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Greece

An ambitious and innovative conservation programme for healthy Greek Seas

Blue Marine’s conservation programme in Greece aims to create focussed marine protected areas for the recovery of fish stocks, protection of endangered species and preservation of carbon-trapping seagrass beds.  

 

Greece

An ambitious and innovative conservation programme for healthy Greek Seas

Blue Marine’s conservation programme in Greece aims to create focussed marine protected areas for the recovery of fish stocks, protection of endangered species and preservation of carbon-trapping seagrass beds.  

Through the complex web of life that it supports, the ocean produces half of the world’s oxygen and absorbs nearly half of its carbon dioxide. Over-fishing is stripping our seas of that life, and so has devastating consequences for the Earth’s biodiversity and climate. The Mediterranean is one of the most overfished seas in the world, but the situation is most dire in Greece. A ‘2020 State of Nature in the EU report’ found that Greece has the fastest deteriorating environment and poorest marine conservation status in all of Europe. 

Greek limestone cliff

Picture: Greek limestone cliffs.

Greece also has some of the richest, most biologically diverse marine realms in the world. Its waters are home to thousands of species of fish, shellfish, whales, dolphins, monk seals, turtles, octopus and micro-organisms. It’s a country that has more than 15,000km of coastline, characterised by carbon-rich Posidonia seagrass and algal meadows, dropping off into deeper waters where fragile corals feed in the productive sea currents.  

An endangered Mediterranean Monk Seal

Picture: An endangered Mediterranean Monk Seal.

The unique and remarkable animals and plants found here have enormous value both ecologically and environmentally. Seagrass beds trap carbon, prevent coastal erosion, clean water and are a nursery for fish. Fish stocks support small-scale fishing communities and maintain a healthy marine balance. Every single organism has evolved to fit the Greek marine environment perfectly. Without this natural balance, the outlook for Greece’s seas and economy is bleak.  

Greek artisanal fishermen

Picture: Artisanal fishermen selling his catch. 

Now Blue Marine has begun an ambitious programme to improve the protection of Greece’s marine environment. Applying models successfully used elsewhere, we are pressing for the creation of no-take zones, seeking to reform fishing, reduce invasive species and use legal interventions to develop effective marine protected areas (MPAs). The aim is to see the regeneration of marine animals and habitats over a five-year period, which will deliver multiple benefits, including biodiversity and biomass increases, climate change benefits through enhanced carbon sinks and a boost to local economies.  

 

The direct threats to Greek ecosystems come from a range of areas, which include overfishing, pollution, coastal development, unsustainable tourism, invasive species and marine traffic. All of these can be significantly reduced through effective, collaborative conservation efforts, supported by reformed government regulation.  

 

Less than 1 per cent of Greece’s territorial waters are highly protected, while leading scientists advise that at least 30 per cent marine protection is necessary to recover and protect the world’s oceans. Blue Marine is designating new, effective MPAs, while ensuring that existing MPAs do actually offer protection. The most effective areas of protection are no-take zones; highly protected areas, where fishing and any damaging activities are completely banned. Life in these areas recovers quickly and ‘spills- over’ into surrounding seas.  

 

Greece’s Ministry of Environment has recently started a review and assessment of designations across the country that come under Habitats Directive Natura 2000, the European Commission’s network of protected areas, which covers the continent’s most valuable and threatened species and habitats. This has provided an opportunity to apply political pressure for Greece to manage these designations in line with EU law. Additionally, it provides the opportunity for Blue Marine to work with local bodies to implement management plans for selected areas.  

In the light of the French initiative “The Mediterranean, an exemplary sea by 2030” (PAMEX), the Greek Prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis announced in Autumn 2021 the Government’s intention to protect the Greek marine environment by designating 10 per cent of their waters as no take zones by 2030. 

There is an opportunity to identify and designate no-take protected areas on sites for specific ecological importance that are not covered by the Habitats Directive. Blue Marine will identify these areas and support calls for protection with our project partners, listed below.  

 

In both the Ionian and Aegean Sea, Blue Marine is addressing the problem of invasive species using experience gained in Turkey and Cyprus to create a market for this kind of catch, reducing pressure on native marine life and habitats.  

