These days, our research vessels Aegean Explorer and Naftilos are operating around Agathonisi island – a marine region of great importance that has been in the center of Archipelagos Institute’s focus for over two decades.
The irony however stands to the fact that even in the case of islands as important as Agathonisi, the nation’s interest is limited to promises and occasional glamorous visits by the government representatives.
The economy of the island and the economic independence it used to have, are being devalued for decades. For example, with regards to the fisheries sector, the state has practically “bought off” the island’s small-scale coastal fishermen (as it did in many other regions as well), taking away their licenses in exchange for a small grant, enough only for them to build 2-3 “rooms to rent”. However, today the 9th of August in the peak of summer season these rooms remain empty, in an island with almost no visitors and tourists. At the same time, funding towards livestock with no sustainable plan in place destroyed the land of several islands due to the irreversible degradation caused by overgrazing. This consequently impacted dramatically the livestock owners themselves, who as a result of the depletion of grazing lands became dependent on expensive imported animal feed. These small communities which base their survival on peaceful coexistence, have been led to conflicts between them, as the – funded – livestock herds move uncontrollably in search of grazing land, making impossible the very existence of agriculture in those areas.
The island’s municipality – highly understaffed – is making a great effort to cover the needs of its community. However, the cost of living there is at least double compared to that in a city, with local people having to cover a large cost even to transport their own supplies (e.g. food etc.) from neighboring islands via ferry boat. They have to pay for every single box they transport a fare greater than that of passengers, despite the fact that in these remote areas, ferry boats are subsidized with thousands of euros daily.
Having lost their professional access to the sea and having switched to tourism for yet another year without any visitors, makes us wonder how the residents of this small island near the border of Greece are supposed to survive the winter. How many of those who have told us that they can’t make it there any longer will be forced to leave their island, as so many other inhabitants of the small islands have already done? It is time to wonder who is really posing a threat to the future of these small islands and the people that inhabit them, and devalue over many decades with policies that gradually lead them to desertification.