International Ecotourism Monthly
Year 4, Issue 45, Feb. 2003
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:
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..
marine pollution incidents such as oil spills make the headlines
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:
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.
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
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.
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:
2. Morbillivirus infection determined in stripped dolphins and their
3. Harbour Porpoises' (Phocoena phocoena sp.) genetic variation with
Black Sea's relative species
4. Heavy metals determination in Harbour Porpoises tissues
5. Cetacean Sightings and Strandings
6. Geological and ecological characteristics in cetaceans' food
7. Behaviour of semi-resident group of common dolphins (Delphinus
delphins) in Samothrace Island, NE Greece
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
9. Rare cetacean species migration through Greek waters
10. Mass strandings of Cuvier's beaked whales and their cause of death
11. Whale watching vs. dolphin protection
12. Training and Public awareness
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.