WWF’s Blue Panda vessel on environmental tour of Ionian Sea

WWF's Blue Panda vessel on environmental tour of Ionian Sea

The World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) ship “Blue Panda” began a tour of the Greek Ionian islands on July 21, to promote awareness of the diversity of marine wildlife in the Mediterranean and also to inform the public on threats which include offshore drilling for oil and natural gas.
The Blue Panda arrived at the island of Zakynthos on Sunday and is currently at the island of Ithaki until July 26, when it will continue on to the island of Kefalonia.
Zakynthos was chosen for two main reasons, said WWF, the first being that Zakynthos is one of the largest and globally most important nesting habitats of Caretta caretta, a particularly vulnerable species of the sea turtle.
Secondly, the island is one of the dozens of Greek islands whose natural environment, economy and local communities are directly threatened by the exploration and extraction of hydrocarbons planned to be carried out in this marine region, also called the Hellenic Trench, says the environmental organization.
“Zakynthos is the island of the sea turtle Caretta caretta and hosts the most important ocean turtle spawning beach across the Mediterranean. However, on the island of Zakynthos, the government, along with the oil companies, is preparing to start work on exploration and extraction of hydrocarbons. WWF opposes these plans and calls on local communities and people nationwide to say a resounding NO to this drilling,” said WFF.
Based on WWF Greece’s data, the “ blocks” included in concessions that have already been signed with oil industry or are in rpocess of being signed for hydrocarbon exploration and exploitation overlap with two regions in Greece identified as globally Important Marine Mammal Areas (IMMA): the Ionian Archipelago region (overlapping with 34% of its total area, i.e. with 3,253 square kilometres), and the Hellenic Trench region (overlapping with 44% of its total area, i.e. with 24,970 square kilometres).
The Hellenic Trench is an area of great ecological importance, since it is home to several rare and particularly vulnerable species under international protection, such as fin whales, sperm whales, Cuvier’s beaked whales, the disappearing Mediterranean common dolphins, other dolphin species, sea turtles and Mediterranean monk seals.
The largest part of the eastern Mediterranean population of sperm whales is permanently found in the Hellenic Trench, which is their only known breeding and calving area.
“Oil and gas exploration and exploitation projects as an additional great threat to marine mammals in the Hellenic Trench, would become the last straw for their survival,” says WWF.
According to a recent study by WWF Greece, an oil spill in the Ionian Sea would cost 1.4 billion euros to the economy, while at the same time it would also lead to the loss of nearly 25,000 jobs that depend directly or indirectly on tourism, WWF stressed.