As the principal habitats of protected species and bio-communities, the sea meadows called poseidonia play a vital role in the Mediterranean’s ecosystems. Unfortunately, extensive urbanization of the shoreline has destroyed a large part of the poseidonia undersea meadows in the western Mediterranean. «We need documented evidence so that we know how to protect it,» says former sailor Theodoros Tsimbidis. After having spent much of his life aboard ship, he decided to work on protecting the seas. He is the founder and director of the Archipelagos Marine and Environmental Research Institute and a visiting professor at the University of Essex. Archipelagos is basically a group of people – scientists, researchers and students – who have been working day and night, year round, in various parts of the Greek seas, doing on-site research, collecting data and training young scientists since 1998. They also collaborate with universities in Greece and abroad, and one of their most recent projects was the digital recording and imaging of marine ecosystems. Dangers «This project made use for the first time of software of developed in collaboration with the geography department of Cardiff University for conditions in the Aegean and other parts of the Mediterranean. It did very well on its first trial,» Tsimbidis told Kathimerini. What dangers face the poseidonia? «First of all, illegal and destructive fishing by means prohibited in areas where there are poseidonia,» he explained. «If action is not taken directly, in the near future there will be problems with the productivity of fish stocks and of marine ecosystems overall.» In addition to measures to manage fishing, there should also be permanent moorings on popular beaches to prevent the destruction of sea meadows, which affects fish stocks and erodes the coastline. Over the past six years, working in cooperation with 18 Greek and other European universities, Archipelagos has recorded more than 120 kinds of sponges, 500 kinds of seaweed, and hundreds of species of vertebrates. One of the research team’s projects that is to implement a new method of analyzing water. The project followed two years of preparatory work with the universities of Cardiff and Piraeus. «This is a tool that can help guarantee public health because it can operate in any conditions and within 24 hours, as opposed to 72, following a natural disaster, can produce reliable information about the contamination of the aquifer, drinking water and mains water,» said Tsimbidis. In the early fall, the researchers began a trial supervision of 36 sources of potable water and 22 places where people swim. Plans for the largest multi-island sea park The Archipelagos team for the past seven years have been conducting research in the northern Dodecanese, the southern Cyclades, Fournoi and Icaria, to come up with ways of managing small protected areas that will chime with the needs of local communities. «We have already established a Wildlife Refuge in a group of islets near Patmos. And plans are currently under way for management measures and an environmental study for the largest multi-island park in Europe, which will comprise 87 islands and islets in the Aegean and nine areas that belong to the Natura network,» Archipelagos director Theodoros Tsimpidis told Kathimerini. And when will this all become reality? «The state must adopt the park in order to overcome the bureaucratic delays that hamper its establishment. It’s very encouraging that the park has recently attracted the serious attention of the Merchant Marine and Island Policy Ministry. We believe that the years of preparatory work will culminate in a park that will promote our country and become a model for other protected areas in Greece,» he said.