Along the coast of northern Sardinia is the Maddalena Archipelago National Park, which is comprised of seven islands. Budelli is considered the most beautiful among them – and, in fact, one of the most beautiful in the Mediterranean – for its Spiaggia Rosa, or Pink Beach. It derives its unusual hue from corals and shells that have been slowly reduced to sand by the shifting tides. This setting is featured in Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1964 film Il deserto rosso (The Red Desert).
The beach and the island were considered a place of “high natural value” by the Italian government. To protect its fragile ecosystem, the beach was closed off, and tourism dwindled. The island rapidly became “uninhabited” … except for one person.
In 1989, Mauro Morandi was attempting to sail from Italy to Polynesia. But his catamaran—engine crippled and anchor adrift—washed up on the coast of Budelli Island. Age 50 at the time, Morandi fell in love with the atoll’s crystal-clear waters, coral sands and beautiful sunsets. He discovered that the island’s caretaker was retiring from his post, so he sold his boat and took on the role of island protector. Thirty years later, he is still there. He has earned a reputation as Italy’s Robinson Crusoe.
Morandi fervently guards Budelli’s environment over its 1.6 square kilometers (0.62 square miles). He educates the occasional visitor about the ecosystem and how to protect it. A former teacher, Morandi believes that educating people about how to see beauty will save the world from exploitation. Armed now with a cell phone and Wi-Fi, he shares his paradise and his philosophy through social media. He hopes to motivate people to care for the planet wherever they live.
In his solitary world, Morandi has taken up other creative pursuits. He creates sculptures from juniper wood. He reads prodigiously and meditates on the wisdom of Greek philosophers. He takes pictures of the island, marveling at how it changes hour by hour, day by day, from one season to the next.
Morandi also stays abreast of world events and, of course, learned about the spread of the coronavirus and the lockdown in Italy and eventually throughout other parts of the world. His first concern was for the wellbeing of his family and friends from Modena, one of the areas of northern Italy hit hard by the virus. With travel restrictions in effect, he must now wait longer for food deliveries from the mainland. And he can expect even fewer visitors during the summer months.
While Morandi does occasionally feel lonely, he believes that solitude can be a very positive force in one’s life. It can be an opportunity to practice some soul searching—to think, to read, and to meditate on the meaning of life and the care of the environment.