T.The sparkling waters along the Athens Riviera offer a welcome respite from the summer heat. In one of Europe’s busiest cities, the sight of more beaches than ever earning Blue Flag status (the mascot of water quality) adds to the sense of relief that the coastal location brings. For those who flock to coves, rocks and sandy beaches, the coastline stretching out from the southern outskirts of the Greek capital is the perfect antidote to the rising temperatures that accompany climate disruption.
It wasn’t always.
“More than 20 years ago, the waters around Attica were [peninsula] Professor Konstantinos Aravosis, who was overseeing water management policy at the Greek Ministry of the Environment until earlier this year, said: “There was a lot of focus on improving wastewater treatment plants, which of course had to do with his EU regulations.”
The construction of a sewage treatment plant in the mid-1990s on the uninhabited island of Pustaleia in the Saronic Gulf off the port of Piraeus, serving the 5 million inhabitants of the Athens metropolitan area, is one of the largest in the world. It is widely known. as a game changer.
“The blue flags we see in Attica today show how the situation is improving,” said Alabosis, who now heads the Ministry of Environment’s forestry department.
But with one of the longest coastlines on the continent, Greece also takes its seas seriously. Finally, Europe’s southernmost state has 581 blue flag beaches, making him second only to Spain’s 621. In 2021, the EU’s Environmental Watchdog classified her nearly 96% of monitored Greek bathing establishments as good.
Aravossis, a visiting professor at Imperial College London, is one of several Greek officials who was taken aback by the news that Britain’s favorite beach was flooded with untreated sewage. health.
“It’s very unexpected,” he says with an understatement. “Clearly the system is not properly documented and monitored. Here in Greece, especially at the Pushtaleia plant, the monitoring is very strict, but in the UK it doesn’t seem to be the case.”
Tourism has played an important role in making the Greeks aware of the importance of keeping the seas and rivers clean. The sector is a major industry in the national economy, employing one in five workers and contributing an estimated 25% of the country’s gross domestic product.
The pristine waters above and below the land are central to the story that attracts vacationers with the international Blue Flag program, considered synonymous with local excellence.
“There has been a significant increase in the number of local city officials and other beach managers applying for Blue Flag status” over the past 30 years.
“We are very fortunate to have such natural beauty and understand how important it is for tourism to properly manage the ecosystems of our beaches and marinas. .”
Getting Blue Flag certification was not easy, she said, and the accreditation laboratory overseen by the Ministry of the Environment has to test water samples multiple times before applicants for the award are considered. I didn’t.
“There are 33 strict standards. Sustained excellent water quality and beach cleanliness are just some of the factors,” she adds.
Thodoris Tsimpidis, fresh from the Archipelagos Institute’s research vessel, marvels at the extraordinary biodiversity of the Greek seas. “The currents, the wind, and the fact that our oceans are often very deep help a lot,” says the head of a marine conservation group. “Indeed, the water in Greece is very clean, even where it shouldn’t be, largely because it is aided by natural phenomena.”
Archipelagos is one of a growing number of organizations founded with the express purpose of saving the Aegean and Mediterranean from the ravages of modern life. Raw sewage may not be an immediate risk, but plastic will outnumber fish in the oceans by 2050, showing alarming projections by WWF Greece, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, and others. increase.