In June 2014, with funding collected through a local NGO called Patmos Habitats, I accompanied a small delegation of professional fishermen from Patmos to visit the Italian Marine Protected Area (MPA) of Torre Guaceto, near Brindisi. Torre Guaceto is one of the most iconic MPAs of the entire Mediterranean, which manages to effectively protect its marine environment and, at the same time, obtaining the satisfaction of the local fishermen. We were in Apulia for three days, with the idea of taking advantage of this virtuous example to see if our Patmian friends wished to embark on a similar experience.
Dubious at first, Patmian fishermen Michalis, Athanasios and Nikolaos were quite impressed when they saw with their eyes the bounty that the Torre Guaceto fishermen landed one morning, compared with the meagre catch they are used to cope with at home. There is no real reason why there should be less fishing in Patmos than in Torre Guaceto; the challenge only consists in the implementation of a wiser and more effective fishery management. Seeing our friends’ faces brightening at the sight of the copious and colourful pile of large fishes was a heart-warming experience.
However, while with that trip it was possible to plant a seed of optimism in the minds of the local fisher folks, the challenges to MPA establishment in Greece are so formidable that we are still quite far from even approaching the idea. Illegal practices – most notably from within the amateur spear fishermen – must be abated. A protected area regime must be enacted by the relevant authorities, research must show where and how to create it, and the funding necessary for management, monitoring and enforcement must be raised. The whole process is daunting, although it doesn’t involve rocket science.