Paradise lost: Eviction looms for hermit living alone on Italian island

CNN  — 

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For more than 30 years, Mauro Morandi has been the sole inhabitant of a beautiful island in the Mediterranean Sea.

He hoped to make it his life-long home, but that is now under threat.

Italy’s answer to Robinson Crusoe faces eviction from the Isle of Budelli, off the coast of Sardinia, if he doesn’t voluntarily leave – which he has no intention of doing.

Local authorities are speeding up plans to restyle his ramshackle hut and turn it into an environmental observatory, putting an end to his blissful stay.

Morandi, a former teacher, arrived on the island by accident while attempting to sail from Italy to Polynesia 31 years ago. He fell in love with the pristine atoll’s crystal-clear waters, coral sands and beautiful sunsets – and decided to stay.

He took over from the previous caretaker shortly afterward and, at the age of 81, he’s still there and ready to fight for his home, whatever it takes.

“I’m ready to do all I can to stay here, even if that means they’ll have to drag me away. I wouldn’t know where else to go live, certainly not back home in the north, nor what to do – this is my life. I just don’t see myself playing cards or bowls,” Morandi tells CNN Travel in Italian.

Morandi, who has enjoyed a safe and isolated retreat during Italy’s Covid-19 emergency, believes authorities will serve him his eviction notice once summer is over.

“All I ask is, if I must be sent away during the renovation works, that I can come back after and keep doing what I do each day: guard the endangered pink coral beach, keep tourists at bay, protect the nature. I fear that if I’m gone, it will be the end of Budelli too”.

An online petition has been launched to this end, which in just a few days has gathered more than 2,600 supporters across the world.

The island has changed ownership several times over the last few years. Since 2015, Budelli has been owned by La Maddalena’s National Park, rendering Morandi’s role obsolete.

The authorities say they are simply upholding the law.

“Our priority is to intervene against all illegal constructions inside the park, including Mauro’s hut, a former World War II radio station which has undergone modifications which aren’t in accordance with the rules. We need to set the example, protect our environment by first restoring this illegal structure ,and then move on with a new project which will likely be a scientific center for the spreading of environmental awareness,” La Maddalena Park president Fabrizio Fonnesu tells CNN in Italian.

Budelli’s caretaker

Budelli is known for its beautiful pink shoreline.

Fonnesu says there is no set date for Morandi’s eventual eviction, given that it will take months before the reconstruction phase kicks off.

“Nobody wants to chase him away, but what title does he have to stay since the island is no longer private?,” says Fonnesu. “If in future there is the need to have a caretaker, we could reconsider his position, but when the works will start he must leave.”

The island is a pollution-free paradise with clear turquoise waters, lush wild vegetation, purplish rocks resembling natural sculptures, and healthy air. “Many people would like to be Budelli’s caretaker,” notes Fonnesu.

Locals complain about the romantic portrait painted of Morandi by foreign media, hailing him as a bon sauvage “hermit.” In truth, says Fonnesu, he’s “an illegal occupant” of Budelli.

Morandi, meanwhile, says that although the mere thought of leaving hurts him, he’s more worried about the fate of the “pink atoll,” so-called because of the rosy hue of its unique coral sand beach.

“Just the other day I chased away two tourists who were trespassing on the off-limits pink beach,” he says. “I clean the rubbish off the sand and stop intruders from coming here to do mayhem at night. Truth is, I’m the only one who has so far taken care of Budelli, doing the surveillance task that the park authorities should do”.

Morandi fears that Budelli will follow the fate of its sister-isle Spargi, where an observatory was set up in the past only to be later vandalized by visitors. He says: “They stole everything from Spargi, the new furniture and all, they plundered and destroyed the place. Will that be Budelli’s future as well?”

No matter how things go, the fiery guardian will never abandon Sardinia.

Morandi could go back home to Modena for the duration of the restyle, staying temporarily with friends or relatives, but if the park authorities won’t let him resume his island caretaker job he would need find a new home.

‘Sardinia is my land’

Mauro Morandi has made Borelli his home for more than 30 years.

“I don’t even want to think about it,” he says. “I have no house and would need to find one here in Sardinia, in some place cheaper than La Maddalena Archipelago, where prices are way too high.”

“Sardina is my land,” he says. “Nature here is still alive, wild, vibrant. I need the contact with nature.”

Each night he sleeps in the old stone cottage and wakes up in the morning surrounded by Mother Nature. He enjoys exploring shrubs and cliffs and talks to birds at breakfast as they fly in and out of his little kitchen window.

Left alone, he spends the day admiring the sea, inhaling the pure air, collecting wood, preparing his meals and – of course – posting on social networks.

Budelli is one of the most beautiful islands in the entire Mediterranean. Dating back to prehistoric times when the Earth’s crust was still forming, legend says it’s a shard of the mythical, lost Atlantis continent swallowed by the ocean.

But the island isn’t completely immune to climate change and nature’s destruction by man, says Morandi.

Not long ago a clear line of pinkish sand cut along the shore, made of bright pink, orange and salmon-tinted crushed coral, crystals, fossils and dead marine creatures, giving the shore a sparkling strawberry hue similar to that of sunset skies.

If he’s forced to leave for good, Morandi fears the pink atoll will survive only on postcards from the past.