ISSN 1108-8931

International Ecotourism Monthly

Year 4, Issue 45, Feb. 2003

The ECOCLUB Interview
Index of Interviews

Professor Aimilia Drougas
Dr. Aimilia Drougas an Expert Member of, is both an acclaimed academic and an environmental activist, a pioneer of marine mammals protection in Greece. ECOCLUB sought her unique insight for the state of marine wildlife in the Greek seas, some of the most touristy seas worldwide, and for an expert evaluation of public and private conservation efforts.

You are a leading expert in Marine Mammals. How would you describe the current state of Marine Mammals in the Greek seas, worse or better than 20 years ago, and how does that differ from the situation in other Mediterranean countries. And are national policies adequately coordinated?

The on-going seasonal field research and education program concerning monitoring the movements of cetaceans along Ionion and Aegean Sea, in Greece is conducted since 1996, by DELPHIS-Hellenic Cetacean Research and Conservation Society, a not for profit organisation holding a governmental research permit and since 2000 by ARION -Cetacean Rescue & Rehabilitation Research Centre.

The current state of marine mammals in the Greek seas are more likely to be on a better situation because of the research on the field which accomplishes the cetacean population monitoring and the identification of different species, along with the formation of the network of port authorities, veterinarians and local volunteers which provide information and help on stranded cases of cetaceans on a daily basis. The cetacean species that have been so far found in Greece are: Common dolphins (Delphinus delphis), Bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus), Striped dolphins (Stenella coeruleoalba), Risso's dolphins (Grampus griseus), Cuvier's beaked whales (Ziphius cavirostris), Sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus) and Fin whale (Balaeonoptera physalus). With special luck we might meet more species like: Pilot whales (Globicephala melaena), False killer whales (Pseudorca crassidens), Orcas (Orcinus orca), Humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae),etc. At North Aegean Sea we might observe among others and the rare species of Harbour porpoises ((Phocoena phocoena). On the other hand the cetaceans mortality which in 10 years has increased to about 1200 cases shows again the availability and the existence of the Rescue Team network and the help which was offered. Cetacean monitoring in Greece is a recent research started actually in the early 1990s and intensively from 1995.

Policies and plans are not effectively implemented although usually approved at the national and regional level. A great part of regulation has either never being implemented or have become inactive after a short period of implementation. Still, constant violation is a common practice even when a law is implemented. The actual protection of marine mammals and their habitats by the enforcement of existing legislation is very poor owing to:
Insufficient research on cetacean monitoring
· Practical difficulties (large remote areas)
· Insufficient funds and lack of trained personnel
· Complicated and competing responsibilities and structures of public services
· Lack of accredited scientific environmental organizations
· Recent enforcement of the international agreement ACCOBAMS (Agreement for the conservation of cetaceans of the Baltic, Atlantic and Mediterranean Sea) but not ratified yet.
· Insufficient implementation of the CITES (Convention of the International Trade of Endangered Species and their by products) Agreement by the Forestry local departments or the Customs, and
· Increase of uncontrolled whale watching activities which also lack of trained personnel.

This is usually the case for all plans which aim at land development control and furthermore at the definition of desirable/appropriate land uses. There is a strong resistance from local people, owners of the land, who deny any control over land. Local policy and decision makers often submit to these pressures. The problem becomes more acute in all coastal areas, where prospects for tourism development are high. Any kind of restriction for building up an area will confront local interests. Since there is no proper implementation mechanism or monitoring, it is often the case that people built in areas where they supposed not to do, or they occupy more land than the one they allowed to. Bureaucracy further contributes to ineffective implementation and monitoring.

How successful have Greek Marine Parks been so far, in protecting marine mammals? Are more Marine Parks or more Marine Rescue and Rehabilitation Centres the practical answer?

There are only two marine parks in Greece. The Marine Park of North Sporades was established to protect the monk seal, Monachus monachus. It was declared a national park by presidential decree in May 1992 and the national park for sea turtles in Zakynthos, which was declared by presidential decree in 1999. So far, the management authorities of these two parks have succeeded in proposing specific regulations but the enforcement of them is not satisfactory yet.

