“My life was threatened many times,” says the conservationist. She was chased by one landowner’s rottweilers, held against her will, and nearly strangled. But in 1985 she appealed to the Bern Convention to bring international attention to the situation at Zakynthos. After the Standing Committee conducted an on-the-spot appraisal and discussed the case, in 1987 it adopted Recommendation No. 9 (1987) , urging the Greek government to take measures.
The Standing Committee recognised that the loggerhead turtle was “seriously endangered mainly as a result of habitat loss in its nesting grounds, which suffer important deterioration as a result of touristic activities” and acknowledged the importance of the Laganas Bay beaches for the survival of the species.
In order to protect the area, they requested that the new hotels had to be built at least two hundred meters from the sea and illegal buildings had to be removed. Any walls and concrete built in the optimal sites for turtle nesting had to be removed, too.
The Committee also recommended banning speedboats, along with setting speed limits and appropriate corridors for the rest of the boats, and penalising the use of deck chairs and sunshades near the nesting areas.
Regarding the lights, it requested replacing them or at least reorienting them to minimise their impact on the turtles. Also, it recommended setting legal limits to the number of people allowed on the beaches.
To protect the area even more, the Committee suggested that Laganas Bay be declared a natural park. They also recommended better collaboration between the Greek authorities and the non-profit organisation now known as ARCHELON to keep carrying out the monitoring, research and public awareness they had been performing. Their monitoring has been running now for 37 years.
After that, Laganas Bay became the first Marine National Park of Greece under a Presidential Decree in 1999. However, according to Venizelos, although “laws now exist”, they have not been enforced because of a lack of resources.
“The National Marine Park doesn’t have enough money. The Park is supposed to have guards that can watch if anything illegal is getting done, but there is no money to pay them,” she says.
Sidiropoulou, who is currently leading ARCHELON’s monitoring and public awareness project in Zakynthos, says that the scale and the speed of touristic development on the island since 1999 was “far bigger than what was anticipated”.
“Sea turtles in Laganas bay are used as a touristic attraction: most of the nesting beaches are very crowded and an ever increasing number of turtle spotting boats are always after sea turtles swimming in the waters of the bay”, she declares.
She is also concerned about law violations: “There are maritime regulations in place which describe no-go areas, speed limits, ban of anchoring and fishing activity, but violations of the legislation are recorded every season.”
According to ARCHELON, in the nesting season of 2017 alone, 68,047 violations were recorded regarding removal of beach furniture, and 486 boats breached the speed limit. Consequently, sea turtles in Laganas Bay continue to have serious threats, even with the drop in tourism due to the COVID-19 outbreak.