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This paper aims to present a picture of the lagoon of Venice and analyze the combined effects of natural factors and human influence on this fragile ecotone. The structure, functioning and evolution of the lagoon are illustrated. Under natural conditions, the solid load from the tributaries would transform the lagoon into dry land or, if the violence of the sea exceeded the solid load from the watershed, the lagoon would evolve into a marine bay. This natural succession has been hindered by the works undertaken by the Republic of Venice uninterruptedly through the centuries, because the lagoon environment was essential to the life and power of Venice. The effects of human activities from the beginning of the Venetian Republic to the present are described. In addition, the influence of socio-economic development on the lagoon area and, particularly, the impact of intensive agriculture and industrialization are discussed. A possible effect of eutrophication was the dramatic proliferation of the opportunistic macroalga Ulva rigida, which for about a decade played an important role in the physical, chemical and biological characteristics of the lagoon. At present, the most crucial problems of Venice and its lagoon are: the lowering of the level of the city in relation to that of the sea, the continuous decline in the number of inhabitants, the increasing frequency of the “high water” phenomenon, air and water pollution, and the increased erosion and salinity of the lagoon. The recent measures taken and those still to be applied for conserving and recovering Venice and its lagoon and, particularly, the works for preventing the risk of high water are compared. There is an evident need for a new type of socio-economic development in symbiosis with the environment and tradition of Venice.
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