Greek Islands Face Water Crisis Amid Tourist Season

FILE PHOTO: An aerial view shows Agios Prokopios beach, in Naxos island, Greece, August 8, 2023. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: An aerial view shows Agios Prokopios beach, in Naxos island, Greece, August 8, 2023. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo
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Greek Islands Face Water Crisis Amid Tourist Season

FILE PHOTO: An aerial view shows Agios Prokopios beach, in Naxos island, Greece, August 8, 2023. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: An aerial view shows Agios Prokopios beach, in Naxos island, Greece, August 8, 2023. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo

The biggest reservoir on the Greek island of Naxos has dried up, useful only to the turtles that cruise its muddy shallows. Downstream, sea water has seeped into empty irrigation wells, harming the island's prized potato crop.
Further south, on Karpathos island, authorities have imposed restrictions on topping up swimming pools, while in the northern island of Thasos, officials are seeking a desalination unit to make sea water drinkable.
Most of Greece has seen little or no rain in months. Now, as the country's islands prepare to host a record number of summer tourists, the strain on water supplies has rarely been heavier, officials, Reuters quoted farmers and scientists as saying.

"There has been an intense shortage of rainfall across the Mediterranean and, on Naxos particularly, our surface reservoirs are empty," said the island's mayor, Dimitris Lianos.
Millions of tourists visit Greece each year to enjoy its ancient sites, pristine beaches and turquoise waters.
But climate change impacts, including higher temperatures, erratic rainfall and wildfires threaten the future of the country's biggest economic driver.
This year feels especially fraught. After its warmest winter on record, wildfires began unusually early, some in areas where there would normally be snow. At least six tourists, including well-known British television presenter Michael Mosley, died last month as heatwaves swept the country.
Climate experts fear the worst is yet to come. Andrea Toreti, the coordinator of the European and global drought observatory of the Copernicus Emergency Management Service, said once the effects of drought become visible, it is too late to take action.
"We need to avoid thinking in an emergency mode, (instead) looking at prevention and preparedness," Toreti said.
SICKLY CROPS
The water shortage is stark in Naxos, a mountainous island of 20,000 people in one of the most popular - and dry - parts of the Aegean Sea. Tens of thousands of tourists flock to its shores each day during summer.
The island's two reservoirs hold 220,000 cubic meters of useable water, a third of last year's level and the equivalent of just a few dozen Olympic swimming pools.
Authorities have secured three portable desalination units that will treat sea water to make it safe to drink, and which mayor Lianos said should cover the shortfall for houses, hotels and pools.
But farmers will not receive any of the treated water and have to rely on wells that have been contaminated by sea water aquifers. Farmers said that this contamination occurs when the wells are empty enough for the salty water to creep in.
Stelios Vathrakokoilis grows Naxos' famous potatoes, which are loved in Greece for their buttery taste and are protected from imitation under EU rules. His yields will be more than halved this year because of the salty irrigation water, he said.
"It's a big disappointment because we humans didn't succeed in anticipating that climate change would knock on our doors too," he said as a handful of workers harvested potatoes nearby.
SHORT SUPPLY
Countries across the Mediterranean, including Spain and Italy, are looking for ways to back up their water supplies by using desalination, but suppliers said units were in short supply this summer due to soaring demand.
Even in Thasos, which is much greener than rocky Naxos, officials said they wanted to buy a unit for future use.
Greece-based manufacturer Sychem could not fully meet customer demand this summer because of a shortage of key components and longer building times, Chief Executive Alexandros Yfantis said. New units should be available after September.
"Since the problem is all around, any temporary equipment has been already leased," Yfantis said.



