Could you ever imagine that in an area of enormous natural wealth, one of the major reservoirs of marine and coastal biodiversity globally and one of the most popular holiday destinations in the world, it would be planned to start natural gas and oil drilling? It sounds totally contradictory, especially if we take into account that due to climate change most countries, including Greece, have committed to reducing CO2 emissions.
And yet, this is happening here today ... in the heart of the Mediterranean, the oil and natural gas exploitation processes have already begun. All the Ionian sea area, from north to south and a vast area of the western greek mainland, have been divided into blocks and partly given to companies to exploit its mineral wealth. Most of you, probably know the beautiful islands of this area : Corfu, Lefkas, Cephalonia, Ithaka, Zante, Meganisi, Kalamos and Castos and many smaller ones. What is perhaps less well known is that these seas are home to some of the most wonderful marine creatures!
Populations of four species of dolphins live here! Bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus), Risso’s dolphins (Grampus griseus), Striped dolphins (Stenella coeruleoalba), their abundance here is the highest in Greece and throughout the Mediterranean and the common dolphin (Delphinus delphis), not common any more in the Ionian, since their population in recent years decreased dramatically and in 2003 was classified as Endangered in the IUCN Red List.
Three whale species can also be found here! Fin whales (Balaenoptera physalus), the second largest animal in the world and the fastest species of whale. Sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus), the third largest animal, with the largest brain recorded in the animal kingdom. The Ionian is the most important area for Sperm whales all over the Mediterranean. And Cuvier’s beaked whales (Ziphius cavirostris), the best divers of the sea. "This tends to be a quite elusive animal and most of what is known comes from strandings data. "The most important threat for this species is likely anthropogenic noise, responsible for significant mortality in Greece and the Mediterranean Sea in general." (ioniandolphinproject.org)
In the caves of the Ionian sea, we meet one more unique mammal, critically endangered in the Red Book of Endangered Animals, the monk seal Monachus monachus! While another characteristic and threatened species is the loggerhead turtle Caretta caretta. Some of the most important beaches all over the Mediterranean for loggerheads breeding and nesting are in the Ionian.
In addition to marine life, the land hosts a rich flora and fauna, with many endemic species, and is particularly important for birdlife and especially for migratory birds. It is not a coincidence that along this maritime axis, we come across Natura 2000 areas, national parks, important areas for birds and marine mammals, wildlife reserves, biogenetic reserves.
Here, therefore in the heart of the Mediterranean, the rich life that exists for centuries now, is unfortunately in danger of being lost forever, before the end of this century ... The threats to nature's wealth are already too many. .Loss of habitats, pollution, overfishing, alien species, climate change. Rather than acting to mitigate these threats, today we are adding one more, very serious, the oil and gas extraction.
The danger for the ecosystems and the organisms living here, is enormous and undermined at all stages of the mining process (research, installation, pumping, transport, decommissioning). Toxic waste, small spills, huge greenhouse gas emissions, noise pollution. Particularly for marine mammals that are using sound to find food, communicate and travel, the powerful sound waves emitted during research can seriously disturb their lives.
As for the possibility of an accident... we don’t even want to think about it...here is one of the world's most active earthquake zone!
Do we really want to take such a risk? How great can the profits be (which are always for the companies and not local communities) that we should accept to sacrifice this place for future generations? Fortunately there are technologies to cover our energy needs, by leaving fossil fuels on the ground. We just have to demand their use! Not just us and not just here, but everybody and everywhere!