Greece has had problems with careless assaults on its landscape for thousands of years – sadly, problems with deforestation and soil erosion were present in classical times. Today, we really do know better; yet industrialisation and the growth of mass tourism continues to up the ante when it comes to human impact on fragile environments.
While official developments hardly cover themselves in eco-aware glory, there is also a huge issue with illegal building in both coastal and forest areas which has been going on since the 1970s. Despite laws being put in place and green protests made by environmentally-concerned locals, a combination of under-prioritising and simple corruption have meant little is often done to prevent land being taken and developed despite any rules to the contrary. Population growth and increasing urbanisation contribute to land pressures. Alarmingly, a number of illegal developments have in recent years been 'legalised' on the basis of so-called 'social need'. In a law voted by the Greek Parliament in June 2013, the Tourism Ministry chose to promote large vacation compounds all over the country, even within ecologically sensitive areas, many of which are protected under national and EU legislation.
But bad development not only physically blights coastal and other areas with concrete eyesores, but adds to severe strains on water supplies for all, as well as upping the threat to local wildlife from pollution or habitat destruction.
Chantel Kyriakopoulou-Beuvink from our supplier Natural Greece puts things succinctly:
“Sustainable and responsible tourism is an issue that deserves more attention than ever in Greece. In a country with 22 million visitors in 2014, tourism largely continues to operate with old paradigms, polluting natural habitats, destroying ecosystems and often replacing it with concrete buildings isolated from its place - from local culture, energy and natural flows. These developments have had their negative impacts on nature, the environment and local communities in Greece.”
Short-term needs – and a desperate desire to make money in very hard times – are an understandable pressure in Greece today. But for the long-term future, everyone's interests are better served by greater thought and careful sustainable planning. While too much focus remains on large-scale mass tourist monoculture, there are some positive signs in the slow growth of interest in expanding agrotourism and culinary tourism which offer far more support for local communities and to the maintenance of rural ways of life.
Source: Green Europe Journal
What you can do:
Responsible Travel promotes staying in small-scale, locally-owned and environmentally aware accommodation and using ethical local tour guides. Try to preserve resources (e.g. don't waste water) and leave as little trace as possible on any landscape you are going through. Avoid all-inclusive vacations in Greece – find out why here