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Environment & Wildlife, World Trends

Marine Wildlife Threatened by Oil Companies in Greece

September 16th 2019

Aerial view of Vonitsa GreeceFor those that have seen the Greek seas, it is nearly impossible to deny their beauty. Its islands and waters are home to an abundance of wildlife and highly populated sea-life; its culture wrapped in the mystery of mythology, food and ancient history. The sea is also host to the Hellenic Trench, an awe-inspiring area of the seafloor that plummets deep into the ocean and is part of the Abyssal Zone. Here, live a range of Cetaceans – whales, dolphins and porpoise – and monk seals, loggerhead sea turtles and deep sea corals. Our Dolphin Research project in Greece covers the Ionian sea, where, in particular, the bottlenose dolphin is more densely-populated than anywhere else in the Mediterranean, making this area vital for the upkeep of fidelity rates. Furthermore, JoAn Gonzalvo, Director of our Dolphin Research Project expresses that this is especially concerning for ‘deep-diving cetacean species like sperm whales and Cuvier’s beaked whales.’

However, one detrimental threat is anticipated to cause irreversible havoc on this precious environment. From North of Corfu to Southern Crete, 60,000 square kilometers have been offered to offshore Greek and international oil companies for exploration and exploitation.

Close up of bottlenose dolphinThe plan is for the use of seismic drilling, a vibration based exploration method that generates a map of subsurface structures, thus pinpointing both obstructions and viable areas to place oil wells. The fundamental issues with this particular method is the impact on the environment due to the risk of oil spillage and proven vibrational damage on marine life and ecosystems. 

Research has shown that seismic activity is damaging to sea life. Cetaceans use vibrations to assess surroundings, locate prey, predators, communicate and attract mates. An article on Nature.com describes how a 2015 study found that seismic survey blasts can even affect zooplankton from at least 1.2 kilometers away.  Furthermore, WWF  report how earlier this year ‘some 50 turtles were washed up’ either ‘dead or seriously bleeding’ on the shores of Israel:  ‘According to the director of Israel’s Sea Turtle Rescue Center, seismic testing for offshore oil and gas is the most likely culprit.’ 

So, why might this be going ahead? 

Ultimately, the long and short of it is money. The government’s attempt to recover the economy through high value commodities is not only dangerous to offshore life, but has fatal consequences for fishing and tourism industries. As part of the international campaign, WWF published a report on the economic impact that potential oil spills would have on the country. It estimates the cost of reputational loss, clean-up, carbon emissions and even in the absence of spills;

“the presence of oil and gas extraction infrastructure and transportation routes may negatively affect the tourist experience, and the sense of environmental integrity and absence of industry that may drive people’s motivation to visit the natural environment.” 

Recently, Greenpeace and WWF went to Athens’ highest administrative court. An article in the Guardian states that this was “in the hope of getting two oil company concessions annulled in waters off western and south-western Crete.” 

Greece offers beautiful beaches for free time“The move follows the publication of an unprecedented declaration by 100 of the world’s leading scientists, conservation and ecological groups.” These groups and scientists signed a call to the Greek Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras. The list can be found here. Amongst them are: the Hellenic Ornithological Society, Turkish Marine Research Foundation, and Animal Welfare Institute of Washington DC plus many more around the world. It is encouraging to see such a global response.

As of yet, there have been no updates on the decision to proceed with the exploration. JoAn Gonzalvo from our Dolphin Research Project expresses his concern   It is in the interests of our future that we refuse to accept such dangers to our planet. You can sign WWF’s petition here, as well as the campaign to Save Greek Seas.  

Despite a rise in awareness around climate crisis and environmental emergency, it is hard to comprehend why Greece are looking to buy into this market. 

Article by WorkingAbroad Intern Amy Burchill

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