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Hersonissos - Crete - Greece

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Green turtle being released after treatment at Aquaworld

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Archelon - The Sea Turtle 
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Miss Calypso - a loggerhead rescued by Aquaworld

Loggerhead turtle rescued from fishing nets and subsequently released

Why You Really Shouldn't Holiday in Zakynthos

Saturday 5 May, 2007

Well, several very hectic weeks have gone by since my last posting here. Aquaworld Aquarium is up and running for its thirteenth season and already we have been able to effect the rescue of one hatchling loggerhead turtle and a pair of beautiful little sea horses - what a great start!

As regards the petition, I would have loved to see a lot more signatures by now - but at least we have sensitized many folks to what is going on in Zakynthos and every signature reflects this. I now collect signatures in the aquarium itself during the daytime and will be transferring them to the online petition each evening. I will add the country of the signatories in the comments section to show which signatures have been collected in this way.

I suppose we have made some waves since a posting I made to a Zakynthos discussion board about the petition has been deleted - it's great to know that someone's conscience has been stung enough to bring about this kind of furtive underhand action!

Finally, a great first in that Libby Weir-Breen, founder of Island Holidays Plus - a tour company with an emphasis on the environment and its protection, has signed the petition during a visit to Aquaworld. What we need now is a lot more tourist industry leaders to join Libby and vote with their power and influence on the people of Zakynthos!

More news will be posted here as it happens

In the name of the turtles - thank you!

Monday 26 March, 2007

Almost another week into the campaign, and debate has heated up with the posting of links to this page and the petition on several discussion boards. Rather than try to answer each point individually on each board, I have taken the main points raised and attempted to answer them here. Of course, I will continue to monitor people's arguments and will be happy to discuss them here also.

Some correspondents are of the opinion that things are improving on Zakynthos and that there is sufficient goodwill towards the loggerheads to prevail without further input from such as the likes of me! In answer to this, I suggest that those interested enough should read this short history of the conflict over the nesting beaches presented by Medasset in 2005. If you haven't the time to read it, just let me mention that over the last few years events have included bombings, beatings and the shooting up of scientific survey equipment. This isn't a dignified debate - it is outright war on the part of those determined to remove the turtles and use the beaches to line their own pockets. Also this is not, as one correspondent suggested, a case of me targeting poor Zakynthian families who have no other means of support - many of the proposed developments were very significant in scale involving much more than the average family savings!

Taken in conjunction with the Archelon and Medasset reports of 2006 (see links to the left), it can clearly be seen that there is still little, if any, political will on Zakynthos to reach any kind of sensible compromise - even where compensation has been paid, illegal buildings have not been demolished in a timely manner. Even the re-opening of the National Park was irreparably flawed by the appointment of a chairman whose wife and close relative both owned illegal buildings and the fact that whilst wardens prevented environmentalists from accessing one of the most vital beaches, drivers had to be arrested for making concrete deliveries for illegal construction on the very beach these guards were paid for protecting!

Drivers arrested for delivering concrete for illegal building work at Daphne Beach
Photo from the Medasset file.

Another point raised was that my campaign might cause lasting harm to the Zakynthian economy by giving the island a bad image. Again, reading the 2005 summary (link above) will show that there have been previous petitions (one raised 17,000 signatures) and that at one stage the travel company TUI threatened its own boycott. Had these measures had a lasting effect, I would not be doing this now - but it is certain that many, many thousands already know of the shameful situation in Zakynthos. Anita Roddick (founder of The Body Shop) has written about it, as has The Telegraph, The Sunday Times and The Guardian. These last news articles apportion part of the blame on the tourists themselves, but all point out the overwhelming culpability of those making money from tourism on the island for the despoiling of the turtle nesting beaches. Personally, I can attach no blame whatsoever to unwitting tourists!