Greece is a rather small country in the Mediterranean basin although it provides a diversity of different biotopes - a small microcosm of biodiversity. This means that Greece as a whole country should be a National Park to my opinion. Of course Marine Parks are a solution to protect certain endangered species but how many of them could be established in Greece? I personally think that the existence of professional Rescue and Rehabilitation Centres are a better solution for our country. This is why the Ministry of Agriculture has already enforced a Law during 2000 about giving legal permits of operation and research on certain Rescue and Rehabilitation Centres (e.g. seals, sea turtles, birds, bears, cetaceans) which are compiling with the national and international laws and provide the necessary facilities and scientific staff. ARION Cetacean Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre is one of these centres which is going to rescue stranded cetaceans, wounded or orphans and re-introduce them back to their natural environment if it is safe to do so. Also, these centres could act as the entrance of the gathering of valuable data to complement the National Data and Tissue Banks for different fauna.

You are also an active Academic teacher as a Professor at the Piraeus Technological Institute. Environmental Education seems to be becoming trendy in Greece but what happens to the students once they graduate? Are they able to find meaningful scientific work or do they end up as P.R. consultants for marine polluting companies?

Environmental education in Greece is considered adequate during the last decade and most department curricula include courses related to the environment, and there are also postgraduate studies at several Universities and Institutions like: the University of Athens, Aegean, Patras or Thessaloniki, and at the Technical Education Institutes. The studies offer the substantial education on environmental studies to complete necessary capacity building and feasibility studies in order to work effectively in the monitoring, protection and management of the environment at public works, construction, economic and social sectors according to the recent spatial planning law (Law 1650/86) which was enforced by the Ministry of Environment, Planning and Public Works. In detail, the Environmental Law 1650/86 can be used as a tool for spatial planning for areas, which present certain special environmental characteristics. The law provides for the designation and delineation of areas of protection and conservation -national parks, marine parks, aesthetic landscapes, areas of significant ecological value- or areas for the development of productive activities. The law allows restrictions to be applied for the development of activities within both the zone of protection and its surrounding zone in order to effectuate land use control.

Therefore, students once they graduate from the Universities they now can find meaningful scientific work at the governmental or local sector (municipalities, community level technical departments) or at the private sector (construction, industry, waste management, agriculture and aquaculture, insurance companies, environmental agencies or organizations, research centres, teaching and consulting). In general, I believe that environmentalists, in Greece, can play a vital role in setting up and maintaining monitoring systems, in assessing the quality assurance of the analytical results, and in properly evaluating the information in order to improve our knowledge of environmental protection and pollution mechanisms and to succeed in improving overall environmental quality according to the principles o sustainable development..

Major marine pollution incidents such as oil spills make the headlines
and draw the wrath of International NGOs, whereas everyday incidents of residential pollution never do, as there is no easy person to blame and may harm donations from ordinary members of the public". Please comment.

Environments and ecosystems in Greece are small and fragile and face many problems of various types. Their study, protection, and management according to the principles of sustainability are difficult tasks. Social pressures for better environmental quality are still low, although many economic activities are directly dependent on having a cleaner environment. Also, governments, local authorities, scientists, industrial managers, etc., each have different approach and different perspectives. There are inevitably conflicts about work responsibilities and distribution of funds that make planning and implementation of environmental policy difficult.

The everyday incidents of residential pollution in Greece are very common and everybody is aware of this 'everlasting' problem. Until now, it seems that only those municipalities where environmental departments are active and concerned towards the protection of the environment and the public health have taken care of some problems. It seems that major incidents such as oil spills can easily find campaigners among local or international NGOs whereas it is difficult for them to get involved in a 'smaller and everyday' incident on a local basis. For Greece, the history reveals that when a problem is harmful for a business sector then there are significant delays.

Oil and gas are potentially hazardous substances, produced, refined and transported in environments that can have their own unique dangers. Awareness of these facts drives our efforts to eliminate accidents. Unfortunately, politicians, lobbyists and industry control debates over oceanic pollution.

