My last post gave me the opportunity to describe some of the work I am involved in, here in Greece. I’m back in Samos now, and as I have now been here 6/7 weeks I am in a better position to explain more about the situation here and how we are helping conserve this imperfect paradise.
The Aegean Sea is one of the small areas that make up the relatively monstrous Mediterranean Sea. Firstly and strangely, there are no tides. This is actually difficult to get used too. It results from the larger ocean forces in the North Atlantic Ocean, being completely rejected from the Strait of Gibraltar. There simply is not enough space.
The Med is a very significant place for marine biodiversity as 28% of the species that live there are endemic, meaning they are not found anywhere else on the planet. It only covers 0.7% of the ocean as an area, but holds 7.5% of the worlds marine fauna, and a whopping 18% of the worlds flora. It is a delicate balance, which could be disrupted at any moment. One of the most important species I have come across is Posidonia. This particular kind of Seagrass is endemic, protected and extremely important to this fragile ecosystem. It makes an ideal habitat for many species of fish and invertebrates.
Like a devoted mother of the ocean, it provides nutrients and shelter for nursing young, also protection from predators throughout the night and day. On the leaves themselves, epiphytes grow, providing another source of fuel for the oceans complex community. The amount of life here, is astonishing. It is not quite on a par with a healthy coral reef, but still an impressive sight. It is however in decline, which is a big worry.
Part of the fisheries research project in Lipsi is looking at the fish landings and comparing them to the species that live on Posidonia beds. What would happen to fish populations without Posidonia? What would then happen to the fisheries?
Another huge problem here are the ships. Oil tankers, cargo ships, passenger ferries of all sizes pass through the Aegean Sea. In 2009, for example, around 190,000 ships pass through during the year, thats over 500 a day! To give a bit of perspective, the English Channel sees approximately 400 a day (although, I’ve seen estimations from 100-700 on the internet). It is highly trafficked as it is used a gateway between the Middle East and Western Europe. Over 10% of these vessels are carrying some kind of hazardous material (oil aside of course). This could be pesticides, herbicides and other organic materials that could reek complete havoc with the ecosystem. So a busy area with a high potential to devastate the environment, not to mention the socio-economic effects this would have on both Greece and Turkey. Logic would suggest that there must be plenty of traffic management schemes, contingency plans and disaster management strategies.
In a word. No! There is a complete lack of any kind of shipping management. Firstly there are no shipping lanes, so ships can sail freely through the quickest routes, usually tiny passageways between islands, narrowly avoiding collision frequently. There is no kind of monitoring system and no way to enforce the none existent regulations. When a highly likely accident does happen, there are no contingency plans in place to deal with it quickly and efficiently.
Another of the main problems is that almost half of the ships sailing through are registered under a Flag of Convenience (FOC). This is where the ship owners have registered the flag under a country, Panama for example, that typically does not enforce international maritime laws. This results in cutting costs, from the materials used to build the ship to low wages of the ships staff, making the ship a high risk due to sub standard conditions. Also, when a ship under a FOC is involved in an accident, the owners can switch countries, or conceal the issue under the Flag making the legal process a lot more complicated. It is no wonder that these ships have a notoriously high accident rate.
The Aegean Sea is noted as having the highest accident rate in the Mediterranean Sea, and it is obvious why.
One of the campaigns we are working on is the designation of the Aegean as a Particularly Sensitive Sea Area (PSSA). If designated it would join the very well managed English Channel and Great Barrier Reef as it would give the area much more protection over the potential disasters waiting to happen. The PSSA will help enforce strategies to help with traffic separation, it will mark any specially protected areas to be avoided, such as Posidonia beds, it will aid and monitor ships coming in and out of the zone and if the worst happens, there will be effective measures to aid the clean up.
I believe this need to happen as soon as humanly possible. Looking at this data it is a miracle there hasn’t been a shipping catastrophe. And if one were to happen the effects would be devastating, long lasting and probably irreversible. When the Sea Diamond sank of the coast of Santorini, almost 300M2 of oil was spilt into the ocean, covering marine life and shoreline. On top of that, other hazardous material that was on board managed to be ingested by certain marine animals that are caught and sold commercially, thus potentially entering the human food chain.
Once a decision on PSSA designation has been made, it will mark the beginning of the future of the Aegean Sea. Let’s hope it happens sooner rather than later.by Katie with 10 comments