In Greece, the whole adventure of man is in miniature, it is engraved in everything that surrounds us. Nikos Kazantzakis aptly writes “the face of Greece is a palimpsest of twelve main layered writings, of the Stone Age, the Aegean, the Mycenaean, the Doric Middle Ages, the Classical era, the Hellenistic era, Rome, Byzantium, F Ottoman rule, the Twentieth century and the modern. The starting point for feeling these is the soil, the stone, the water, the sun and the air of Greece “.
The association “Save Ios” SAVE IOS was recently established and aims to protect the Aegean culture, cultural heritage, nature and the traditional landscape of Ios. The adventure of Ios is the adventure of every Greek island.
My interview was given by Dimitris Vagianos, professor of finance at the London School of Economics, he is a member of the British Academy since 2014 as well as a member of the Pissaridis committee for the preparation of a development plan for the Greek economy.
Is there political protection for the environment on the islands, is there a plan for the sustainable development of our islands?
There are important provisions in Greek legislation for the protection of the environment on the islands. For example, construction near the seashore or near wetlands is prohibited. Also, many islands have been characterized as landscapes of special natural beauty, where project permits must be approved by the Ministry of Culture.
Unfortunately, the above provisions may not be applied in practice, something we note with great regret in Ios. A wetland protected by Presidential Decree has been destroyed, and streams that fed it have been blocked to make way for hotels. Swimming pools and other structures have been built along the seashore – much closer than required by law. The top of a rocky islet has been leveled to build a private house, which is connected to the beach of the island with a concrete bridge for cars.
With few exceptions, government agencies are turning a blind eye to these disasters. In fact, the competent ministries include the relevant constructions in strategic investment programs, and approve subsidies for investors from the state budget. That is, we must not only accept the destruction of the natural environment, but we must also pay the destroyers our taxes.
The adventure of Ios is also the adventure of every Greek island, what are the modern threats to the island?
: A large part of Ios, about 30%, has been bought by public limited companies, behind which are the same investment interests. These companies plan to build a large number of hotels and tourist homes on the island’s beaches. In fact, access to these beaches has begun to be restricted to the public.
The constructions that have been done so far are characterized by significant environmental disasters and delinquency, as I mentioned in the previous question. The constructions so far are located in two areas: Avlaki Papa, where there was a protected wetland, and Koumbara-Diakofto, where the bridge has been built, the swimming pools next to the seashore, etc.
Recently, the Interministerial Committee for Strategic Investments decided to include in the strategic investment program three new investment projects related to Ios, and include the construction of three tourist villages. In other words, the doubling of the residential density of the island in a few years is approved, something that will inevitably lead to a change in its physiognomy. The investment plans approved by the committee have been drawn up by the same business interests that have caused the environmental disasters I have mentioned.
In short, Ios is threatened with (a) extensive alteration of the Aegean physiognomy, (b) monopoly tourist exploitation, and (c) privatization of much of its beaches. Although this threat is more visible for Ios at this time, it also affects most Greek islands. The development model promoted in Ios can be applied in exactly the same way to other islands.
Why is the protection of biodiversity and forests in island ecosystems important?
: Biodiversity, wetlands, forests, and other ecosystems on the islands are key elements that make them attractive tourist destinations. By degrading these elements we are destroying our natural heritage. We are also reducing the attractiveness of islands as tourist destinations, and therefore the economic prospects of the local community.
What needs to be done to protect the architectural history and tradition from the modern constructions that affect the cultural landscape of the island, is it the critical moment to change the tourist model of development?
The tourism development model
The tourism development model clearly needs to change. Emblematic islands such as Santorini have developed anarchically and are now oversaturated. Tourism development takes place without spatial planning and without load-bearing capacity studies, which examine environmental, social and economic parameters. This planning is necessary before the approval of large investments, such as those in Ios. In Ios there is neither an approved spatial study nor a bearing capacity study. In fact, a spatial study commissioned by the Municipality in 2009-10 was buried along the way – perhaps not coincidentally as many of the areas it intended as areas of absolute protection or mild development are now earmarked for “strategic investments”.
Tourism development on the islands should be located around traditional settlements, or as regeneration of abandoned settlements. This will protect the environment and the physiognomy of the island. Tourism development should also include a connection to culture, local products and cuisine, as well as the wider natural environment such as trails and walking trails. The Greek tourist product can no longer be limited to the diptych of sun and sea.
In this context, tourism investments should not be evaluated only in a purely quantitative dimension, ie how many millions of Euros they add to the total investments in the country. An investment on an island may look good on paper, but it can have a negative overall impact if you consider the environmental impact and future traffic to the island.
What is your vision for Ios?
Ios is an island with special natural beauties, which includes its beautiful beaches. The combination of beaches, the Aegean landscape, and the intense nightlife have made Ios an attractive tourist destination.
Ios has other characteristics, which have not been adequately studied. It has a rich network of trails (the old trails extend to a length of 200 km), as well as rare wetlands and fauna. It also has a rich history and cultural tradition. For example, one of the most important Early Cycladic settlements (Skarkos) is located in Ios. It is one of 14 archeological sites on the island, while there are also 19 temples that have been designated protected monuments. The best promotion of these natural and cultural elements, as well as the rich tradition of the island, could attract tourism of other kinds, and not only during the summer months.
We therefore envision a development that will respect the environment and the physiognomy of the island, will highlight its history and traditions, and will be to the benefit of the local community. Elements missing from the development model promoted on the island.