Turtles lose out to Games

ATHENS – Greece’s endangered turtles are among the first losers at this summer’s Olympics as funding cuts have left nesting beaches at the mercy of uncontrolled tourism, environmental groups said on Wednesday. The withdrawal of state funding to a marine park set aside for the turtles has left international volunteers in a pitched battle with tourism operators, conservationists said. Staff at the National Marine Park on the island of Zakynthos stopped work in May after going unpaid for nine months. Greece hosts the largest nesting population of the endangered Mediterranean loggerhead turtles whose hatching cycle coincides with the summer tourism season, and this year with the August 13 to 29 Athens Olympics. «This is one of the worst ecological scandals in the European Union,» said Lilli Venizelos from the turtle conservation group, Medasset. «The locals can see the State doesn’t give a damn so they’ve taken the law into their own hands.» Five beaches were protected by the park in Laganas Bay on the southern tip of the island. One of the beaches has 13 illegal buildings that authorities have failed to demolish. Activists have reported speed boat races in the harbor and tourists swarming onto the beaches. The World Wildlife Fund called on Greece to stop a tourist «free for all» from destroying crucial habitats. Dimitris Dimopoulos from Achelon, the sea turtle protection society, said the government was blaming the crisis on preparations for the August 13-29 Athens Olympics. «Things are out of control and the official excuse we keep hearing is, ‘Sorry, guys, we are a new government and we have the Olympics right now’,» Dimopoulos said. Loggerhead females start coming ashore to lay eggs by the end of May and finish nesting by the end of July so hatching begins during the peak tourist season. (Additional reporting by Ed Stoddard in Johannesburg.)