The World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) ship named the “Blue Panda” began a tour of the Ionian islands in Greece on July 21, to promote awareness of the diversity of marine wildlife in the Mediterranean and to inform the public about threats which include offshore drilling for oil and natural gas.
The Blue Panda arrived at the island of Zakynthos on Sunday, and will be docked at the island of Ithaki until July 26, when it will continue on to the island of Kefalonia.
The WWF said that the island of Zakynthos was chosen for two main reasons. The first is that Zakynthos is one of the largest and most important nesting habitats of Caretta caretta, a particularly vulnerable sea turtle species, anywhere in the world.
Secondly, the island is one of the dozens of Greek islands whose natural environment, economy and local communities are directly threatened by the exploration and extraction of hydrocarbons planned to be carried out in this marine region, says the environmental organization.
The rich oil and gas deposits are located in a nearby geological area under the sea called the “Hellenic Trench.”
“Zakynthos is the island of the sea turtle ‘Caretta caretta’ and hosts the most important ocean turtle spawning beach across the Mediterranean. However, on the island of Zakynthos, the government, along with the oil companies, is preparing to start work on exploration and extraction of hydrocarbons,” the organization’s announcement stated.
“The WWF opposes these plans and calls on local communities and people nationwide to say a resounding NO to this drilling,” it added.
Based on WWF Greece’s data, the “blocks” included in concessions that have already been signed with the oil companies, or are in the process of being signed for hydrocarbon exploration and exploitation, overlap with two regions in Greece identified as globally Important Marine Mammal Areas (IMMA).
The first, the Ionian Archipelago region, comprising 3,253 square kilometers, overlaps with the second, the Hellenic Trench region, which is measured at 24,970 square kilometers.
The Hellenic Trench is an area of great ecological importance, since it is home to several rare and particularly vulnerable species under international protection, including fin whales, sperm whales, the disappearing Mediterranean common dolphins, and other dolphin species.
Cuvier’s beaked whales, sea turtles and Mediterranean monk seals are also known to live there.
The largest part of the eastern Mediterranean population of sperm whales lives permanently in the waters over the Hellenic Trench, which is their only known breeding and calving area.
“Oil and gas exploration and exploitation projects, as an additional great threat to marine mammals in the Hellenic Trench, would become the last straw for their survival,” according to the WWF.
A recent study by WWF Greece predicted that an oil spill in the Ionian Sea would cost the economy 1.4 billion euros, while at the same time also leading to the loss of nearly 25,000 jobs which depend either directly or indirectly on tourism.
A free music concert with singer Matura Zamani will take place on Kefalonia Island on July 29th, bringing the community together to join voices against hydrocarbon exploitation in the Ionian Sea.