Conserving biodiversity on the Greek island of Samos

Today is my first day working with Anastasia Milou at the Archipelagos Institute of Marine Conservation which is an NGO dedicated to the research and preservation of the Eastern Aegean’s biodiversity. (see: http://archipelago.gr/en/).

Essentially the institute is a collection of scientists and students who conduct research into several projects; some are ground breaking such as the new marine mammal sanctuary on Lipsi. The sea is a common good and therefore difficult to regulate and monitor. Here in the Mediterranean there are eight species of cetacean, the highly endangered monk seal and three species of turtle. Samos is the only Greek island to still have golden jackals and Mediterranean chameleons and needs policies in place in order to maintain them. Therefore research, sharing knowledge and environmental planning is essential. They are also working closely with local communities and governance.

Today I met Guido Pietrolvongo, a marine veterinary scientist who described the range of marine projects that are underway. These include monitoring cetacean populations around the islands (their distribution, photo ID, and behaviours) and the impact of the human activity that surrounds them.

Marine pollution is a global problem. Here beach surveying and waste analysis is taking place; particularly the analysis of micro plastics which appear in alarming quantities in marine fauna. An autopsy on a bottlenose dolphin calf still only feeding of its mother’s milk which was washed up on the Samos coast reveals how micro plastics have been passed from mother to calf in its milk. Shameful evidence of human impact and disregard for our environment.

The sea is a dark place and therefore sound is the most important medium for marine mammals who depend upon echo location to communicate with each other and to identify prey. Too much noise from vessels which passes very rapidly underwater, can cause stress, reduced immunity and induce strandings. The Institute therefore monitor boat traffic in the summer tourist season, and during the trawling season which runs from 1st October until the end of May.

Combining such variety of projects has enabled the institute to grow in strength since its inception in 1998. Today it is a strong voice for conservation in the Aegean and it is a pleasure to be working with them on the prospects of enhancing nature-based tourism on Samos.