The solution lies with the scientific documentation. Our only tools for making sound decisions lie in experience, education and awareness. The very fact that we exist can be linked to the ocean. Unless industry leaders take broad steps to control waste disposal and confront the difficult issues and practices which have resulted in overutilisation and resource depletion, the danger will be very real.

As a marine scientist, how important do you think organic agriculture is, in the effort of minimizing marine pollution? Are organic fertilizers any better than the standard ones?

The earth's marine environment is a powerful resource. 85 per cent of the world's population lives along its coastal areas. Yet, we continue to poison our oceans, nutrient enrichment spurs oxygen depletion in coastal waters, stressing or killing biota. Coastal land-use practices (marina, agricultural and industrial development) cause contamination by chemical pollutants, pesticides, petroleum products, fertilizers, and heavy metals. Each impact alters the coastal ecosystems. Each impact has significant implications for human issues, including swimmers' health, fishery nurseries and resources, and management of coastal land development. The ecological impact of this urban conglomeration is already making our oceans pay a heavy price as most municipalities and industries around the coast do not have wastewater facilities.

The responsible authority for planning and monitoring the implementation of plant genetic resources Action Plan is the Directorate of Physical Planning and Environmental Protection of the Ministry of Agriculture and its basic operational body is the Greek Gene Bank.

The Hellenic Ministry of Agriculture - General Directorate of Water Reclamation, with the help of EU legislation, provides the necessary studies and programmes and defines the reliability of operational "balance models of inputs quantities" for specific land conservation processes in time intervals. Drastic and substantial measures are required to deal with the potential negative impacts that may arise from the expected structural changes of the primary sector, given that the employment rate in the primary sector, as well as the "agricultural population" of Greece are likely to be significantly reduced until 2010. Greece has also established and published "Codes of good agricultural practice" for the management of agricultural areas, of grazing lands, of water resources and of biodiversity. The implementation of these codes is obligatory for all producers under the EU legislation (Reg. 1259/99), whereas the carrying out of EIA studies prior to the construction of public and private works and projects is also another 'obligatory instrument', according to the national and EU legislation. Law 1337/1983 and several other Presidential Decrees, address the need for the protection of the high productivity arable land and restrict its transfer to other uses (human settlements, transport infrastructure, industrial activity etc). The Ministry of Agriculture has developed and institutionalised "Codes of best agricultural practice" aiming at the reduction of the pesticides use in the agricultural activities.

The Ministry of Agriculture is participating in the planning of the national strategy regarding biodiversity, implementing the International Convention for the Conservation of Biological Diversity. Through the Information Bank of "Genetic data", the Ministry of Agriculture is actively contributing to the in situ or on farm and ex situ conservation of cultivated plants as well as the conservation of their 'wild ancestors' forms. The Special and Regional plans are given basic guidelines for the protection of agricultural land. There are also other regulations for the preservation and development of farmlands, as well as specific programs for the re-organization of the production using more ecological methods, which promote the environmental protection and create eco-tourism and cultural networks in an integrated way. The viability of rural areas and the development of several food products of traditional character is indicated as an important advantage for the regional development of the mountainous and rural areas.

By using organic agriculture is definitely a step forward in reducing the impact on polluting our oceans but we should also be very careful of using this too much.

From a marine conservationist's point, is marine ecotourism a necessary evil, or a useful tool? And what would be 10 commandments for a tourist / volunteer on a Marine ecotour in the Aegean?

Despite varying size and growth estimates, it seems clear that the scope and impact of tourism and ecotourism is a necessary evil and a useful tool, will continue to grow and will require international regulation. But the current legal framework is a patchwork of agreements and treaties that concern trade more than tourism and are often in conflict. Although international bodies such as UNEP and the WTTC are moving toward a unified set of guidelines, their implementation will remain problematic due to a lack of systematic measurement and enforcement. The best way of regulating tourism may be found in strategic plans. Such plans base their effectiveness on a regional approach, recognize local ecosystems as their foundation, involve local participation in the planning and decision making process, and include a long-term funding commitment at the national level.

