Responsible tourism: Dolphin conservation in Greece
Dolphins inhabiting the coastal waters of Greece are facing significant threats. Some dolphin populations must deal with increasing human encroachment, while others have disappeared altogether from portions of their former range. At the Ionian Dolphin Project we work to ensure the long-term viability of two dolphin species living in two coastal areas of western Greece: the Gulf of Ambracia and the Inner Ionian Sea archipelago.
These two dolphin species are: - Bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus), the most abundant coastal cetacean species in the Mediterranean Sea, have been negatively affected in numerous ways by human activities. Until the 1960s, they were one of the main targets of culling campaigns, resulting in thousands of animals killed. In recent times, incidental mortality in fishing gear, prey depletion caused by overfishing, habitat degradation, boat traffic, noise and health effects caused by pollution are important threats. Mediterranean bottlenose dolphins have been proposed for classification as Vulnerable in a recent Red List assessment by IUCN.
- Short-beaked common dolphins (Delphinus delphis), once one of the most abundant cetacean species in the Mediterranean Sea, have declined throughout the region since the 1960s. In 2003 their Mediterranean population was classified as Endangered in the IUCN Red List. In 2006 they have been included in Appendix I and II of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species (Bonn Convention – CMS). The causes of their decline include prey depletion by overfishing and incidental mortality in fishing gear.
The Ionian Dolphin Project aims to understand, through long-term monitoring, how the local dolphin communities interact with their environment and how human activities—particularly fisheries and pollution—may affect its conservation status. By deploying state-of-the-art techniques, the project contributes tools to 1) inform management action, 2) promote marine conservation in Greece, and 3) support conservation efforts in the wider Mediterranean region.
The Ionian Dolphin Project does not only focus on scientific research on dolphins. For years we have been developing numerous educational and public awareness initiatives to promote marine conservation among the local communities. Capacity building and education activities including lectures and direct involvement in field work and data analysis have benefited a large number of students, researchers and volunteers from around the world. A total of about 1,200 volunteers from 40+ nations, encompassing the five continents, participated in these field courses.
For the last few years we organized “Dolphin Day” events and numerous lectures in local schools. Presentations were given annually since 1997 to inform the local community about the work done by the IDP and raise awareness about dolphins and marine conservation. A total of 3,500+ individuals (age: 4-80 years) attended public presentations given by our personnel between 2004 and 2013. In August 2013 we went a step further by organizing a special event in the seafront of the village of Vonitsa; THE NATURE OF AMVRAKIKOS. The celebration was a great success; it took off around 7pm and went on until close to midnight and a number of new initiatives were organized, including the participation of local cultural associations and fishermen. Detail can be found at http://ioniandolphinproject.org/2013/08/14/great-success-of-the-nature-of-amvrakikos-celebration/
Since April 2012 the Ionian Dolphin Project has a brand new web site with basic information about the project activities, as well as the latest news in our blog. With this new initiative the IDP aims to increase the interest about the conservation of cetaceans of the Ionian Sea, by encouraging residents, charter/flotillas sailing holiday operators and visitors to the area to report their sightings of cetaceans, through a user-friendly on-line form (www.ioniandolphinproject.org).
Nowadays the use of digital cameras, cell phones and other devices capable of recording easily several minutes of video, or to capture high quality digital images is widespread among boaters. Using our on-line sighting form videos and images can be sent to us to facilitate additional information and to allow us to confirm the identification of the species reported. It also includes essential information about the cetacean species found in the Greek seas and identification tips.
The number of charter boats and flotilla sailing holiday companies operating around the Ionian Islands has steadily increased during the last decade. Together they pose a fleet of several hundred boats, regularly navigating the waters between the islands of Zakynthos and Corfu. The resulting activity of this large fleet not only offers a huge potential for the recording of opportunistic cetacean sightings, but also calls for the design of adequate education and awareness initiatives addressed to boat users. This increase in boat traffic and the potential disturbance it generates pose a threat to cetacean populations by causing unnecessary stress by disrupting their natural behaviors. Such threats can be minimised by applying a basic code of conduct when coming across a group of dolphins or whales. With this aim we came out with the BE DOLPHIN SMART initiative. Since the website came to life we received more than 200 reports of dolphin encounters in the area and the local ports and marinas have joined in to help spread the word among boaters.