Story | 25 Feb, 2020

The family summer holiday that resulted in the creation of a National Marine Park

Dimitris Margaritoulis can be considered a protected areas pioneer for the Greek Islands. His story and research have contributed both to the establishment of the National Marine Park of Zakynthos (NMPZ) and the founding of ARCHELON: The Sea Turtle Protection Society of Greece.

content hero image

Photo: Anna Lamaj © ARCHELON

It is said that one summer evening, during their family holiday of 1977, Dimitris and Anna Margaritoulis discovered sea turtles nesting on a beach in Zakynthos. They were loggerhead sea turtles (Caretta caretta) and until that time, the scientific community was unaware that these ancient mariners had chosen Greek beaches to lay their nests. Dimitris was amazed and inspired by the events he had witnessed and became more involved. He and his wife began collecting data that proved the importance of Zakynthos as a nesting site, with multiple nesting events occurring in different areas. He urged the Greek government to protect the beaches; articles were published in newspapers and magazines, and speeches were given throughout Greece.

Within four years of his holiday, a monitoring project was initiated on Zakynthos with financial assistance from WWF International. At this time, Dimitris, Anna and the first core of turtle researchers in Greece discovered some new, very important loggerhead nesting beaches. The following year, the Ministry of Environment introduced the first measures to curtail development in the Bay of Laganas, Zakynthos.

Dimitris’ research following the discovery of the nesting beaches began in 1980 with his first paper: “Nesting of the sea turtles Caretta caretta on Zakynthos Island.” Three years later, the Sea Turtle Protection Society (now ARCHELON) was founded. The aims of which are to study and protect the sea turtles and their habitats through fieldwork, management, lobbying, public awareness, rehabilitation and collaboration with stakeholders. ARCHELON is still very much active and widespread throughout Greece today.

In efforts to ensure the protection of the beaches of Zakynthos, in 1992, ARCHELON supported WWF Greece to purchase land behind the most important loggerhead nesting beach in the Mediterranean: Sekania. This was to prevent building and development on the dunes and was finalised in 1994. Shortly after, the NMPZ was created with the support of local authorities. This meant that speedboats were banned from the rest of the Bay of Laganas with the introduction of a third protection zone and night flights were banned at the Zakynthos airport to avoid disturbance. In 2000, the first management agency of a protected area in Greece was established for the NMPZ and the IUCN protected areas management category ‘Ia’ was designated.

Mr Margaritoulis’ research continued, as seasonal field projects all around Greece were carried out by volunteers, collecting important data to support the continued protection of the nesting beaches. Throughout his time and efforts, Dimitris Margaritoulis became a member of the Executive Committee of the IUCN Marine Turtle Specialist Group in 1994 and ARCHELON was given the TUI award for the protection of the environment. Four years later, he assumed the position of Vice-Chair in the Executive Committee of the IUCN Marine Turtle Specialist Group, responsible for the areas of the Mediterranean and North-East Atlantic.

He remains an active figure within ARCHELON, who now have 11 seasonal beach conservation projects and 6 other sites of activity that are monitored around Greece. The research of Mr Margaritoulis continues, his most recent paper on the success of protection: “Romanos beach, SW Peloponnese, Greece: increase of loggerhead sea turtle nests following a ten-year project (2009-2018),” indicates that the continued efforts being made to protect the nesting habitats of the loggerheads have yielded positive results.

Article by Megan McFarlane