‘The word environment is unknown to the developers’

Tsantakis, the head of the local environmental association and an excellent photographer of Cretan nature, is the force behind the Palaikastro resistance to the development plan. He was the sole municipal councilor to vote against the development company’s environmental effects study. Palaikastro, a village of about 1,000 people, is the closest settlement to the monastery and is the seat of the Municipality of Itanos. «Money and power, that is their philosophy,» said Tsantakis of the developers. «The word ‘environment’ is unknown to them. All their talk about sustainable tourism is just a smokescreen. Sustainable development means self-sufficiency, the reduced vulnerability of the environment and society, less dependence on crucial resources, conservation of strategic reserves, the avoidance of monocultures, joint administration and the implementation of the principle of protection. In that context, the Goulandris Foundation has proposed an overall plan to develop the region but it has never been given consideration.» Along with his French partner Virginia and his 20-year-old nephew Panayiotis, he collected 80 signatures in Palaikastro, which were added to hundreds of others collected from the broader region, and took them to the Council of State. In cooperation with environmental groups from all over Crete, and other groups such as the Greek Social Forum, his association promotes the cause at every opportunity, trying to raise awareness of what the investors plan to do. They say setting up a golf course in a region threatened with desertification, because of the huge amounts of water required to care for the grass and for the tourists themselves (about 850 liters per person per day, compared to just 100-200 liters for local inhabitants), is illogical. Then there is the excessive pressure on natural and energy sources, the large volume of liquid and solid waste produced and the change in the use of large tracts of land. Moreover, the jobs created are usually unskilled and seasonal. The golf courses will be watered from desalination plants, but these are expensive and energy-consuming, and could increase the salt content of the soil and harm marine ecosystems. Already the water table has been lowered and coastal water tables are being infiltrated by seawater. Hydrogeologists are recommending a more rational management of water so there will be enough for locals’ future needs. In investments of this kind, the equipment, much of the food and other consumer items are usually imported. These installations are normally fenced in, excluding the locals and encouraging tourists to stay within the confines of the development. These arguments and university studies have begun to convince a number of locals who initially looked with favor on the investment. Not one local we spoke to said openly that they were in favor. Recent memories of a drought that led many locals to emigrate have caused many of those who remain to be cautious. Water is the most valuable resource in eastern Crete. The size of the project is also frightening, including the 7,000 visitors and 3,000-4,000 staff members who will come from elsewhere, with the threat of a change to the social structure and cultural character of the area. As things are now, homes are still left unlocked, even at night, and crime is something that happens on television. No doubt everyone thinks some investment is necessary, not for fast and easy profits, but in moderate investments that truly respect the natural environment, local society and the rich cultural heritage. What are needed are alternatives such as small agritourism and ecotourism units, or ecological, cultural and archaeological parks, so as not to turn the area into a «green desert with little gold balls,» as Tsantakis titled his report to a conference in Siteia last year held by the local development organization and the municipalities of Siteia, Makri Yialo, Itanos and Lefki, Lasithi prefecture and the Siteia Ecology Group. A golf course requires as much water as a town of 10,000 people -A golf course, particularly in dry areas such as Crete, the islands of the eastern Aegean or the Peloponnese, could require up to a million cubic meters of water a year, that is as much as 10,000 people need in order to live a year. -Removal of the phrygana vegetation that holds the little soil that is left, and replacing it with lawn will eventually bring about erosion and desertification. If for any reason (a crisis in tourism or the economy) the golf courses are no longer watered, the soil will be washed away. It takes 500-1,000 years for a centimeter of soil to form. -The use of fertilizers and pesticides on the golf courses could pollute the soil, the surface and ground water and coastlines, particularly in areas of porous rock layers. The use of genetically modified organisms has been noted on golf courses, and the repercussions are unknown. -The cost of desalination is estimated at about 2 euros per cubic meter of water. Desalination plants have life spans of only 10-15 years and their energy needs are 10-20 times greater than those of conventional factories. The cost of supplying a desalination plant with power comes to about 30-50 percent of the total cost.