October 5, 2017


Lesbos is an historical Greek Island, home to important ancient personalities like poet Sappho, a way-station between the Aegean and Black Seas, as well as a modern crossroad used by migratory birds and a focal point of the European humanitarian crisis. On the north coast of Lesbos in the waters off the village of Petra, lies a marine area called Avlaki that boasts magnificent assemblages of aquatic birds, marine mammals and vibrant reefs in an impressive volcanic environment. As in most of the Aegean, fishing and other human impacts over the centuries have degraded the marine environment. Yet, the area still shimmers with life and attracts eco-tourists from around the globe. In concert with the Our Ocean Conference gathering happening now in nearby Malta, Mission Blue is thrilled to announce our newest Hope Spot at Avlaki, Lesbos Island, Greece!

The Avlaki Hope Spot was chosen for its special abundance of migratory species, significant historical values, particular economic importance to the community and because it’s a site with the potential to reverse damage from negative human impacts. We feel it’s important to have a Hope Spot presence in Lesbos, and Greece overall, due to the presence of extensive coastlines and marine ecosystems that exist side by side with a high volume of commercial, fishing and shipping activities. Want to see all the Hope Spots? Click here.

When the European humanitarian crisis was at its height, this area of Greece witnessed increased impact on marine life caused by littering plastic and other marine waste (or marine litter). At the same time, the community of Lesbos also saw caring individuals arrive from all over the world to help them with the massive issues at hand. In nominating the Avlaki Hope Spot, the local community, which includes the participation of the University of the Aegean, wishes to leverage that same spirit of human dedication and care to clean up and formally protect the local marine environment.

“How can we make a marine protected area, if we have a littered sea bed? The plastic in the water will continuously degrade and be a problem into the future,” said Eleni Atsikbasis, a local businesswoman, filmmaker, entrepreneur and Hope Spot champion. “Now is the time to swing into action to clean up, protect and save the Avlaki Hope Spot, for years beyond.”

Indeed, plastic waste is a big problem in most areas of the Mediterranean, even in areas that have not been impacted as drastically as Lesbos by the economic and humanitarian crisis. Check out the plastic waste we saw in Mallorca, on the other wide of the Mediterranean Basin, just a few months ago.

Lesbos Island and the Avlaki Hope Spot cover a significant area of species congregation and form a transition area for migratory birds. The North Aegean holds a wide diversity of species, on glamorous display in the Wetland of Kalloni, home to more than 100 birds species, including stunning flamingos , 16 species of reptile, and more than 13 species of mammals. Near Ancient Mythimna, a few miles from Avlaki, there are a number of caves where monk seals give birth. Also, the little island of St. George is a breeding and nesting ground for protected bird species like the yellow-beaked seagull.

(Flamingos of Kalloni, photo credit: greek2m.org)

Ecotourism is a nascent, yet growing, economic driver in the region. Let’s take a dive under the waves of Avlaki through photography provided to us by the Hope Spot champions on the ground. As you can see, there is some fantastic wreck diving there!

According to our contacts on the ground at the Avlaki Hope Spot, the hope is to formalize the area as a “marine dive park” in order to respect marine life and be a beacon of peace in the region. Local stakeholders in favor of this plan have garnered the support of the University of the Aegean and the Municipality of Lesbos. In fact, both the University and the Municipality sent formal letters of endorsement for the Hope Spot stating, “We believe that the establishment of the Hope Spot at Avlaki is in line with the goals and aspirations of our community and it contributes to sustainable development.” They believe a bustling marine dive park would serve the local community well and allow divers to not only view beautiful marine life, but also help in restoring the sea basin.

“To me, the biggest problem is when people are in the dark, not in the loop; subsequently new ways of doing things aren’t given a chance. We need to keep all community members informed and involved with our plans going forward,” said Atsikbasis. “Everybody should be aware.”

In her dreams, Atsikbasis sees the dive park as a springboard for the creation of a formal Greek Marine Protected Area at Avlaki – a healthy and thriving spot for all kinds of Mediterranean marine life. And it’s not a crazy idea: the European Union has already designated several areas in the vicinity through their Natura 2000 conservation program. Still, enforcement is an issue hampering progress on that front.

What will set the stage for an official Greek Marine Protected Area at Avlaki is the coming together of community, both local and international, to work together. Join us in welcoming the Avlaki Hope Spot into the Mission Blue family! We’ll keep you updated as progress is made.

You can reach out directly to Eleni Atsikbasis at eleni@healinglesvos.org.

About Mission Blue™

Led by legendary oceanographer Dr. Sylvia Earle, Mission Blue is uniting a global coalition to inspire an upwelling of public awareness, access and support for a worldwide network of marine protected areas – Hope Spots. Under Dr. Earle’s leadership, the Mission Blue team implements communications campaigns that elevates Hope Spots to the world stage through documentaries, social media, traditional media and innovative tools like Google Earth. Mission Blue also embarks on regular oceanic expeditions that shed light on these vital ecosystems and build support for their protection. Currently, the Mission Blue alliance includes more than 180 respected ocean conservation groups and like-minded organizations, from large multinational companies to individual scientific teams doing important research. Additionally, Mission Blue supports the work of conservation NGOs around the world that share the mission of building public support for ocean protection. With the concerted effort and passion of people and organizations around the world, Hope Spots can become a reality and form a global network of marine protected areas large enough to restore the ocean, the blue heart of the planet.


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