So, if all this is already common knowledge, why am I bothering with a new campaign? Firstly, because nothing has really worked up-to-date and the nesting beaches are still under threat, as I've pointed out above. My second point is that this is, as far as I'm aware, the first effort to persuade tourists to vote with their feet and pressure both Zakynthians and tourist companies to sort the mess out. If, as I have shown, it is a number of those greedily intent on making the tourist buck that are the root cause of the turtles' difficulties, only by threatening THEIR income will anything get done.

If I've persuaded you of its value, please sign THE PETITION and pass the word on to your friends.

P.S. The sudden addition of a "buy the t-shirt" link on the petition came as a complete surprise to me - it has nothing to do with my campaign and will only benefit the company who provided the petition software - I guess nothing's really free ;-)

Thank you all on behalf of the turtles!

John McLaren

Tuesday 20 March, 2007

At a little over two weeks old, our campaign to shake up the tourist industry of Zakynthos has made a tentative start. Over forty individuals have signed the petition and that total, I am delighted to say, includes several Greek folk effectively urging their compatriots to do something about a situation they themselves feel ashamed of.

Greenpeace has also accepted a posting on their activism support board and this has generated a few votes, too.

To those of you visiting this page for the first time and possibly wondering what all the fuss is about, I ask you to consider for a moment the following:

When you think of a Mediterranean holiday, especially one on one of the myriad Greek isles, you probably dream of warm, balmy evenings spent enjoying a glass of local wine after a delicious, traditional meal in your hotel or in one of the family-run tavernas scattered abundantly along the village streets and the pristine sea-front.

You imagine days spent lounging on the beach or by the pool, with an occasional dip to cool off - or a long, cold drink designed to do the same. Perhaps you will spend some of your holiday exploring the towns and villages, admiring and filming the local architecture - some ancient and some more modern. Perhaps you will pay for a trip on a boat to photograph the coast from a little offshore. Who knows, perhaps you will even catch a glimpse of some of the local sea life, if you're really lucky!

Sadly, if your idyllic holiday is taking place on Zakynthos, you could be relaxing on an unlicensed beach bed with an umbrella stake driven through the eggs of a loggerhead turtle nest - sunbeds would be illegal here on a nesting beach, of course, but no one will do anything about it and you, naturally, will not be informed. Oh yes, those lovely non-native trees providing that delightful shady spot at the back of the beach exactly where you need it? They too could have been planted illegally (just to entice you to that precise spot) and their roots could be preventing even more female turtles from digging holes to lay their eggs in.

And what about all that wonderful, traditional building? Well, if you're on Daphne beach (just for example) you could be admiring dwellings built over the last few years smack bang on top of rather more traditional turtle nesting sites. "But how can this be so?" you might ask yourself. In fact, laws have been passed and presidential decrees have been promulgated explicitly forbidden building on these very turtle nesting areas, but it goes on regardless.

And what about the boat trip? Surely that can't do any harm? Not so, I'm afraid. Certain areas are completely off-limits to boats and others have very low speed limits and a ban on anchoring within their boundaries. Again, all this is supposedly for the protection of the turtles and again, the rules and laws are continually broken by those short-sighted individuals who seek to make their profits regardless of the consequences.

The purpose of this web site and its associated petition are to threaten to drastically curb those very profits - right across the Zakynthian board. We ask people to agree not to take their holidays in Zakynthos, to boycott any and all companies that do take tourists to Zakynthos and to try to persuade others to also reject the island as their holiday destination.

For even more information and links, please read further BUT - if you're already mad about what's going on in Zakynthos, PLEASE SIGN THE PETITION AND ASK YOUR FRIENDS TO DO SO, TOO!

Thank you all on behalf of the turtles!

John McLaren

Sunday 11 March, 2007

I have been following the pathetic story of the (Caretta caretta) loggerhead turtles of Zakynthos (Zakinthos, Zante) for some years now. Although the island is the most important and prolific nesting area of this endangered species in the entire Mediterranean, illegal building activities are denying the turtles access to ancient nest sites (see the shameful pictures by clicking here). As if this habitat loss and destruction is not enough, ever increasing numbers are injured or killed by prohibited boating activities within the borders of their supposedly protected habitat. Sadly, their plight seems to worsen with every passing year and the government of Greece seems singularly disinclined to do anything about it. Certainly, the Greek Government has passed legislation and there have been Presidential Decrees and a European Court of Justice ruling all designed to protect the turtles, but human greed combined with the negative effects of mass tourism have been taking their toll.

