Island Sustainability vs Devaluation

Have we ever asked ourselves how, within a few years, our islands were transformed from exemplary models of management and self-government to utterly dependent places, no longer productive, most without even drinkable water? It’s worth noting that in the old days, often ships did not stop at the islands for many weeks, a fact that had no negative effect on the availability of goods and the daily lives of the islanders.

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Overview

At a time that we have access to state-of-the-art technological means, we struggle to survive even in the most rich ecosystems. Therefore the traditional resource management practices which were followed for centuries by the local communities of the Aegean islands, should be a topic of research by internationally acclaimed institutions – a research that today is more relevant than ever.

However, within only 4-5 decades we managed to transform the Greek islands from exemplary models of management and self-government to utterly dependent places, no longer productive, most without even drinkable water. From the era when in the Aegean we exchanged goods, knowledge and skills, today the islands have ended up exchanging only their plastic waste from their illegal rubbish pits. 

Many times we search for the causes in financial interests, but in this case the cause of this devaluation is not only financial interest. The state of the islands today reflects not only the national policies of the previous years but also the displacement of those politicians who were chosen to manage this unique place. And in doing so they devalued the culture of management. The only thing which they had to recommend and apply was to transform the islands into a monoculture of tourism, which gave the final blow to the culture of self-sufficiency and wise management of the natural resources.

Devaluation of Agricultural Production

Most of the cultivated lands were deserted and replaced by small and large tourist units. The systems for preventing erosion on the islands were abandoned, increasing the incidence of erosion on most of the islands. Thus, along with the fertile soil of the islands, the groundwater is also lost.

As we study the financial activity that these uninhabited islets had in the past, where nowadays only few bushes survive, our aim is not only to gather but and share knowledge and comprehension of the wise management practices based on which the local communities survived and thrived in the small islands of the Aegean with absolute self-sufficiency.

It is remarkable that even though for thousands of years and up to a few decades ago, even the small islets were not only inhabited but also produced and exported dairy products, meat, legumes and more, nowadays there is not only lack of any agricultural production, but we have indulged in their total destruction.

With the mismanagement of EU subsidies, livestock (mainly goats) have been effectively abandoned on many of these islands. These are counted to receive European subsidies and then abandoned on the islands where access is very difficult. The result is not only that numerous dead animals are found on the islets, due to dehydration or starvation, but at the same time the desertification and irreversible erosion of the islets is also caused. When the bushes disappear due to overgrazing, the retention of night moisture also stops. The few centimeters of the surface productive soil of the islets are eroded and this ends up in the sea. What remains are the rocks where nothing can grow anymore.

What is left from the old extensive agricultural land in southern Tinos.

When the bushes disappear due to overgrazing, the retention of night moisture also stops. The few centimeters of the surface productive soil of the islets are eroded and this ends up in the sea. What remains are the rocks where nothing can grow anymore.

Devaluation of Fisheries

Another “inspired action” was the devaluation and destruction of the fisheries sector. In Greece not a single policy for efficient fisheries management has been applied since the 1970s, with the numbers of fish dwindling at an alarming rate year after year. 

Instead of managing the fisheries, the state, following yet another questionable EU policy which it adopted as national, decided to limit overfishing by destroying (that is, smashing up into pieces) more than 13,500 fishing vessels, 90% of which were wooden, traditional, elegant examples of the shipbuilding craft, which we are no longer in a position to construct today. Together with this unique cultural heritage there also vanished many thousands of jobs, if we consider that even the smallest fishing boat employed directly or indirectly 3-4 people, in areas where the state is unable to create even a little steady employment for the local communities. With the 30,000 to 50,000 euros which was the average compensation for the destruction of each boat, each fisherman usually built a few rental rooms or some equivalent seasonal touristic activity, which obviously could not sustain him all year round.

Meanwhile, in the same areas where the fishermen used artisanal fishing practices (nets and long-lines), now most of the fishing is by large vessels – which start out from Piraeus or Michaniona (the port of Thessaloniki) or even from Italy, as we see more and more often in the southern Aegean, overexploiting the fish stocks and often destroying productive ecosystems.

Research & Conservation

In cooperation with the Faculty of Architecture at the University of Toronto, apart from the study of the architectural and natural history of the islands and small islets, as well as of the factors of threat, the next goal is the physical establishment of an on-site research base on a small islet of the eastern Aegean, dedicated on exploring anti-desertification, conservation, and rejuvenation strategies for these diverse, unique and historically significant land and marine systems. The restoration process will include among other the reconstruction of old buildings using traditional practices and materials that can be found on the islets, the replantation of local species of plants, as well as of anhydrous varieties of agricultural plants (legumes, cereals) 

 For this purpose we link digital documentation with traditional practices, in an interdisciplinary approach of environmental and social sciences, ethnography, history and all available local ecological knowledge.