 

Across the Mediterranean, there is a movement to support small-scale fisheries to take up sustainable fishing and sustainable tourism expeditions, targeting their catch for high value, sustainable species desired by tourists who join fishing trips. This reduces fishing pressure, reduces bycatch, increases profit and engages visitors with traditional, small-scale fishing.  

 

In the past 50 years, the amount of large predator fish in the Mediterranean, such as tunas and swordfish, has dropped dramatically, as overexploitation by fisheries has destabilised marine ecosystems. At the same time, the Mediterranean basin is a hotspot for alien invasive species, which are mostly Indo-Pacific in origin. They enter through the Suez Canal and can displace or outcompete native fish and severely impact the ecosystem.  

In several parts of the Eastern Mediterranean, including Greece, fishers now catch predominantly invasive alien species, most of them edible, but with low or no market value. Meanwhile important native species such as tunas and swordfish are prime products and are directly targeted by high-intensity fisheries, while conventional fishery practices indirectly affect other species such as turtles and sharks. To try to limit the risks posed Blue Marine’s strategy is to attract fishers to these alien species, thereby releasing pressure from overfished native ones, and creating new sources of income and social capital. 

 

Campaigns by Blue Marine will attempt to raise awareness with stakeholders in fishing and with the Greek public of the devastating impacts of these issues. 

lionfish invasive species

Picture: Fishermen learning how to prepare invasive Lionfish.

The aim is to have chefs and restaurants in Greece introduce alien species in their menus and progressively start excluding swordfish, tunas, groupers, common dentex, and sharks. Fishmongers are being encouraged to introduce invasive species in their shops, and small-scale fishermen to catch and sell invasive species and reduce their targeting of native species. In parallel, consumers will be encouraged to buy invasive species and avoid the native ones.

Find out more about our invasive species campaign “Pick the Alien”, here

Posidonia oceanica is the most important seagrass in the Mediterranean and plays a crucial role in the health of the Greek marine environment. It provides an important spawning ground, nursery and habitat for over 400 plant species and more than 1000 animals. It produces a significant amount of oxygen we can breathe, protects beaches from erosion, serves as long term carbon storage and helps regulate our climate. Blue Marine is working to protect these precious seagrass meadows in Greek seas by implementing projects to increase scientific knowledge about the distribution, coverage and health of the seagrass. Furthermore, Blue Marine is working to estimate the blue carbon storage potential with the aim to propose additional protection.  

 

Blue Marine’s approach to conservation programmes has proved effective in many parts of the world and we believe is particularly appropriate for the situation in Greece. It involves a combination of top-down and bottom-up engagement. We apply legal pressure and advocate for changes in policy and legislation at a government level, but we also recognise the importance of stakeholder engagement, because without buy-in from fishermen and other users of the sea, conservation will not endure or be effective. So we work closely with local communities to build support for marine protection though education, workshops and knowledge exchanges. This strategy ensures that conservation measures are effective and long-lasting with buy-in from all stakeholders.  

 

Project partners  

In 2018, Blue Marine held an event for small-scale fishers, conservationists and MPA managers from throughout the Mediterranean. Greek fishermen accompanied by Greek environmental NGOs travelled to Blue Marine’s flagship fisheries and conservation project at Lyme Bay in England. There local fishermen and marine biologists demonstrated a series of marine conservation measures and highlighted the benefits of sustainable fishing. Since this event, Blue Marine has developed close partnerships with the following organisations:  

Ionian Environment Foundation, which supports local environmental and conservation initiatives to preserve the Ionian Islands exceptional natural beauty for generations to come.  

Cyclades Preservation Fund, which creates positive change in environmental behaviour, policymaking and to develop collaborative networks to help the local communities of the Cyclades follow sustainable solutions.  

Thalassa Foundation, a non-profit environmental organisation established in 2013, promoting conservation and sustainability of the Mediterranean, with a focus on Greece.  

ISea, a non-profit environmental organisation established in 2016, promoting the protection of aquatic ecosystems through raising awareness, conducting scientific research, as well as pushing for the adoption of protection measures and sound policies.  

Argolic Environment Foundation, was established in 2021 to help the communities of the Argolic Gulf to become leaders in the transition to sustainability, protecting and regenerating key marine and terrestrial ecosystems and improving their relationship between humans and nature. 

Greece

Key stats

Greek Prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis announced in Autumn 2021 the intention to designate 10 per cent of Greek waters as no take zones by 2030. 

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