WWF Says Energy Drilling in Greece Threatens Tourism, Jobs

The National Herald

Navajo Beach, accessible only by boat, it was originally called St. George and a 1980 shipwreck added to its allure as a tourist site. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

ATHENS - With tourism the biggest revenue engine for Greece, the conservation group World Wildlife Fund (WWF) said that bonanza could be undercut if oil and gas drilling is allowed off the Ionian island of Zakynthos, home to the world famous Navagio Beach, where there’s a shipwreck on shore. Greece has reportedly allocated 17,000 square kilometers of the popular tourist island to oil companies prompting concerns from activists over the potential impact of drilling for oil and gas, said Kathimerini.

“About a third of the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of the Ionian islands comes from tourism. So, imagine the scenario of a minor or greater oil accident and what does that mean for these islands,” the Director-General of WWF Greece Dimitris Karavelas said.

The organization’s sailing boat Blue Panda is currently travelling the Ionian Sea to raise public awareness about the issue and the danger as well to the loggerhead turtle.

In February, WWF published a report conducted by eftec that said a major oil spill in Greece

would devastate the country’s tourism and fishing industries, and cost the Greek economy more than 7.5 billion euros ($8.41 billion.)

That was in response to 25-year concessions being granted for offshore or onshore oil exploration and drilling in a marine and terrestrial area covering almost 75.000 square kilometers (46,602 square miles) from the north of Corfu to southern Crete.

Oil companies that have agreed to concessions include France’s Total, Spain’s Repsol, the US’ Exxon and Italy’s Eni. The marine area, which is equal to 30% of the Greek mainland, is characterized by great depths and diverse marine life – including  sperm whales, fin whales, Cuvier’s beaked whales, bottlenose dolphins, loggerhead sea turtles and monk seals – while the terrestrial area consists of numerous protected areas of unique ecological importance, the WWF stated in its argument against drilling.

“Not in our worst nightmares would we ever imagine oil and gas rigs just miles off the shores of Crete, Zakynthos, Kefalonia and Corfu, next to loggerhead nesting beaches in the bay of Lagana and Kyparissia or in the pristine landscape of Epirus. Drilling in the very deep waters of Crete and the Ionian Sea poses a lethal threat to this natural paradise and makes no climate or financial sense,” Dimitris Ibrahim, Marine Officer at WWF-Greece said then.

WWF’s report was the first analysis warning of ecological and environmental harm - as well as to tourism - counting up the cost of a major oil spill in Greece and what it said was the unacceptable risk of hydrocarbon exploitation.

Due to the lack of sufficient, available data, the negative impact of an oil spill incident on the environment of Greece, its constituent regions and other vital ecosystem services was not calculated though, the groupo said, but indicating that previous oil spills suggest environmental costs could increase the total cost of damage inflicted by 20% - 100%.

Tourism would be the hardest hit, it added, using a theoretical example of what would happen if there were a spill near Crete, estimating the cost would be as much as 2.2 billion euros ($2.47 billion) in lost revenues and impact, and the instant loss of 45,000 jobs.

A similar event in the Ionian Islands would cost up to 1.78 billion euros ($2 billion) and wipe out up to 25,000 jobs, the report indicated..

"Drilling in Greek waters places Greece’s marine environment and national economy at risk. An oil spill would have devastating impacts on wildlife, the tourism industry and local communities," said Aslihan Tumer, the Head of Campaigns at WWF-International.