Poseidonia Meadows in Greece at Grave Risk

A close-up of a sea grass Description automatically generated

Seagrass meadows, Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. NOAA. Public Domain.

Seagrass and fish farms

The Institute of Marine Conservation Archipelagos, a Greek non-profit scientific organization, is sounding the alarm about the state of the marine environment in Greece, especially now that Greece has been under extreme pressure to pay off its ill-gotten debt. The warning is primarily about the fate of Poseidonia sea grass / meadows and fish farms, the latter destroying the sea grass and poisoning the broader marine environment.

In a recent report, the Institute summarized the ecological importance of the grass of Poseidon, saying:

“In our [Mediterranean] sea there are areas with poseidonia meadows, a priceless treasure on a global scale. Poseidon’s grass is the familiar seaweed, which is not a seaweed…. Poseidon’s grass is found only in the Mediterranean Sea and covers less than 0.2% of the global seabed. One hectare of this ancient plant can absorb 35 times more carbon dioxide than a tropical forest of the same size. It releases valuable oxygen, and therefore limits the effects of climate change…. The underwater poseidonia meadows are among the most productive marine ecosystems of the Mediterranean. They host more than 1300 species of fauna and flora, among them many fish of fishery importance…. Poseidon’s grass is precious, but under constant threat. The human activity of the last 50 years is responsible for the reduction of the poseidonia meadows in the Mediterranean in a percentage that exceeds 34%. Uncontrolled mooring, destructive fishing practices, eutrophication, coastal infrastructure, and activities as well as intensive fish farming near the meadows are some of the main burden factors.”

What this Institute is saying is that human activities have already destroyed more than 34 percent of the Poseidonia meadows in the Mediterranean. This is a vast ecological crime taking place in the only place in the planet, the Mediterranean, which has precious Poseidonia grass. Fish farmers feed their captured fish food contaminated by neurotoxic and carcinogenic chemicals. The excrement of the penned fish poisons the seas. Fish farming is one of the greatest threats to the survival of the grass of Poseidon. This is especially acute in Greece that invented Poseidon.

Fish farms in the island of Poros

Fish farming is spreading all over debt-ridden Greece. Greek and foreign companies join capital and technologies in order to export fish to the rich countries of Western Europe and America from Greece, which the European Union and the International Monetary Fund of the United States have forced into poverty and a diet of semi-starvation.

In June 2023, I saw these fish farms near my home island, Cephalonia, in the Ionian Sea. Fish farms are also in the lovely island of Poros, in the Saronic Gulf, about an hour of a ferry boat ride from the port of Peiraeus, near Athens.

The Archipelagos Institute condemned the fish farms in the waters of Poros. In a statement dated June 1, 2023, the Institute accused the Greek government’s plan (Regional Organized Aquaculture Development) for threatening 25 percent of Poros with fish farm expansion. Such a prospect would pollute quite a large size of the Poros coastline. This was rejected by the residents of Poros but made no difference to the decision of the government and industry. The Institute praised other countries that ended fish farms while reflecting on the benefits of environmental protection. It said:

“A number of enlightened countries have already banned industrial fish farms in open marine net pens such as those on Poros – these success stories include Argentina, the Falkland Islands, and, in the US, the states of California, Oregon, Washington and Alaska…. The environment is at the core of everything valuable – our health, our inspiration, our respect for wildlife, the well-being of our community and the future our children will experience. The benefits of the fish farms to the Poros community are none. The net value to Greece overall is negative as many more livelihoods will be lost than quality jobs created, let alone the immense ecological damage [from the fish farms]…. Katheti calls for the immediate removal of the fish farms from the small, beautiful, popular touristic island of Poros. We ask the government [to] stop the expansion of fish farms and re-examine the incomplete and overly aggressive plans [for fish farms].” (emphasis mine)

The weaponizing of yachts

Fish farms are enough of a real threat to public and ecological health — the ecological impoverishment of the exquisite Greek coastline. Moreover, the Poseidonia meadows in Greece face a bleak future. The enemy is not merely fish farming, commercial fishing and overfishing, and other marine activities, but the rich man’s pleasure ships, yachts.

Poseidon’s grass has been “protected” by international law, primarily by the regulation of pollution from ships. Yet all of Greece is open to unregulated thousands upon thousands of yachts dumping their often toxic wastes in the Greek seas and, inevitably, over Poseidonia meadows. Italy, Croatia, and Spain, for example, regulate yachts, where they may anchor and safely dispose of their wastes. Greece, however, has no regulations at all. The country is again under the extreme stress of collecting tourists dollars and euros for the repayment of its debt, which leaves no room even for pretenses of disturbing tourists boats. Greece has zero oversight over these countless private ships spreading poisons all over the country’s beautiful seas, coastlines, and valuable Poseidonia meadows. The Institute for Marine Conservation, Archipelagos, condemns this behavior in the strongest terms. It estimated that in August, the most popular tourist month of the year, more than 35,000 yachts are sailing and polluting the coastlines of the Aegean and Ionian seas, and necessarily destroying Poseidonia meadows.

Abolish yachts and private airplanes!

In my tour of Greece in June 2023, I came across dozens of large and small yachts in the islands of Cephalonia, Aegina, Poros, and Hydra. Even if these luxury ships caused no harm to the Poseidonia grass and, miraculously, did not pollute the seas, I would still be against them. Yachts are the private airplanes of the seas. They are symbols of extreme misuse of wealth and power. They, like private airplanes, advertise their owners’ power – to show off and pollute indiscriminately. The message is loud and clear. Yacht owners care less about the commons: the air, the seas, the land, mountains, rivers, and lakes. In fact, their existence threatens the commons. At a time of climate change, caused in no small measure, by private fossil fuel companies, yachts, and private aircraft, have no legitimate reason to exist. We should abolish them.

Rethink Poseidon

The Greeks, a people with millennial traditions of sailing the wine-dark seas, should elect a government that respects the natural world, including Poseidon’s meadows. They don’t need yachts, much less fish farms or overfishing. Poseidon would then inspire them to revitalize his meadows and the seas.

Evaggelos Vallianatos is a historian and environmental strategist, who worked at the US Environmental Protection Agency for 25 years. He is the author of seven books, including the latest book, The Antikythera Mechanism.