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Two new protected areas in Greek waters

Two new marine protected areas in Greece aim to protect biodiversity and ecosystems. Environmental protection organizations are not very impressed by the plans. Turkey is also angry.

Greece wants to establish two new marine protected areas, one in the Ionian Sea and one in the Aegean. The country announced this as part of a program for marine biodiversity and ecosystems. The plan is expected to be officially announced at the international ocean conference starting on Wednesday in Athens. The costs are said to be 780 million euros.

“We are increasing the size of our protected areas in the sea by 80 percent,” said Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis. This means that marine protected areas will make up more than 30 percent of Greek waters.

According to the EU Commission, Greece protected a good 17 percent of its seas in 2019, placing it in fifth place in the EU behind Portugal (46 percent), Denmark (44 percent), the Netherlands (40 percent), France (24 percent) – excluding Great Britain ( still an EU country at the time). In Germany only around seven percent were protected.

What Marine protected areas bring

According to the EU Commission, the purpose of marine protected areas is to protect endangered species and ecosystems, preserve biological diversity and promote sustainable use. Many marine protected areas also serve as living laboratories for research.

What it actually means when a part of the sea is protected varies greatly from place to place. In some cases, certain fishing methods are prohibited, in some places there are closed seasons or there is a limit on the maximum amount of fish that can be caught. Fishing is not allowed in so-called “no-take” zones – but this only covers a small part of the world's marine protected areas. In Europe, “no-take” zones are not common.

Environmental organizations the plans don't go far enough

Environmental protection organizations are not impressed by Greece's plans. The initiative does not go far enough, they are calling for stricter measures. Greenpeace and WWF criticized, among other things, the fact that Greece continues to allow deep-sea research into energy sources in the Mediterranean. When asked whether Greece was also planning more protection in these areas, the Greek Environment and Energy Minister gave an evasive answer. This would require more money and a scientific rather than ideological basis.

Nikos Charalambidis, the Greek head of Greenpeace, said the ocean conference should not simply be an opportunity for governments to congratulate themselves on what they have said so far. According to the Greek government, around 300 representatives from more than 100 countries will take part in the conference. Commitments are to be made for environmental projects totaling around ten billion dollars.

One of the two protected areas is said to be in the Aegean Sea, where the island of Milos is also located.

Türkiye angered by Greece's plans in the Aegean

The project is also causing trouble with neighboring Turkey, with which Greece has had a tense relationship for decades – including over territorial claims in the Aegean. Greece apparently wants to exploit environmental issues for its own benefits, the Turkish Foreign Ministry said. The Greek Foreign Ministry then accused Turkey of trying to “turn a clear environmental issue into a political issue.”

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