In an effort to provide better environmental protection of Greek seas and marine life, the Greek Environment Ministry recently announced a significant expansion of the Natura network of protected areas. Areas already protected will be expanded and new areas will be added to the network.
Under the updated scheme 22% of Greece’s seas will be protected – a major increase from the previous 6%. The newly protected areas on the list include dozens of islets in the Aegean Sea as well as large areas such as the entire Gulf of Corinth.
The Natura 2000 network of protected areas is based on the EU’s Nature Directives. By 2020, one of the targets is for the network to include 17% of Europe’s terrestrial and inland water areas, and 10% of its coastal and marine areas.
The ministry’s criteria for the expansion of the Natura network was the protection of specific ecosystems and species and the inclusion of a significant number of marine areas.
Specifically 34 terrestrial and 21 marine habitats were added to the national network, as well as 1 inland and 26 marine zones for the protection of birds, and 13 coastal and marine areas (some are extensions of existing Natura sites, and others are new additions).
The newly-protected areas include the seas around the region of Thrace, the Kavala-Thasos strait, the sea surrounding the peninsula of Mt. Athos, the Prespes national park, the sea around the islands of Skiathos and Skopelos, the islets around Skyros, the Lichades islets near Evia, the Southern Gulf of Evia, the waters off southern Mani and southern Messinia, the seas around Makronisos, Andros and the northern part of Anafi, the Kolumbo undersea volcano near Santorini, the islands of Paxoi and Antipaxoi, the entire Gulf of Corinth and others.
“The inclusion of new areas in the Natura 2000 network is another step towards the completion of the framework for the protection and management of the natural environment. I stress that due to longstanding deficiencies, the country is [facing legal action from] the European Commission, because it has not taken measures for the protection and management of the Special Protection Areas of Natura 2000,” said Socrates Famelos, Alternate Minister for the Environment.
The move was hailed by environmental groups in Greece, although they warned that protection on paper was not enough. Nature Policy Officer of WWF Greece Ioli Christopoulou said: “The road ahead is still long. The designation of protected areas is not adequate for their protection. Integrated management, an operational system of administration, which ensures multi-stakeholder participation and adequate funding, is also required.”