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Europe rings alarm bell over turtle nesting ground in Messinia

By Ioanna Fotiadi

The European Commission has warned Greek authorities to step up efforts to protect the western and southern coastline of the Peloponnesian prefecture of Messinia following a report by experts who visited the region in July.

The coast of western and southwestern Messinia comprises the second most important nesting grounds in the Mediterranean for the loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta). According to experts, every year, this endangered species digs an average of 600-700 nests on the beaches of the Gulf of Kyparissia alone, and last summer the number reached 858, much to the joy of turtle enthusiasts.

However, the Greek nongovernmental group Archelon, which has had a team of observers in the region since the 1980s, has for years been voicing concerns over the increase in human activity in and around turtle nesting sites.

“Infringements of existing environmental protection laws are an everyday occurrence, but there has been a marked increase since 2010,” according to Panagiota Theodorou, coordinator of the turtle protection society's program for the Peloponnese.

Specifically, Archelon draws attention to a growing number of beach bars that only have licenses to sell snacks and beverages during the day but operate throughout the night – when turtles usually come to shore in search of nesting sites – as clubs with loud music and bright lights. “These bars are also using other parts of the beach, placing parasols and loungers there for customers which they do not remove at night,” said Theodorou.

“In April 2011 we saw signs along the Gulf of Kyparissia that someone has been trying to pave the dirt tracks that lead to the beach, making roads that lead through the pine trees and flattening the dunes,” added Theodorou, who said that machinery used to clean the beaches was also a problem as it tears up the turtle nests. Sources suggest that the roads being opened herald the construction of 50 summer homes in the area.

Clubs, noise, loungers and machinery are prohibited in the area, which is protected under the European Commission's Natura 2000 network thanks to its rich vegetation, sand dunes and the loggerhead turtles.

Archelon has filed complaints with the authorities about the activities taking place on the Messinian coastline since the summer of 2011 and has also taken up the issue with the European Commission, which sent a delegation of experts to the region on July 17 to confirm the allegations. Their 35-page report makes special mention of the late operating hours of beach bars, the unprotected nesting sites, bars using powerful lighting close to the sea, and, of course, the gravel-paved roads.

The team's report was submitted to Greek authorities in October in the form of a reasoned opinion – the stage before a referral to court is made – with a two-month deadline for an official response. If the Greek authorities fail to convince the European Commission that they will be taking steps to rectify the situation, the country faces the risk of being called to trial at the European Court of Justice and a hefty fine.

Meanwhile, Theodorou said that the Bern Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats, which Greece is a part of, is also compiling a case against the country over the degradation of the Messinia coastline.

ekathimerini.com , Monday Jan 21, 2013 (18:22)  
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