NEWS

Climate change is not Greek nature’s biggest threat

Greece’s flora and fauna are still more at risk from indifference than from climatic changes. Although no specific studies have been carried out on the effects of these changes on Greece’s animal and plant life, there is no doubt that some species will disappear or be forced to migrate if rising temperatures change the country’s ecosystem. Still, because Greece has a very varied climate, its native species are more resistant to climatic alterations. Nevertheless, no special study has been made of climatic effects on Greece’s biodiversity; in any case the exact number of animals and plant species in Greece is unknown. Associate Professor Moisis Mylonas of Crete University’s school of biology and ecology strikes an optimistic note. He told Kathimerini that the species that have survived in Greece have been through «fire and ice.» «Throughout the Mediterranean basin, the climate has changed from cold to hot during the Pleistocene era – that is, over the past 2 million years – so organisms have adapted,» he explained. Mylonas added that as there has been a great deal of human intervention in Mediterranean countries, the ecosystem has changed and new species have been introduced. «The species that have managed to survive are quite tough. We are still lucky enough to have a varied climate, so the populations are spread over many areas and so are less at risk. Most of the problems arising from climatic change will occur in areas with a stable climate, such as northern and tropical regions,» said Mylonas. So population movements are more likely than extinction. According to Dimitris Lalas, president of the Athens National Conservatory and the National Program for the Monitoring of Climatic Change, Mediterranean regions will become drier. «Nevertheless, we only have a few specific estimates regarding effects on the fora and fauna,» he said. Lalas referred to a survey by the Institute of Marine Biology on Crete showing that the effects of rising temperatures include a reduction in the fertility of the anchovy, but he also said more general conclusions could be drawn. «If the temperature rises, species that live exclusively in specific areas will become extinct,» he said. Many species are at risk of disappearing as a result of «collateral damage.» For example, rising temperatures mean an increase in the number of forest fires, therefore there will be fewer areas where certain animals can find food and shelter. If rising sea levels alter coastlines, species living in these habitats will also be at serious risk. Still, many animals and plants in Greece are in danger of disappearing or have already done so due to human intervention. The brown bear has been on the planet for 25 million years, but at the moment it is doubtful whether there are 200 individuals left in the whole of Europe, and of these about 120 live in Greece. Although they are not really aggressive unless their young are threatened, people are hunting them down mercilessly and destroying their habitats. Their food consists largely (60 percent) of nuts, fruit and berries found in forests. Another animal that is native to Greece and other European Union member states is the jackal, currently considered the most threatened species of mammal. If hunting is responsible for the disappearance of these two species, the same does not apply to the dolphin, which is also threatened with extinction. Dolphins are particularly sensitive to marine pollution and often cannot find food because of overfishing. The Caretta caretta turtle is the only species of sea turtle that reproduces in Greece and despite huge efforts to save it, it is still endangered. Unfortunately, it lays its eggs on beaches where tourism is highly developed, so the young often die as soon as they are hatched, even before they can reach the sea. Fifteen million years after it appeared on earth, the Mediterranean monk seal, Monachus monachus, is also at risk. There are believed to be between 400 and 500 of these seals left in the Mediterranean, half of which live in Greek waters. Many species of birds are also in danger because human activities have destroyed their habitats. The Harrier eagle, which once lived in the Balkans and the Alps, is now only found on Crete. Other endangered wild birds include the Imperial eagle, Bonelli’s eagle, the kestrel, Eleonora’s falcon, Audouin’s gull, and the lesser white-fronted goose, which is the rarest goose in Europe. Perhaps the easiest argument to make is that in the earth’s long history, many species have become extinct, yet this has not caused a catastrophe, so there is no reason to worry. Yet it took thousands of years for changes to occur that are now occurring very rapidly. Nature does not have time to replace the «bits» it loses, thereby leading to an imbalance. For example, one of the reasons many farming areas were declared infested by rats last year is because there are no longer any carnivorous birds to eat them. Finally, the disappearance of cultivated plant species means the loss of valuable genetic material.