The 10 commandments for a tourist/volunteer on a Marine ecotour in the Aegean are:
1. Keep your distance. Generally, try to remain a safe and respectful distance of 100 meters from animals. Use binoculars or zoom lenses to get a close-up look.
2. If on the water, avoid excessive boat speed or abrupt changes in speed or direction. Stay fully clear of a dolphin's, whale's, or seal's path. Endangered marine mammal species have been sliced by propellers when boaters ignore speed limits. If approached by these animals, put the engine in neutral and allow it to pass.
3. If on land, observe animals such as seals or sea turtles that are "hauled out" without alerting them to your presence. The pups of seals and sea turtles have been trampled by adult animals startled by disruptive tourists.
4. Limit time spent observing animals. Encounters with people can be stressful to animals and can alter their normal behaviours. Half an hour is reasonable. Chances are you haven't been the only one to approach the animal that day.
5. Stay clear of mothers with young. Nests, dens, and rookeries are especially vulnerable to human disturbance. Never herd, chase, or separate a mother from its young or try to handle pups.
6. Resist the temptation to "save" animals, especially "orphans." Mom is usually watching from a safe distance. If an animal appears sick, get professional help by calling port officers or ARION Research Centre (Hotline: +30-6945-644994, +30-6945-531850).
7. Never surround an animal. Always leave an "escape" route. Dolphins, whales, and seals should not be trapped between boats, or between boats and shore.
8. Keep pets on a leash or leave them at home. Both pets and wild animals can be hurt if bitten. There is also danger of disease transmission.
9. Don't litter. Leave a habitat better than you found it. When enjoying nature and watching wild animals, carry along a trash bag and pick up litter when you see it.
10. And, most importantly, Don't feed wild animals.

Genuine ecotourism involves the local community. Does marine ecotourism in Greece also involve the local community or is this impossible due to hostility by constituencies such as the fishermen? Do you see any parallels with the Galapagos?

Greece's main economy the last 20 years is based on tourism. Geographically and climatologically Greece offers a microcosm of a variety of environment and ecosystems: mountains with intense vegetation coverage and snow, interchanging with waterfalls, rivers and numerous lakes. Islands and islets covered with vegetation or plain rocks. Lengthy coasts sandy or with deep slopes.

Ecotourism in Greece has started late 1990s mainly by the NGOs. Marine ecotourism in Greece involving also the local community started by the NGO DELPHIS on 1995, which organized cetacean monitoring research by fishing boats and volunteers, and had a legal research permit. The last five years the situation is uncontrolled due to the non-existence of the legal framework with all the negative consequences. Now other NGOs are offering bird watching, sea turtle watching, adventure gaming tours and the local businesses along with tour operators are also involved in 'luxurious' ecotourism. Fishermen do live from fishing in Greece but during summer, they also timidly are involved in touring tourists around their community's habitats. I do not see any parallels with those existing with the Galapagos fishermen in the aspect that Greeks are mostly involved with land based tourist activities and businesses. The marine ecotourism is a rather new development in Greece.

Coastal waters extend about 15,021km around Greece and the place of 9,838 islands which all together blend into a diverse marine ecosystem. This is home to a variety of coastal marine fish, sea turtles, birds and mammals. Animals who frequent the numerous inlets, bays, gulfs, straits, coves or peninsulas include gulls, European buzzards, pelicans, storks and herons, ospreys, falcons, sea turtles, and seals. Bottlenose, striped, common and Risso's dolphins, fin, sperm, pilot or Cuvier's beaked whales are few of the cetaceans' species which live or migrate along the coastal zones and often are visible from the boat.

Greece's location in the Eastern part of the Mediterranean Sea offers an easy approach by boat, plane, automobile, rail, motorbike, bicycle, to the rest European, Balkan or Middle East Countries.

Ecotourism mild or extreme adventurous, is spreading the last 5 years to all over Greece. Most of the NGO's offer guided tours for bird watching, for watching the brown bear and the grey wolf, for flora identification, for forest recovery or for whale watching. Extreme rafting or skydiving and scuba diving is the best of the adventures where a naturalist and a tourist can get involved. Culture is also a part of ecotourism in Greece and one can find many interesting exhibitions, or visit archaeological sites since our History offers splendid ancient and modern Greece's artefacts.

