursery with many young ones waiting to find a new home. They are young noble pen shells (Pinna nobilis), one of the most charismatic species in the Mediterranean. At least they used to be, before an epidemic, the causes of which are only partly known, wiped out a large part of the specimens populating our seas. That nursery is now the hope of reviving a species on the brink of extinction, within the project Life Pinna, initiative funded by the European Union launched just a few months ago.

“Pinna nobilis has undergone an incredible decline over the years” summarizes Daniela Caracciolo from Arpal (Regional Agency for Environmental Protection of Liguria), project manager. “In the past, it was quite common and historically used to produce precious silks from its byssus filaments. Additionally, it was used for consumption and collecting. However, today it is classified as a critically endangered species according to the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature).”

“Already in the 1990s – recalls Caracciolo – projects were initiated to protect the largest bivalve mollusk in the Mediterranean – it can even reach up to a meter in length – prohibiting its commercialization and movements for any reason. Those early interventions had some positive impact: the noble pen shell began to flourish again. However, suddenly in 2016, an astonishing decline started to be observed, as Caracciolo straightforwardly describes: “Starting from Spain and then across the entire Mediterranean, we witnessed the disappearance of 90% of the noble pen shells, due to causes we only partially understand and are still studying. We know that this epidemic was partly caused by the protozoan Haplosporidium attacking the intestine, but it’s likely that other infections by bacteria and viruses are also involved.”


“This, along with trawling fishing activities, pollution, and rising temperatures, has created the perfect storm for the Pinna nobilis, triggering a collapse that, within five years, is estimated to have led to the loss of 300,000 specimens” Caracciolo continues. “The Life Pinna project was precisely born to try to reverse this trend.”


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