October 3, 2005

WWF raps Greece over tourist turtle threat

GENEVA (Reuters) - Greece is pushing a unique marine turtle
species toward extinction by allowing uncontrolled tourism
development on Zakynthos island, the WWF conservation group
said on Monday.

Over the past summer the Zakynthos National Marine Park, a
protected nesting ground for the turtles, had been "irreparably
damaged" by the tourist flow, the WWF said in a statement
issued from its headquarters near Geneva.

"Greek authorities have done little to halt the flagrant
abuse within the park in 2005," it said.

Local businesses had swamped key beaches with umbrellas and
sunbeds and opened illegal bars, restaurants and parking areas,
the statement said.

Boats regularly anchored in prohibited zones, and cars,
motorcycles and horses routinely crossed the sands, it added.
Tourists had been allowed to tamper with nesting turtles at
night and nests were often trampled.

The Ionian island, off south-western Greece and popular
with British and German holidaymakers, is one of the major
nesting sites in the Mediterranean for the already endangered
loggerhead turtle, WWF said.

The Marine Park normally hosts between 800 and 1,100 nests
from May to the end of July. The August peak of the tourist
season coincides with the hatching period for the turtles, only
one in a 1,000 of which survives to adulthood.

In 2002, Greece was declared in violation of European Union
law by the European Court of Justice for failing to protect the
Zakynthos turtles. WWF said little had changed since then.

The body -- formerly known as the World Wide Fund for
Nature but now identifying itself only by its initials and its
long-standing panda logo -- said the EU Commission should now
set standards that Greece should be obliged to meet.

The Commission -- whose Environment Commissioner Stavros
Dimas is himself Greek -- is expected to announce soon that it
will take Greece to the European Court a second time over the
issue, WWF said.

"The role of the Commission is critical in bringing about
change and saving these huge nesting beaches. We hope they will
not let us down," it quoted Demetres Karavellas, head of the
WWF national organization in Greece, as saying.