To watch and not annoy the endangered animals, which are protected, by national and international laws it needs a governmental permit. Therefore, only authorized NGOs are allowed to offer such service.

Would the NGOs you are presiding knowingly accept a donation from a suspected marine polluter, as a small "apology"? In general, do you believe the end justify the means for conservation?

The NGOs I am presiding (ARION and DELPHIS) believe that it is against their objectives to accept donations from marine polluters. Both of the organizations have not accepted any donations from marine polluters. There would only be a case for consideration to those polluters who could prove and justify their conservation actions towards cleaning pollution which was caused by their actions.

In the last decade there has been a boom in so-called "Sea Farms" all over Greece, initially to cope with decreasing sea yields, now exporting to major fish consumption
countries such as Italy. What has the effect of this boom been on the state of marine mammals?

The boom in so-called "Sea -Farms" all over Greece has effected rather negatively the behaviour of marine mammals because we have observed that they are often found in areas around sea farms or following fishing boats where they can find their food easily, and they are not fed with wild fish. This attitude has made the marine mammals somehow 'beggars' of food following easier boats who carry fish while tourists are excited feeding them. The marine mammals' dependence on farmed fish food has a further negative impact towards their survival since there is an aggressive antagonism against them from the farmers and fishermen who often take the law under their hands and threaten their existence by rifles, poisoning and by using harmful acoustic devices.
It should be noted that research is done for this type of fish food which is farmed and does not give the same nutritional value as the one taken by feeding on wild fish and therefore cetaceans' hormonal level may finally undergo a nutritional depletion like we humans do by feeding only with processed fast food.

What are the projects you are currently undertaking in the field of marine protection in Greece?

Currently, I am undertaking several projects in the field of marine protection in Greece with ARION, DELPHIS and at TEI of Piraeus.

ARION-The Cetacean Rescue & Rehabilitation Research Centre's projects are as follows:

1.Cetacean veterinary care
Rescue first aid techniques and reintroduction of successfully rehabilitated cetaceans back into their natural environment. Sampling, analysis, and data analysis is emphasized. ARION's staff has already produced a 65 page coloured booklet for the cetaceans first aid techniques and other rescue guidelines, in collaboration with the CITES Management Authority-Ministry of Agriculture and is being distributed to local port and forestry authorities in Greece.

2. Morbillivirus infection determined in stripped dolphins and their medical treatment
Investigation, isolation and control of infectious diseases found in stripped dolphins.

3. Harbour Porpoises' (Phocoena phocoena sp.) genetic variation with Black Sea's relative species
Emphasis in the research of Harbour porpoise in the Greek waters and its population distribution through tissue and blood sampling and distinguish DNA genetic variations with those species coming from the Black Sea and the Atlantic Ocean.

4. Heavy metals determination in Harbour Porpoises tissues
Tissue sampling, of Harbour Porpoises stranded in Greece, for determination of pollutant levels.

5. Cetacean Sightings and Strandings
Continuation of the Hellenic Cetacean Research and Conservation Society- DELPHIS recordings (supplementing the national databank with statistical analysis and mapping).

6. Geological and ecological characteristics in cetaceans' food resources
Every year we can observe mixed or distinct small pods of coastal or pelagic feeding cetaceans. The animals are monitored to determine variations in their behaviour during their feeding. Considering that the geological and ecological characteristics of specific areas in Greece may cause such big food resource increasing consequently the presence of consumers. Interactions with fisheries are investigated.

7. Behaviour of semi-resident group of common dolphins (Delphinus delphins) in Samothrace Island, NE Greece
This project is carried out in the coastal waters of NE Greece and started in 1998. Common dolphins were observed most frequently in groups of 6-10 with a maximum of 35 individuals. Photo-id studies related the seasonal presence of recognizable individuals in a single location (around Chalkidiki or at Ionion sea). The animals are monitored for long time to determine variations in their behaviour during the day. Human to dolphin interactions are also studied.

