CULTURE

Half a century of service to nature

A mountaineering excursion to Mt Parnitha some decades ago led a young man to change his way of life from what he himself admits was that of a typical Athens society playboy to become one of the leading figures in the struggle to conserve Greece’s natural environment. What began as an interest in the sport of mountaineering soon prompted Pierre Broussalis to engage in a deeper study of his natural surroundings. Now he is one of the most respected figures in the struggle to conserve and promote nature, including valuable work in educating the younger generation and the general public about conservation issues. He is also renowned as a speleologist (he is a life member of the American National Speleological Society) and as a (largely self-taught) photographer of nature. He was the first Greek photographer of underwater marine life, beginning in the early 1950s. Yet Broussalis has remained a modest and unassuming person, whose work is not generally known to the wider public. This week, however, he is to be honored by the Hellenic Society for the Protection of Nature, of which he is honorary president and one of the five surviving founders (out of the original 50). Much has changed since 1951 when the society was founded by a group that included several academics and scientists. Now with a membership of 2,000, the society promotes a number of educational programs, the Blue Flag program for beaches, a LIFE project at the Nestos River in cooperation with the local prefecture, and three more projects on sustainable development and volunteerism with the support of the Environment Ministry. «We are able to undertake several programs with the help of funds from European Union programs, particularly toward educating the public,» Broussalis told Kathimerini English Edition. Children are the key He believes that there has been a change in mentality among a «small minority» of the public toward the environment, particularly among the very young who have had the benefit of exposure to environmental issues through television documentaries and education. «Young children exert a great influence on their parents in this respect. For example, you sometimes hear them take their parents to task for littering, or for neglecting or being cruel to animals. But there is a gap in time until they are included among the decision-makers. It is that gap that we in the society try to cover,» he said. «However, in just one or two decades, it is quite possible that a great deal will be irretrievably lost at the rate things are progressing. There is a danger that today’s children will not find many aspects of the natural environment still in existence once they are grown up.» Classical Olympics Broussalis’s family, originally from Crete and Zakynthos, lived in Smyrna when he was born. They were forced to flee during the Asia Minor catastrophe and eventually settled in Athens. His brother Dick was a swimming champion who held the 100-meter record for 20 years. Broussalis himself was active in track and field, participating in national events. He believes that major events such as the Olympics are really too vast and expensive an undertaking for small countries like Greece. «For example, the Olympic Village alone will house 15,000 athletes. In Greece, any place with 15,000 inhabitants is called a town, not a village,» he said. «However, now that we are on our way, we should all support the effort as much as we can,» said Broussalis, who also feels that the idea of holding the Games permanently in Greece is «utopian.» He suggests that instead of a permanent Olympics as we know them, Greece could hold a «classical» Olympics every two or four years, in the spirit of the first revival of the ancient Games in Athens in 1896 (and again in 1996 to mark the centenary) with only the original, historical events – «without the beach volleyball.» Active at 90 Broussalis is to be presented with the society’s annual Vyron Antypas Prize at an event Tuesday evening at the Athens Municipality’s Cultural Center. Makis Aperghis, the society’s secretary-general, explained to Kathimerini English Edition that the prize is awarded to an organization or person who in the opinion of the board of directors has contributed significantly to protecting Greek nature. «There are four criteria: that the problem addressed is an important one, that it has been addressed over a long period of time, with significant effort, and with selflessness. «Broussalis should have received this award earlier. He has been working tirelessly for 52 years for the protection of Greek nature. The problems he has addressed have been many, but the most significant have been his contribution to the establishment of national parks and other protected areas, as well as endangered species. Over the years, he has written hundreds of articles and his photographs have been seen by thousands of people. He has worked a great deal in trying to promote a greater understanding of nature among Greeks.» «All this he has done selflessly as an active member of the board for 30 years or so. Now as honorary president he is still active on the committee for the society’s journal and continues to supply it with articles.» «What I admire about him,» said Aperghis, «is the fact that at the age of 90, he continues to be active, to visit the society for discussions on issues of interest and to provide excellent advice and support to those younger than himself.» For further information, call the Society for the Protection of Nature at tel 210.322.4944.