Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Don't Kill the Messenger

I've written and deleted this post a hundred times and my indecision stems from two sources. One is sheer ego and the fact that I want everyone to think I am in paradise and they are not. The other is mostly cowardice in that I prefer to avoid controversy and there will be Greeks and non-Greeks who dislike what I am about to say.

Brazil 1960-something
Brazil today
Let me start with Rio de Janeiro because it is a city in the spotlight with the 2016 summer olympics. The sea water there is so polluted that several athletes have left. But it was once a top destination for tourists with some of the most beautiful beaches.

There must have been a time when the tourist business owners began to see the first remnants of foamy film washing up on the shore. Maybe they talked about it in cafes over coffee or mojitos. Maybe it was a moment at which something could have been done but then it was so small and insignificant it was hard to get others to care about it, especially when they were struggling to make a living. How can you worry about a little bit of pollution when you are trying to feed and clothe your children? Besides, the sea is able to cleanse itself. It's done so for millions of years and it will do so again as soon as the tourist season is over.

Beach in Epirus 2016
Greece has some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Here in Epirus the mountains meet the sea and the water is so crystal clear that you can see the mountainside continue under the turquoise water into the blue-black depths. The water temperature is so comfortable that you can swim for hours without realizing the energy expended or if preferred, float atop the warm blanket of sea and forget every problem that awaits beyond Greece's doors.

A few years ago, a foamy film was occasionally spotted at a few beaches.

It was intermittent and if you could detect the wind direction, then you could predict where the film would wash up and thus choose a different space to rest on the beach. With the increase of ferryboats and cruise liners passing by the area as well as the increase of large pleasure boats within the area, the foamy film then became long bands that washed on shore in intermittent waves. And a person could again detect wind direction but this time it was a beach that was avoided rather than a small area and it usually didn't happen at all until late in the tourist season.

This year, the foamy film was present in June and affected almost every beach. With great effort, one who has knowledge of the area and wind direction and currents can find an adequately clean beach. But when I mention it to people very few seem to worry about it. Most don't want to talk about it. Some say it's bubbles from gasses produced from the bottom of the sea. (It's not.) Personally, I am heartbroken when I see it, having experienced these beaches in the early days when tourism was no more than a dribble.

I'm confident that I will have a clean beach to swim in during my lifetime. But I wonder whether that is how pollution is able to creep up so easily? As long as it's okay in my lifetime and I get to reap the benefits of clean beaches, then I don't have to act on it or worry about the next generation?

I certainly do not have any answers but it seems that the correct way of pumping out waste from a boat to the marina-waste-removal system is either not available to the pleasure boaters or too inconvenient and unpleasant to use so it's being released off shore. And I don't want to even think about what's happening with those mammoth cruise liners that pass by daily. Yes, I know they have requirements by law but unfortunately I live among many former Greek sailors who have told me of how large ships often work around the law.

The one thing I do know for certain is that if no one wants to talk about this issue, then it will never be solved.

Remember Rio di Janeiro.


  1. It truly is a problem in , not just Epirus, but Greece as a whole. BUT the Greek government is acting to alleviate the problem the best they can, given the limited financial resources available. Within the last 5 years, we have seen huge improvement in polution control here. I've seen 2 olive oil factories closed down by the government, because they refused to comply with polution control measures. There is a vast investment going on right now throughout Greece to create a proper sewage system, but, again it's a delicate balance of budgets.
    I'm not defending the system here, or, indeed ,in the whole of the Mediterranean, but, slowly, people are waking up and realising that future generations need looking after.

  2. Hi Linda, may I link to this on my FB page?