This last year has been no exception, and details can be read in both the Archelon and Medasset reports now available for public scrutiny.

Medasset sums up the present situation thus: "serious oversight of appropriate accountable and sustainable environmental Management approaches, and total disregard for National Greek legislation, EC Directives and the European Court of Justice ruling have resulted in the failure to implement any overarching long-term management objectives for the strict protection of Caretta caretta in Zakynthos."(Medasset, 2006, p.12)

In other words, no one from the European Union or the Greek government downwards is actually doing a single, solitary, practical thing to protect these creatures which have been inhabitants of Zakynthos since long before the first humans set foot there.

Organisations like Archelon, Medasset and WWF Greece do deservedly have my utmost respect and support, but they are - by their nature - limited in what action they can take to try and solve the problems facing the turtles of Zakynthos.

I, on the other hand, am not bound by any such restrictions!

Please read carefully and sign this petition agreeing not to take your holidays or vacations in Zakynthos. Also, you will be agreeing to discourage as many other people as you can from doing so. I really believe that, all attempts at appealing to reason or feelings of compassion having failed, this is the only way to go.

My reasoning works like this:

i) The majority of people in Zakynthos earn their living directly or indirectly from tourism...

ii) Greece is, in theory at least, a democracy.

iii) If the majority find their earnings decreasing because of tourists boycotting the island, they will force the authorities - who act as if totally unconcerned by the situation - to compel the guilty minority who are destroying the turtles' nesting habitat to desist.

iv) The turtles suffer from many other intrusions - such as illegal boating activities - but getting rid of the illegal buildings is a good start and that is what I suggest we concentrate on at first.

v) The Greek National Government, as well as local government officials on Zakynthos, should be so ashamed of this state of affairs that they ought to be doing all that they can to rectify it - but they remain indifferent until their noses are rubbed in it. Please help me do this by clicking on the link above and signing the petition.

To Business Owners on Zakynthos

I would now like to appeal to all those with hotels, restaurants, bars and boat trip businesses on Zakynthos - or, indeed, anyone who cares about Zakynthos at all! Firstly, please ensure that you yourselves are not harming the well-being of the Caretta caretta by virtue of your own activities. Secondly, make it known to all on Zakynthos, including local and national officials, that you are not content to see your business damaged and your income reduced because of the illegal, reprehensible and immoral actions of those who are causing the problem.

To Tourist Companies Operating on Zakynthos

A word now to those in the tourism industry who bring visitors to Zakynthos. You will note that all signatories to the petition agree not to do business with you and to try and discourage others from making Zakynthos their destination. Please make your displeasure at this prospect clear to the Greek and Zakynthos authorities and demand that immediate steps are taken to protect the remaining loggerhead turtles in order that this boycott ceases.

ALSO - I am looking for the first travel company possessing a strong enough sense of corporate social responsibility to discontinue Zakynthos as one of its destinations. Your stance will be publicised here and wherever else possible and will certainly serve to enhance your image with those who care!

To Everyone!

Although written as a normal web page, I will continually update this page in the manner of a web log. You might care to add it to your 'bookmarks' or 'favourites' and check it out from time to time. Also, I will add any comments anyone sees fit to email to me - although I naturally reserve an author's right to comment on them as I see fit :-) The most important point, however, is to pass the message on. Get everyone you can to read this page and, if they agree with the campaign, to sign the petition.

Thank you all on behalf of the turtles!

John McLaren

Disclaimer: Although I wholeheartedly applaud the work of Medasset and Archelon and I have cited their work here, I and my campaign have no connection with these or any other organisation apart from my own Aquaworld Aquarium. John McLaren

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