During the past few weeks there has been an increase in the killings of rare marine species in various parts of the Aegean Sea: one more monk seal shot, decapitated turtles, stubbed dolphins – tied with a rope in the tail and many more… These are not isolated incidents but a long lasting problem, as has been recorded by the Archipelagos Institute of Marine Conservation, along with other organizations. This is an old problem that is reaching a peak. We have to consider that only a small part of the stranded or killed animals are known, as there is easy access to only 20-30% of the Greek coastline, which exceeds 18.000 km in length. Therefore the real number of deliberately killed or stranded animals is estimated to be much larger, with the majority of the incidents never becoming known.
If we are interested in solving this problem, we ought to view it in from a different perspective. Therefore, it is not a solution to demonize the island communities, nor the majority of the true fishermen who have no responsibility for these crimes. In parallel with this large increase in killings of protected species, there is also an equally large increase in illegal and destructive fisheries practices by a small fraction of professional and recreational fishermen. The majority of those who murder the protected species are known to the local communities, however anyone who has attempted to report them is in danger, both themselves and their families. There are certain cases of people who dared to report specific boats that carried explosives and guns, with the sole result of their report becoming known to the perpetrators within a few hours and as a result, receiving personal threats on their lives and of property damage and vandalism. On only a few occasions have these threats resulted in legal action.
Therefore how could citizens be expected to address this problem, when an organization such as Archipelagos Institute, following all formal processes, not be able to get a result concerning such incidents? A typical example with regards to the situation in the southern Cyclades islands, and the regular dynamite and other illegal fisheries practices that take place there. The Archipelagos Institute has submitted several indictments on these incidents, indicating specific people and boats. Even though the relevant details were put in official reports and given to the courts and the internal affairs department of the Coastguard, the appropriate penalties where never applied. Moreover, the same people who have been caught by authorities with large amounts of explosives, today continue to act undisturbed and with greater nerve, destroying the seas of southern Cyclades almost daily with the use of dynamite, and in this way killing everything that lives in the sea.
In order to explain the extent of this problem, a typical example concerns a previous report made by the Archipelagos Institute for the Port Police of Naxos Island, that addressed incidents of fishing with dynamite in combination with illegal diving for the collection of fish. This was reported to have been carried out by specific fishermen on a specific boat, however, a few hours later, we received a threatening call followed by a fax copy of our report as it was recorded in the Incidents’ Log of the Port Police! This of course doesn’t characterize the entire Coast Guard, most of them do make a very big effort, with inadequate means, but also inadequate legislation often governing destructive fisheries.
This mentality of continued perpetration and cover up, which unfortunately results in new people mimicking this behavior, is leading to the desperation of the majority of the fishermen and the islanders who witness this situation on a daily basis. However, they do not dare to report it with the fear that they will themselves become the victims.
Nevertheless, it has to be emphasized that the lack of protection of endangered species begins with the national authorities and those who have served them over the years, who were never involved with the essence of the problem and have contributed to the waste of a large amount of funds, in the name of the “protection of nature”. These funds, instead of reaching the communities in the form of investments and infrastructure which would ensure (among other things) the protection of the rare species in our seas, they have been wasted mainly in Athens, on reports, studies, campaigns and other beaurocratic approaches, by a small number of individuals and organizations who for years operate as an “environmental lobby”. A lobby which is not only wasting resources, but also using underhanded tactics, with every opportunity, to hinder the work of organisations like the Archipelagos Institute and many others, who dare to oppose them and carry out efficient action for the protection of nature and of the local communities who live close to it.
If something does not change quickly and drastically, we can only expect this situation to get worse. The crisis we are experiencing is not only financial, but is the result of a generalized crisis that slowly degrades all the unique aspects of our country. Therefore, all those who know the real cause of the problem and the solution and never did anything about it should stop crying crocodile tears. The solutions have always been known to the politicians, as well as the relevant national and regional authorities. However, the citizens and citizen organizations should not quit their efforts to protect our unique nature. The Archipelagos Institute will continue to be on the front line and will walk together with all those who want to see a final end to the destruction of our seas.