December 19, 2023
The fundamental conclusion of the Decisions adopted this year by the Standing Committee of the Bern Convention (Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats, Council of Europe) is that the most important sea turtle nesting beaches in Greece are not adequately protected, even though they have been designated Protected Areas for many years now. MEDASSET’s on-the-spot surveys and the related presentations of its findings given at the 43rd Meeting of Parties that took place in Strasbourg (27 November – 1 December), revealed that both Laganas Bay in Zakynthos and Kyparissia Bay are under immense pressure from human activities, which have not been sufficiently controlled year on year.
Specifically, illegal activities, such as: the chaotic navigation of vessels at sea, the operation of unlicensed businesses, human presence either within ‘no entry’ zones or within restricted hours, and the construction of new roads within the protected area, all threaten the habitat of Laganas Bay. One example is the case of an illegally constructed road within the National Marine Park of Zakynthos for which a fine of €200,000, imposed on those responsible, by the Regional Authority of the Ionian Islands back in 2018, was, in May of 2022, reduced to just €10,000! ΜEDASSET, together with WWF, Greece has appealed in court against the reduction.
This echoes the recent decision of the Council of Europe to refer Greece to the European Court for failing to restore a piece of land within the protected Natura 2000 area of Zakynthos, which has long been used as a municipal landfill site. Since Greece has already been condemned for this failure in 2014, a further finding against it in this case will result in the imposition of a fine.
Similar circumstances prevail along the Bay of Kyparissia, which hosts the Mediterranean’s greatest number of Caretta caretta nests and which is facing significant threats, such as illegally constructed buildings all along the coastline, the unobstructed access of vehicles, the cultivation of non-local species on the beaches and in the sand dune system, light pollution, and more.
In the case of Kyparissia Bay, the country has already been condemned for breaking Directive 92/43/ΕΟΚ by the European Court in 2016, specifically for failing to put measures in place to avoid human-generated pressures being put on turtles using the habitat. Furthermore, in December of 2020 the Council of Europe sent a final reminder to Greece, warning it to implement the 2016 decisions of the European Court with immediate effect, failing which it may refer the issue back to the Court and demand the imposition of a fine.
The fundamental causes of the above issues are the inadequate checks, the absence of fines in cases where regulations have been disregarded, and the lack of coordination between the various authorities. Management Plans for the protected areas are also missing. These would lay down the strategic aims of preservation programmes as well as the management measures necessary to achieve the satisfactory protection of the habitats. Their absence means the problems remain unresolved.
George Sampson, Director of MEDASSET, stated: “The Decisions taken by the Bern Convention fully endorse the reports we prepared (in collaboration with ARCHELON and WWF Greece) and brought before its Standing Committee. In them, we call for the effective protection of the habitats of Caretta caretta turtles in Greece, Türkiye and Cyprus. It is acknowledged that, taken together, Greece and Türkiye host about 80% of Caretta caretta nests in the Mediterranean. Therefore, the importance to the survival of the species of protecting these habitats is clear. MEDASSET will go on fighting for the biodiversity of the Mediterranean in collaboration with other environmental organisations».
Notes to Editors:
1. The full Decisions of the Standing Committee of the Bern Convention regarding Greece, Cyprus and Türkiye: https://medasset.org/2023-bern-convention-decisions-critical-sea-turtle-nesting-habitats-in-greece-turkey-and-cyprus-remain-in-danger/
3. Information relating to the process of case investigation here: https://www.coe.int/en/web/bern-convention/case-files