Dr. Stefanos FotiouThis month ECOCLUB interviews one of the leading Greek experts on Ecotourism, Dr. Stefanos Fotiou, recently appointed by the Greek government as a Member of the newly-founded National Ecotourism Committee. A forester / forest economist by profession, he is deputy Head of the Department of "Policy-International relations" at EKBY, an organisation studying and overseeing wetlands and other protected areas in Greece ( http://www.ekby.gr ). There he coordinates the centre's policy related to tourism in protected areas, ecotourism development as well as socio-economic aspects of natural areas management. Dr. Fotiou has  worked for three years as an external assistant for the Directorate General of Environment of the E.U., for the LIFE-Nature projects. His recent work concerns sector policies and sustainable development at EKBY and he also lectures on forest economics at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki.

ECOCLUB: George Sfikas, Secretary of the Greek Society for the Protection of Nature (the oldest Greek Environmental NGO) , recently wrote that as far as Greek Protected Areas and in particular Ramsar wetlands are concerned, Greece has since 1986 some of the best laws in Europe, the only problem is that these laws are never enforced by the state. Do you agree?

Dr. Fotiou: I cannot agree or disagree directly with this statement. I would like to give a different view. Nature protection is a "participatory activity". All the stakeholders (government, institutions, local people, NGOs, etc.) have certain rights, responsibilities and obligations. It should be mentioned that in the institutional level during the last ten years, the Greek state undertakes considerable efforts for the management and conservation of the natural environment. These efforts are supported by the international developments and the European Community legislation. Despite the big number of actions for the conservation of protected areas in the national level, two issues have to be mentioned. The first concerns the absence of an integrated planning in protected areas level. The second concerns the absence of coordination between local, regional and national initiatives in order to achieve the complementarities of the actions. Sometimes the option of "not enforcing the law" is a decision undertaken by the society and not by a "decision-maker". If the society accepts and promotes the illegal activities concerning the protection of natural environment, then it is not an issue of law enforcement but an issue of education.

ECOCLUB. What have been the effects of Tourism from your point of view in those Protected Areas until today? How do you define "ecotourism"?

Dr. Fotiou: As you know, during the last twenty years the tourism activities involving the natural environment have considerably increased. Nature-based tourism consists of all the activities that depend directly on the use of natural resources in a relatively non-developed area. It includes activities like ecotourism, hunting, tours in the wild nature, even if those activities are not always related with the wise use of natural resources from the tourists. Despite the economic benefits of nature-based tourism, the lack of integrated planning has led to adverse effects on the environment, and especially on rare natural ecosystems. The coasts, the coastal dunes, and the coastal wetlands have suffered most profound alterations because these systems are extreme sensitive to man-made disturbance. Also the unplanned and dense building in some coastal areas compiled by the inadequacy of waste disposal installations, resulted in problems of pollution and landscape deterioration. I believe that the solution to these problems can be sought within the activities of the tourism industry and ecotourism can be the vehicle for the nature conservation provided that ecotourism activities will be planned and implemented in a sustainable manner. In your question "how I define ecotourism" I would prefer to answer with the definition given by the IUCN. According to IUCN "ecotourism is environmentally responsible travel and visitation to relatively undisturbed natural areas, in order to enjoy and appreciate nature (and any accompanying cultural features - both past and present) that promotes conservation, has low negative visitor impact, and provides for beneficially active socio-economic involvement of local populations." I believe that this definition is one of the most appropriates. This period I am working on a paper about tourism in protected areas and I will give an alternative definition of ecotourism; you will be among the first that you I will communicate this definition. Closing this big answer I would like to highlight that tourism in protected areas, and particularly ecotourism should be based in a series of principles, which are the following:

·The primary goal of the management of protected areas is their protection and their conservation.
·Tourism is an economic activity and consequently the tourism services suppliers aim mainly at a profit.
·The profit making can be compatible with the management of protected areas as long as profit makers respect the primary goal of protection and conservation of the areas.
·The planning of tourism activities in protected areas requires the participation of all the interested parties.

ECOCLUB. How well in your view do local authorities and local communities cooperate with EKBY ? Are there cases where you have met with hostility? Do you have a problem-solving procedure, do you hold discussions at a local level or do you rather rely on the central government to impose the law?

I will refer again in the "participatory approach" for nature conservation. The critical factor is cooperation and mutual understanding. EKBY is not an organisation to "impose the law". EKBY works for the sustainable development with scientific tools. From that point of view EKBY puts all his efforts to cooperate with the local authorities and most important the local people. There are cases where this procedure is very difficult and time consuming, but in any case the "participatory approach" that EKBY follows at least minimizes the conflicts. The local populations accept our presence in their areas because we respect them, we hear their problems and expectations and we never plan without take into account the socio-economic issues of nature conservation.

ECOCLUB. There is a saying in the Greek countryside that when something goes "wrong" such as when there are too many wolves or too many snakes, "oi oikologoi ftaine", i.e. it is the fault of the "ecologists" who released those animals. Please comment.

First we have to differentiate between ecologists and "ecologists". Ecologists are people that care about the natural environment, have the necessary information to appreciate the problems that nature faces and posses or know how to find the scientific knowledge necessary to confront these problems. In that manner I don not believe that ecologists will take any actions related with introduction of wild species in various areas. On the other hand there are some people that call themselves "ecologists", while they do not have neither the knowledge nor the information and objective view to appreciate and confront problems related with nature conservation. Again it is difficult to believe that these "ecologist" will release snakes or other wild species, but I strongly believe that they can make bad in the relation of the local people and the natural environment because they do not take into account the needs and expectations of the local populations. This is the reason why in some cases local people blame the "ecologists".

ECOCLUB: Protected Area Management is a case of "Sacrificing parts to save the whole" do you agree?

Protected area management is ……… management and management is a continuous, interactive, adaptive, participatory process comprised of a set of related tasks, all of which must be carried out to achieve a desired set of goals and objectives, however those goals and objectives are established and specified. Furthermore management is a science. The objectives of protected areas management will determine the actions. In management we do not sacrifice, we may prioritise or we may decide what and how to conserve and protect.

ECOCLUB: Who funds your organisation and to whom is it accountable?

EKBY was established in 1991 by the Goulandris Natural History Museum with European Community funding and the support of the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF), following an application by the Greek Ministry of Environment, Physical Planning and Public Works. Today EKBY relies financially on competitive projects funded by national and international institutions, as well as on the provision of services to interested bodies, mainly national and local authorities. EKBY is accountable to the Goulandris Natural History Museum. It is necessary to mention that in view of the fact that the activities of EKBY are based on competitive projects, EKBY has been audited by EU and other funding organization of these projects.

ECOCLUB: Is there anything else you would like to add?

In Greece EKBY has pioneered the development of the following concepts/procedures for the conservation and management of renewable resources.
· functions and values of natural ecosystems
· positive interactions between natural and man-made ecosystems
· monitoring ecological changes
· mapping wetland habitats
· wetland hydrology
· wetland restoration and rehabilitation
· preparation of management plans for protected areas
· planning, implementation, and evaluation of training projects

One of the recent activities of EKBY concerning ecotourism it the preparation of a study for the Prefecture of Cyclades (Aegean) entitled "Ecotourism and Nature protection in Island regions. The international experience - Identification of best practices for the development of ecotourism in the Cyclades islands".

More details on the work of EKBY can be found at http://www.ekby.gr

Ekby Study

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