‘Terrorist attacks’ on island turtle park

Government officials and environmental groups yesterday denounced as acts of arson a string of forest fires that broke out on Thursday on the island of Zakynthos, in a national park surrounding Greece’s most important turtle nesting grounds. The Ministry of the Environment, Town Planning and Public Works called the fires, which destroyed over 150 hectares around the Bay of Laganas, in the heart of the Zakynthos National Marine Park, terrorist attacks on nature. The area, where thousands of endangered Caretta Caretta turtles lay their eggs, was declared a park in 1999, in the face of considerable resentment among local entrepreneurs. Deputy Minister for the Environment Ilias Efthymiopoulos quoted the fire brigade to describe the fires as acts of arson, adding that their perpetrators had also vandalized property belonging to park employees. The timing of this act raises obvious questions, as it coincides with decisions by the Council of State that rejected appeals against a Presidential Decree on the protection of the park, he said in a statement. The Greek branch of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) environmental group said the fires had totally destroyed the Sekania area, parts of which the group purchased in 1994. According to all indications, this is an act of arson intended to hinder efforts to protect this unique ecosystem, WWF Greece director Dimitris Karavellas said. The fire broke out on four fronts on Thursday night, and was fanned by strong winds. Firemen, assisted by two planes and two helicopters, extinguished the blaze yesterday morning. Other forest fires were burning yesterday in the areas of Kryovrissi in Elis, Layia in the Mani and Deskati near Grevena in northern Greece.

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