EU Pledges 3.5 Bln Euros to Protect the Ocean

In this Monday, May 25, 2020 photo, medical staff in a dinghy leaves from the Aegean Sea island of Milos to Sikinos island, Greece. (AP)
In this Monday, May 25, 2020 photo, medical staff in a dinghy leaves from the Aegean Sea island of Milos to Sikinos island, Greece. (AP)
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EU Pledges 3.5 Bln Euros to Protect the Ocean

In this Monday, May 25, 2020 photo, medical staff in a dinghy leaves from the Aegean Sea island of Milos to Sikinos island, Greece. (AP)
In this Monday, May 25, 2020 photo, medical staff in a dinghy leaves from the Aegean Sea island of Milos to Sikinos island, Greece. (AP)

The European Union will spend 3.5 billion euros ($3.71 billion) to protect the ocean and promote sustainability through a series of initiatives this year, the EU's top environment official said on Tuesday.

The EU's 40 commitments, announced during the annual "Our Ocean" conference held in Athens this week, range from fighting marine pollution to supporting sustainable fisheries and investments in the so-called blue economy - sustainable use of marine and freshwater resources for economic activity.

"The ocean is part of who we are, and it is our shared responsibility," said EU Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries Virginijus Sinkevicius.

The European Union's Copernicus Climate Change Service said last month that ocean temperatures hit a record high in February, according to data that goes back to 1979. Overfishing and plastic pollution are also major threats to oceans.

The biggest part of the EU funds will be used to support 14 investments and one reform in sustainable fisheries and aquaculture in Cyprus, Greece, Poland, Portugal and Spain. Other EU initiatives are directed to helping African countries develop their blue economy.

In total, more than 400 new commitments amounting to $10 billion will be announced during the conference, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said.

Greece will spend 780 million euros on 21 commitments which include a ban on bottom trawling in all of the country's marine protected areas, he added.

The country also pledged to create two more marine parks, one in the Aegean Sea for the protection of seabirds and one in the Ionian Sea for the protection of sea mammals, which will cover more than 4,000 square kilometers of areas protected under the EU's Natura 2000 network of sites.

"Mitigation and adaptation are not enough. We must also focus on protection and restoration to insulate land and seas from harmful human activity and to give space to nature to heal," said Mitsotakis.

The marine park in the Aegean Sea has irritated neighboring Türkiye, which said last week that it was not willing to accept a possible "fait accompli on geographical features whose status is disputed". In response, Greece accused Türkiye of "politicizing a purely environmental issue".

Environmental groups have also urged Greece to halt its gas exploration plans in the Ionian Sea.

The "Our Ocean" conference has mobilized more than 2,160 commitments worth approximately $130 billion since its launch in 2014.



Türkiye's Plan to Get Stray Dogs off Streets Touches Raw Nerve

Devoted dog Boncuk looks for his owner, Cemal Senturk, at the entrance of a medical care facility in the Black Sea city of Trabzon, Türkiye, Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021. (DHA via AP)
Devoted dog Boncuk looks for his owner, Cemal Senturk, at the entrance of a medical care facility in the Black Sea city of Trabzon, Türkiye, Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021. (DHA via AP)
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Türkiye's Plan to Get Stray Dogs off Streets Touches Raw Nerve

Devoted dog Boncuk looks for his owner, Cemal Senturk, at the entrance of a medical care facility in the Black Sea city of Trabzon, Türkiye, Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021. (DHA via AP)
Devoted dog Boncuk looks for his owner, Cemal Senturk, at the entrance of a medical care facility in the Black Sea city of Trabzon, Türkiye, Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021. (DHA via AP)

Dogs rush over and greet Nilgul Sayar when she arrives by car to feed them in the countryside near Istanbul, one of many Turks with affection for Türkiye's estimated four million stray dogs, whose fate now lies in the government's hands.

Ankara has drafted legislation to get them off the streets, citing concerns about attacks, road accidents and rabies. It has touched a raw nerve among animal-loving Turks who fear it will lead to many dogs being euthanized.

The bill, set to be presented to parliament in the coming days, has also drawn objections from the main opposition party, which is firmly opposed to dogs being put down.

Sayar and other activists say authorities are to blame for letting dog numbers surge due to insufficient neutering in the last 20 years, describing the plan as unworkable, Reuters reported.

"They say they will collect the dogs from the streets, but there is no capacity to take them all," she said at a shelter she set up for dogs - many lame, old or abandoned pets - unable to survive in the countryside where she also cares for strays.

Pro-government media have highlighted dog attacks and said the bill envisaged putting down stray dogs unclaimed after 30 days at a shelter. But a survey by pollster Metropoll said only 2.7% of respondents supported euthanization.

There is widespread affection for street animals in Türkiye.

One dog, Boji, became well known as a regular commuter on Istanbul ferries and another, Tommy, has been immortalised with a statue. Many people put out food and water for dogs and cats.

President Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday sought to calm fears about dogs being put down.

"We want all animals taken into shelters to be adopted," he said in parliament. "If we can achieve this, we think there will be no need for the next step."

But the task is immense in terms of shelter space, neutering and finding homes for dogs.

Istanbul's municipality has a campaign to house stray dogs and vet Dilara Berk at an animal rehabilitation centre said there was rising interest in its scheme.

The "Semtpati" app features photos and information on dogs, but the scale is limited. In 2023, 375 dogs were adopted under the scheme and another 103 so far this year.

Erdogan said the government is responding to complaints about stray dogs. He spoke about the need to act in December after a 10-year-old was seriously hurt by stray dogs in Ankara.

The boy was discharged from hospital three months later and his father Halil Yilmaz said his son is still having daily treatment and will have more surgery in July.

"We don't want stray dogs on the streets. The attackers, those with rabies and other diseases should be put to sleep," he said. "I'm against euthanising normal, healthy dogs as long as our streets become safe," he said, saying they should be kept in shelters.

The government also cited a growing risk of rabies and said collisions with animals caused 3,500 road accidents in the last five years. State media cited a government survey saying 83.6% of respondents saw stray dogs as a problem.

But activists evoke a previous, grim attempt to deal with the issue in 1910, when 80,000 dogs were sent to an islet off Istanbul, dying of hunger, thirst or killing each other.

Animal Rights Federation Chairman Ahmet Kemal Senpolat said the solution was nationwide neutering. "We want the population to be decreased, but in a humane way," he said.

An average of 260,000 dogs were neutered annually in recent years, insufficient to have a significant impact.