Moonlit Scramble across the Sand for Türkiye Booming Baby Turtle Population

Baby loggerhead sea turtles' first challenge in life is a wobbly dash across the sand. KEMAL ASLAN / AFP
Baby loggerhead sea turtles' first challenge in life is a wobbly dash across the sand. KEMAL ASLAN / AFP
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Moonlit Scramble across the Sand for Türkiye Booming Baby Turtle Population

Baby loggerhead sea turtles' first challenge in life is a wobbly dash across the sand. KEMAL ASLAN / AFP
Baby loggerhead sea turtles' first challenge in life is a wobbly dash across the sand. KEMAL ASLAN / AFP

The baby loggerhead sea turtles emerged from their eggshells and began their first challenge in life: a wobbly dash across the sand to the moonlit waters of Türkiye’s Mediterranean coast -- sometimes with a helping hand from volunteers.
It is a perilous journey into the unknown for the sea turtles as only about one in 1,000 hatchlings will survive to adulthood.
Some 25 years later, the females will return to the beach where they were born to lay their own eggs.
Despite grave threats from humans and predators such as birds, crabs and ants, protection measures are bearing fruit on Türkiye's southern coast.
In Manavgat, a tourist hotspot nestled in the foothills of mountains and prized for its golden sands and stunning waterfall, the number of nests has doubled from last year to 700.
A group of volunteers holds vigil around the clock along the 10-kilometer (six-mile) coastline, located east of the local tourism capital of Antalya.
It is a major breeding area for the globally endangered loggerheads -- also known as caretta caretta -- which are on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's (IUCN) red list of threatened species.
"Our average estimate this year is around 60,000 eggs; 30,000 of them will become babies; only 30 of them will come back years later" to breed, Seher Akyol, founding president of DEKAFOK marine conservation center, told AFP.
Red lights
Türkiye's southern coast is home to 21 official nesting areas -- eight of them in Antalya alone.
Protection measures have been put in place such as limiting the use of light and the speed of sea vessels.
Many beaches are declared protected areas and are off-limits from 8 pm to 8 am.
Manavgat, though, is not one of them, so volunteers have taken on the task of protecting the breeding nests.
Akyol's volunteers, including young students from all over Türkiye and abroad, mark the nests, framing them with sticks and keeping the eggs protected from sunbathers.
At night, they patrol beaches, dig in nests with their bare hands and, donning white gloves, help baby turtles break from their shells and crawl to the sea.
Local officials also support volunteer initiatives.
Manavgat's mayor, Niyazi Nefi Kara, has placed red lights on roadsides along the coast. Signs that read "Attention! Caretta Nesting Area" dot the beach.
Under the environment law, anyone who damages sea turtles and their nests can be fined 387,141 liras ($11,700).
Kara said his office takes advice from "scientists and environmentalists" on protecting the turtles.
"After all, we need to learn how to live in harmony with nature," he said.
Akyol added that "people and caretta caretta can live together".
Songul Sert, 33, who was picnicking with her family around a wooden table near the beach, said "we do our best so as not to usurp their living space" with help from the signs.
Another local, Hasan Gulec, said that previously a lack of signs meant that "nobody knew where they were breeding, so anyone could walk on nests".
However, an AFP team saw some hotels along the beach still using the bright white lights that anger environmentalists.
-Climate change-
Loggerheads, whose overall numbers are unknown, can live for up to 80 years. Their weight ranges from 90-180 kilograms (200-400 pounds) and they can reach 1.2 meters (four feet) in length.
The small percentage of hatchlings that return to the beach to breed is why "they are endangered and need to be protected," Professor Mehmet Cengiz Deval of Akdeniz University's faculty of fisheries told AFP.
Loggerhead sea turtles are found primarily in subtropical and temperate regions of the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans, and in the Mediterranean Sea.
According to IUCN, the Mediterranean loggerhead is considered of "least concern", though the species remains vulnerable globally.
Climate change is also a factor that threatens the species.
The sex of hatchlings is determined by the temperature of the sand: cooler temperatures produce males and warmer ones produce females.
High temperatures from July onwards means that "most of the babies are females," Deval said.
"If this trend continues, in 30-40 years females will be the majority and there will be no male partners for them to breed. This is the biggest danger."
Akyol, who dreams of building a rehabilitation center to treat injured turtles, cannot hide her excitement each time she sends them off to the water.
"I cannot forget their last look before meeting with the water," she said. "It's as if they show how grateful they are."