EU Comes to the Rescue of Zakynthos Loggerhead Turtles
BRUSSELS, Belgium, October 18, 2004 (ENS) - The European Commission is pursuing legal action against Greece for failure to protect the rare loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta) on the island of Zakynthos.
Greece was already condemned by the European Court of Justice in January 2002 for this failure. The Court found that Greece was not doing enough to protect the breeding sites of the sea turtle on a number of beaches on Zakynthos.
With this action, the Commission says, it wants "to ensure that Greece protects its rich biodiversity to the benefit of their citizens and future generations."
Commenting on the decisions, Environment Commissioner Margot Wallström said, "Stopping the loss of Europe's biodiversity is one of the most important items on the EU's environmental agenda. The loggerhead sea turtle is a rare and endangered species, and the breeding sites on Zakynthos are its most important in Europe."
"Greece started taking measures to allow the turtle to breed undisturbed, but these efforts have stopped," Wallstrom said. "I hope Greece will resume the establishment and implementation of an effective system of protection. The country must be proud to be hosting such an important and delightful creature."
In its 2002 ruling, the court declared that Greece had failed to establish and implement an effective system of strict protection, thereby violating its obligations under the 1992 Habitats Directive.
This law provides for a comprehensive protection scheme for a range of endangered and valuable animals and plants as well as a selection of habitat types.
It has established Natura 2000, the EU’s network of protected nature sites, which by now covers around 18 percent of the EU territory. Under the Habitats Directive, the loggerhead must be strictly protected. In addition, the Greek government has proposed Laganas Bay as a Natura 2000 site.
But in April 2004 the National Marine Park of Zakynthos, which is the official management body, ceased operating due to severe financial problems. During the summer of 2004, there was no staff to run the park, and the public was not provided with proper information on how to avoid disturbing the turtle sites.
As a result, there were incidents of illegal fishing and anchoring in front of the important nesting beach of Sekania, which is legally an area of absolute protection.
On Daphni beach, illegal bars and taverns continued to operate.
On the sand dunes and the beach of Kalamaki, cars, motorcycles and horses were routinely used.
And the limits set for the numbers of sun beds and umbrellas on the nesting beaches of Kalamaki and Gerakas were repeatedly violated. In summary, the Commission said, all important breeding sites on the island were badly affected, and the sea turtle was deliberately disturbed during its reproduction period.
In its warning letter, the Commission is asking Greece to urgently comply with the Court’s ruling within two months, after which the Commission may ask the Court to impose penalties.