Reclaim the Sea

Coming together demanding environmental and social justice with a global movement to reclaim our oceans and coastlines

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6 years ago, Written by , Posted in Articles, Media re-posts

During the deepening economic crisis in Greece, the government has been looking for new ways to bring profits to the lenders. This time they have put the country’s beaches and shores in the firing line. The prime minister aims to reduce bureaucracy and increase investments, but critics fear it will destroy the natural coastal environment, discourage investors and eventually sending away tourists.

The prospective legislation was put to public consultation and prompted a strong reaction from the Greek people. Opposition comes from those who are simply afraid of their country being sold out to foreigners and losing their right to enjoy the sea without paying, to the scientific community who sees the whole situation from its own perspective and understands the problems that would arise if the private sector were allowed to act uncontrolled. Over 131,000 people have so far signed an online petition in a campaign started by Avaaz.

The Greek parliament has already voted for the concession of beach and shore use and rights, the use and exploitation of port projects or the expansion of port facilities in Article 14 of the Memorandum. The concession is for a period of up to 50 years, according to a joint decision of the Ministers of Economy and Regional Development, Competitiveness and Shipping.

On 13.05.2014, the Ministry of Finance announced the completion of the public consultation on the legislation entitled “Definition, management and protection of shores and beaches”, prompting violent reactions to erupt inside and outside of Greece as the government tries to clarify the basic objectives of the law and reassure those concerned.

According to the Ministry, the project aims to:

  • Define with clear and objective criteria, within six months, the shoreline throughout the territory, in order to protect more effectively the coastline and eliminate undue delay effects and opacity.
  • Establish a rational and fast frame concession for the of use of the beach, with full compliance of the applicable environmental legislation.
  • Simplify lengthy and bureaucratic procedures which are inconveniencing citizens.
  • Determine fair and objective consideration for granting use of the shoreline and beach.
  • Ensure the best possible public access to the foreshore and beach, taking into account the particular morphology of the Greek coast.

In contrast, WWF Greece and many scientific circles interpret the legislation in a different way.

According to opponents, the proposed law:

  • Removes the limits on the area for concessions and beach and shore use and allows the total control of beaches by business holdings.
  • Legitimizes business use and abuse without consideration or significant environmental impact assessment.
  • Removes the communal nature of the shore and gives the right to “decide the shared portion of the property occupied by the beach zone” to the discretion of the property owner.
  • Leaves the riparian zone and many large lakes, which are characterized as “small” and most of which are valuable ecological resources, outside of legislative protection.
  • Makes optional the dredging of beaches, which leads to the serious degradation of the demarcation of zone protection and detection of irregularities and abuses.
  • Ignores the recent national law on biodiversity, which requires the designation and protection of “critical coastal zones”.

Scientists and lawyers wonder how such a draft law that addresses, among other things, the protection of the natural environment (coastal, marine and littoral ecosystems, wild coastline, etc.) was submitted for consultation by the Ministry of Finance and not by the Ministry of Environment, as one would expect considering that the issues of environmental protection are the first priority.

The answer comes in the introductory part of the public consultation: “The economic importance of the coastal zone is huge and is needed to release the great potential for economic growth which it provides.” This perception has grown consistently until today, even though it outweighs the need to protect the natural environment. For example, coastal erosion due to anthropogenic interventions is dealt with primarily not as a matter of the destruction of the natural environment, but as a potential loss in economic revenue.

The seashore, beaches, the banks of lakes and rivers, and riparian zones are essential elements of the natural environment and they are protected constitutionally (Article 24 of the Greek Constitution). Simultaneously, they are relatively fragile and vulnerable ecosystems that deserve special protection because of the continued and expanded pressures due to economic growth.

According to the Hellenic Centre for Marine Research, the health of the shoreline is influenced by various physical phenomena and processes (waves, permanent or transient changes in sea level, natural or human-induced coastal erosion, transportation and deposition of sediment), which may vary over time (e.g. natural or anthropogenic climate change). For this reason, it must be defined on the basis of interdisciplinary and sufficiently documented criteria.

This legislation states that within the licensed area archaeological sites, monuments, historical sites or environmentally protected areas, landscapes of outstanding natural beauty or fragile ecosystems may be included. The only condition is the consent of the competent ministry! Please also note that both the local government and the district authorities are not involved anywhere in the process of concession.

The only issue for the granting of “single use shoreline and beach” is to ensure financial compensation, while all restrictions on the extent of beach that can be conceded, are removed. Throughout the draft law there is no reference to conditions ensuring protection of the natural environment and it doesn’t require any environmental study to be carried out before granting “single use”.

Also shocking is that the legislation does not make any reference to the obligation to provide free access to the shore, meaning you may have to pay a ticket every time you want to go swimming at a beach. Finally, it attempts to privatize by law the part of the beach in front of each hotel, without ensuring the protection of the marine and coastal environment. Depending on the discretion of the Secretary General of the Decentralized Administration, the right to establish permanent structures is granted to individuals. Everyone who has the means can build on the beach and exclude free access to the public. This has been illegal until now.

Finally this legislation allows the enclosure of marine space and cleaning the beaches of waste by mechanical means without specifications, even without the minimum environmental conditions.

After the last reactions of the people and members from all parties, the government is preparing a series of changes to the law: they now plan to make it mandatory that 50% of beaches remain freely accessible, without construction, beach chairs and parasols. They will maintain the 500 m2 free area of each beach, but are considering decreasing the distance of 100 meters to 70 that must exist between two entrepreneurs who rent chairs on the beach due to the short extent morphology of the Greek beaches. At the same time arbitrary structures (other than housing) will be authorized only after an environmental study.

The final decision will be made, of course, after the elections, when the time would be more “appropriate” for such decisions. Then they will vote for it without any consequences. Two characteristic examples of Greek beaches ready for sale are Afandou in Rhodes and Simos in Elaphonissos.

In summary, this legislation attempts to completely change the public and communal nature of the shore, the beach, the bank and the riparian zone and simultaneously puts aside the protection of the natural environment, sustainability and spatial planning for the benefit of business profit without conditions and rules.

Source: Green Fudge