8. Application of the new magnetic separation technology " CLEANMAG" for prevention and control action response of marine wildlife rescue and rehabilitation from accidental marine oil pollution
This is a greek innovation of Physicist, Dr. G. Nicolaides T.E.I PIRAEUS and its general objective is the use of a new magnetic oil sorbing material "CLEANMAG" which will be applied on the affected animals external surface and would absorb (due to the material's strong oleophilic character-sorbing only oil and not water) all the oil, which would contact the particular material. "CLEANMAG" is a technique for oil spill cleanup and oil recovery. "CLEANMAG" is based on the magnetic separation technique and has shown excellent results in a laboratory scale and open sea application and it is possible to clean up an oil-polluted surface by 100%. The research is done at the Physics Chemistry & Materials Technology Department of T.E.I PIRAEUS, in Greece and is funded by E.C. LIFE program by 2 million Euros. At the moment a prototype antipollution vessel has been designed and constructed for implementing the CLEANMAG technique on a series of open sea experiments at different marine environments in Greece and in the Mediterranean Sea. Consequently, the method is tested in the laboratory in collaboration with ARION on cleaning up of oil polluted victims of marine wildlife and it shows that it is a good prediction method.

9. Rare cetacean species migration through Greek waters
The identification and movement of rare cetacean species through Greece is being recorded occasionally and mapped according to sightings and stranding data available.

10. Mass strandings of Cuvier's beaked whales and their cause of death
During the last years great interest concerning the cetacean species population and survival has been developed all over the world. One of those species is the Cuvier's beaked whale (Ziphius cavirostris), which also is one of the native marine mammals in the Mediterranean and consequently the Greek coastal area. Toward this end, for both monitoring and research purposes, all strandings have been reported and the causes of death have been investigated.

11. Whale watching vs. dolphin protection
Whale watching is an increasing uncontrolled business in Greece since 1999. ARION's experts on the field try to summarize the problems which arise from this uncontrolled and illegal business in Greece, which impacts directly the cetacean well being and give scientific information in identifying cetaceans, their movement patterns and recording data. 

12. Training and Public awareness
Seminars and training on first aid techniques, rescue & rehabilitation as well as sampling of stranded cetaceans along with subjects concerning their biology, ecology and conservation of their habitats are offered by ARION's experts on the field to veterinarians, biologists and volunteers for supplementing the Cetacean Rescue Teams at local or national level.

The other NGO I am presiding DELPHIS - The Hellenic Cetacean Research & Conservation Society, since 2002 is involved mainly to the awareness of the public towards the conservation of marine mammals and their habitats.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

In closing, I want to share some thoughts about motivating ourselves to act. We hear a lot of doom-and-gloom and the press especially likes to dwell on the negative images and talk about how we are losing the battle. To the contrary, I prefer to remain optimistic and to encourage others to be optimistic about the environment as well, because despite the challenges we face, there are some real success stories out there that we can be very proud of. Pessimistic assessments of the world's environment leave us feeling that there is nothing we can do to make a difference, yet I think there is a chance to make a difference and that optimism is the fuel that can drive us to keep going in conservation.

One thing we frequently neglect to remember is that conservation is an experimental science. There is no cookbook approach that can be applied everywhere. The cornerstones I have presented are a nice framework, but they need to be applied in different ways at each site and with each species, and the proper mix is going to involve some guesswork based on knowledge of the situation and common sense. We still have a long way to go in understanding biodiversity and whales and dolphins, but we do not have time to wait for all the answers before acting-time is working against us in all branches of conservation.

When it comes to details, don't wait for the great and mighty gurus of conservation to tell you how to do it, because you are the gurus - no one knows your local reality like you do. The best way to learn is to just do it, make mistakes, but be honest about them, and use the lessons you learn to improve your techniques. And if we all do this, and share these lessons with each other, then we will be able to get the job done. So use the suggestions I have made:

Possess a clear mission, establish priorities, know your animal, understand the threat and protect the core, and get going if you haven't begun, or keep going if you have.
Close the Gap. Just do it!

Contact Info
By Post: Dr. Aimilia Drougas
Thessallias 201, PETROUPOLIS 13231, GREECE
or contact via the on-line Form


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