This world oceans day (8 June), it’s
time to make tourism work for our coastal nature, not destroy it.
It’s the time of year when, if
we're luck enough, many of us are looking forward to a holiday at the coast. A
chance to get away somewhere beautiful, see new sites, and reconnect by
experiencing some of the truly wondrous nature Europe has to offer. There’s
nothing better than time spent in nature to ground us and
Every year, millions of tourists flock
to visit Europe’s most stunning natural sites, excited to enjoy our sun-kissed
beaches and beautiful countryside. They may not know that they could be
visiting one of the 787,000 square kilometers of land or 550,000 square
kilometers of ocean safeguarded under EU nature protection laws. That’s 18% of
EU land and 10% of our ocean area preserved for wildlife, under some of the
most far-reaching nature laws in the world.
Nature in danger from out-of-control
Sadly however, out-of-control tourism
developments are all too often trampling over protected nature and crowding out
wildlife. Unsustainable tourism development is a major driver of biodiversity
loss in Europe. Whether it be new hotels or golf resorts
intruding on precious wildlife areas; or tourism activity trampling plants and
nesting areas and crowding out the space nature needs. We are often destroying
the very nature we love to visit.
With half of all international tourist
arrivals (671 million) in the world, Europe’s tourism sector is worth hundreds of billions of euros, and
growing fast. The temptation for businesses and regional and national
governments to put commercial pressures ahead of saving Europe’s precious
natural heritage is all too real.
Unfortunately, major gaps in the
implementation and enforcement of Europe’s nature laws are leaving nature in
danger. Despite growing recognition of ‘ecological crisis’,
Europe’s laws to protect our oceans, rare wildlife and nature sites from
unsustainable developments, like irresponsible tourism, are being broken with
Limni in Cyprus
One example is Limni beach in eastern Cyprus - a
crucial protected breeding ground for Loggerhead turtles and a feeding ground
for Green turtles. These turtles face a very high risk of extinction in the
wild, and are strictly protected under EU law. However, a controversial tourism
project, the Limni Bay Resort, has been granted planning permission for two
golf courses, a 160-room hotel and 792 residential villas adjacent to Limni
The increase in visitor numbers and
light pollution will have a hugely detrimental impact on one of Europe’s single
most important Loggerhead turtle nesting sites, impacting a quarter of all
Cyprus’s Loggerhead sea turtle nests.
To safeguard the turtles, scientists and
the European Commission recommended a 500m no-build zone around the protected
beach. But the Cypriot Urban Planning office ignored this and gave the go-ahead
to a much smaller buffer zone - which EU Environment Commissioner Vella has not
objected to. NGOs maintain this is inadequate for rare turtles to breed. The
golf resort development has now fallen into the hands of the Bank of Cyprus,
but with permission granted, the iconic turtles of Limni are still at threat.
Ulcinj Salina in Montenegro
Another example is Ulcinj Salina in Montenegro. Its
unique, biodiversity-rich ecosystem is actually man-made – a happy accident
resulting from the huge salt production complex that operated here from the
1920s until 2013. The salt works brought precious “white gold” in the form of
employment for the local community; and a plethora of birds - including nesting
spotted redshanks and collared pratincole, and stone curlews stopping off to
rest and refuel.
Salt production terminated in 2013 when the owner of the works declared
bankruptcy; but now the future of Ulcinj Salina is under question. One
controversial plan is to drain this migratory bird paradise, and convert the
site into a luxury tourist resort of hotels and golf courses. So far public
outcry and local NGO campaigns by CZIP (BirdLife Montenegro) have held off this
plan. But there is evidence of dirty dealings afoot: the salt pan pumps –
essential for maintaining optimal water levels for nesting and foraging birds –
have been vandalized and flamingo breeding areas have been raided and their
An international campaign – #SaveSalina
– is gathering support to pressure the Montenegrin government to declare
Ulcinj Salina a protected nature zone and reinstate salt protection for
wildlife and the local community. The European Union must ensure, as part of
Montenegro’s accession to the EU, that the wetland is not sold out to
unsustainable tourism, but becomes a protected area.
Zakynthos in Greece
Tourists and turtles arrive during the
same period on the beautiful sandy beaches of Zakynthos, an island
struggling to find the right balance between development and conservation. The
National Marine Park on the south side of the island hosts the Mediterranean’s
most important nesting area for loggerhead turtles.
Enforcement of EU nature laws has helped to protect the area. But still,
these nesting grounds are under constant threat from tourism demands, combined
with weak nature management. Illegal coastal developments, such as beach
enterprises and road constructions threaten these sensitive nesting grounds; as
do breaches of the protection rules, such as excessive beach furniture, night
access to beaches and uncontrolled maritime traffic.
The good news is that the European Commission has twice successfully taken legal
action to protect Zakynthos nature. But since then, compliance with the court’s
decisions have been unstable. The European Commission monitors the situation on
Zakynthos regularly, but without taking any action. It must review the
effectiveness of management and warden measures to ensure EU nature laws are
Tourism FOR nature
We all enjoy visiting beautiful places.
It’s good for our well-being. Sustainable tourism can be good for nature too.
In some cases, it is a lifeline and a local economic alternative that can
support nature conservation and jobs. Sustainable tourism that works in harmony
with nature conservation is possible, and necessary.
But to preserve the beautiful places we
love to visit, tourism developments must be carefully controlled to meet nature
Where EU protected sites, species and
ocean zones are involved, the EU nature laws are a vital framework of
regulations that should ensure this. But they need full implementation and
enforcement. EU Environment Commissioner Vella must push EU Member States to
implement the Directives and to complete the designation of the marine Natura
2000 network and ensure its effective management. In his last days in post, he
still has a chance to leave a legacy and clamp down on unsustainable tourism
developments by stepping up
enforcement and challenging breaches of the law.
Preserving Europe’s natural treasures for all of us and for the future.