Greek beaches have become unfit for swimming due to pollution from
industrial plants and cities' waste water.
Greece is struggling to contain coastal pollution that threatens its
renowned azure waters and golden coastlines - the main draw-cards of
the booming tourism industry.
The United Nations and European Environment Agency say that most of
Greece's coastal cities - including the capital Athens, northern port
city of Thessaloniki and Patra in south-western Greece - are major
pollution sources, due to partly untreated industrial and household
Stavros Georgiadis, 37, plays racquetball on the beach of Alimos along
the capital's coast almost daily.
"A few years ago I swam here every day but in the past two summers it
is just too dirty so I just play on the beach," he said.
"I don't know if it is actually dirtier but it just looks filthier,
more stuff floating on the water - I'm not going to swim in there."
Greenpeace Greece director Nikos Haralambidis says some beaches are
"Some areas in the bays of Athens and Thessaloniki are complete dead
zones. For some, there is no chance of ever recovering," he said.
A report issued last year by the UN Environment Program and the
European Environment Agency found that the bay of Elefsis near Athens
was polluted by heavy metals, among other things.
The bay is home to about 1,000 industrial plants, including shipyards,
iron and steel works and refineries.
The Saronic Gulf washing the capital's southern coastline is similarly
polluted with industrial and primary treated wastewater from the
Many beaches have been declared off-limits for swimmers, including
some along the Faliron coast, about five kilometres from the city
Once known for a multitude of pristine beaches along its coast, Athens
has seen many of them declared unfit for swimming as the city's
population and industrial activity grows in line with the country's
economic development in recent decades.
Athens beaches are frequented mainly by local people. Tourists visit
only briefly during stopovers in the capital on their way to the
Athens' only sewage treatment plant is not yet operating fully,
despite repeated government pledges. It is currently not processing
sewage through the full cycle, but drying and storing it until the
facility is fully operational.
The environment ministry did not return calls for comment on when the
plant will be fully operating, removing chemicals and heavy metals
from the processed sewage.
Oil spill risks
Greece is also staunchly backing its powerful shipping industry's
opposition to an EU directive against polluting ships.
This position will grow in importance with the completion in 2009 of a
Russian-Bulgarian-Greek oil pipeline that will run from the Bulgarian
Black Sea port of Burgas to north-eastern Greece.
Larger oil tankers will criss-cross the Aegean than those that can
currently sail through the narrow and congested Bosphorus Straits,
heightening the risk of oil spills and potential environmental
The Government is beginning to encourage the construction of tens of
thousands of holiday homes across the country, to tap into the foreign
homeowners' market that has served countries like Spain and Portugal
well over the past years.
But environmental groups warn these homes will put a further strain on
the country's water pollution and its coastline.
With a third consecutive year of tourism growth since the Athens 2004
Olympics, Greece will host about 17 million foreigners this year.
A further rise is forecast for the coming year. Tourism accounts for
about 18 per cent of Greece's GDP and roughly one in five jobs.
United Nations Mediterranean Action Plan (MAP) coordinator Paul Mifsud
says the waters of Greece's cities are suffering from poorly treated
urban and industrial wastewater.
Mr Mifsud says that with 40 per cent of the Mediterranean's 46,000
kilometre coastline already covered in concrete, action is necessary
to manage the coastal zone.
He says Greece's coastal holiday homes projects would need to be
"If this issue is not addressed, then that [40 per cent] number will
be more than 50 percent in 20 years," he said.
"Definitely there are solutions to these problems but it is a question
"I would say I am hopeful and the signs are there that Greece wants to
address environmental issues more actively."
ZDROJ: June Samaras ,KALAMOS BOOKS