Greek ARCH

From 2014 to 2020, a group of individuals committed to the preservation, protection, and promotion of Pavlopetri joined the Alliance for the Restoration of Cultural Heritage as its Greek branch. The members of Greek ARCH were citizens of Greece, the United States, Britain, France, Australia and other countries who worked to promote the preservation and protection of the unique archeological site of Pavlopetri, submerged in Vatika Bay, and the marine environment of Vatika Bay.

Pavlopetri dates from Minoan times, over 5000 years ago. Archeologists have determined that it is the oldest underwater city in the world. It is a unique treasure. Pavlopetri is important not only to local people, but it is part of the cultural heritage of the entire world.

Some members of Greek ARCH have the privilege of living near Pavlopetri. Others have had the opportunity to visit the submerged city. Others have read about Pavlopetri or been intrigued by the BBC documentary “City Beneath the Waves.” Whatever our connection to Pavlopetri is, we have the opportunity – and the responsibility – to make sure that Pavlopetri is not damaged, or destroyed.

However, the scientists who have studied Pavlopetri have told us that Pavlopetri is being damaged by three problems: shifting sediments on the bottom of the Bay, the stealing of objects that belong to the archeological site, and, foremost, pollution.

Shifting sediments damage the foundations and walls of the buildings at Pavlopetri. It is important to keep boats from traveling over the site. Buoys marking the site as off-limits to boats may keep boats, with engines and propellers that churn the water and sediment, away from the site, as well as preventing pleasure boats from anchoring in Pavlopetri itself.

The theft of artifacts may be reduced by posting signs around the area of Pavlopetri on land to inform locals and visitors of the importance of the site and telling them not to pick up artifacts. 

Greek ARCH  printed thousands of brochures that it distributed to locals and visitors to educate them about the history of Pavlopetri and the importance of safe-guarding the site.

The foremost threat to Pavlopetri is pollution. Pollution in Vatika Bay may come from two major sources: sewage leaking into the Bay from septic systems and the large commercial ships that anchor in the Bay.
We are pleased to note that the Municipality of Monemvasia addressed the issue of sewage in the Bay by installing a waste treatment system for all of Neapolis.

The second problem is more persistent. Over the past several years, local citizens have tried their best to put an end to the pollution caused by the large commercial ships that anchor in Vatika Bay.

Lobby Billinis, the editor of Ta Vatika, has published numerous articles on this subject. In October 2016, twelve local citizens filed an official complaint with the Special Representative for the Environment. They received a response to their complaint from the EU Commission in December 2017, which said that the Greek authorities had assured the Commission that Greece would take care of the problem. As of September 2020, the Greek government had taken nonsteps to protect the fragile marine environment of Vatika Bay.

The large commercial ships that anchor here, some for weeks at a time, may pollute the water of Vatika Bay in several ways. They may dump their waste matter directly into the Bay. They may also dump their ballast water, which has the serious side effect of introducing non-endemic species of plants and animals into the Bay.

The ships may engage in even more serious practices, such as having their hulls and propellers cleaned. These are extremely polluting practices that are legally allowed in only a few ports in the world because of the damage they cause to the water and because of the toxic chemicals that remain in the sediments on the marine floor.

The foundations of the buildings at Pavlopetri, the tombs and the artifacts in the water are not the only things being damaged by the large ships anchoring in the Bay.

 In Vatika Bay, there are meadows of Posidonia oceanica, a sea grass that is protected by the European Union. It is extremely important to the functioning of the marine ecosystem. During its process of photosynthesis, Poseidonia releases oxygen into the water. Several hundred species of marine animals live in the Poseidonia meadows, relying on the oxygen Poseidonia manufactures.

Unfortunately, two surveys of the seabed of Vatika Bay, done by the Hellenic Center for Marine Research in 2010 and 2015, show that the anchors from the large ships are dredging wide furrows in the sea bed as they drag along the bottom. The anchors tear through the Posidonia meadows.

Posidonia lives a very long time, but it grows very, very slowly. A colony of Posidonia expands at the rate of only one centimeter a year. A dragging anchor can rip up hundreds of years of growth of Poseidonia in a few minutes.

In the Posidonia meadows, one can see fan clams growing. When the meadows are damaged, the fan clams’ habitat is destroyed. Fan clams are another species protected by the European Union.

In 2016, the most imminent danger to Pavlopetri was a Special Port Regulation that would have allowed an unlimited number of large commercial ships to anchor legally in Vatika Bay.

Such a regulation, in all likelihood, would have violated numerous national and international laws: laws that protect archeological sites, antiquities and cultural heritage; anti-pollution laws; laws that protect certain species of plants and animals; and laws that protect the overall marine environment.

To protect Pavlopetri, Greek ARCH worked to prevent the passage of this Special Port Regulation. We focussed international media on the damage that the large ships already cause to the unique site of Pavlopetri and to the plants and animals in Vatika Bay.

Greek ARCH wrote letters of protest to all the Greek Ministers concerned with Pavlopetri and Vatika Bay: the Minister of the Environment, Energy and Climate Change; the Minister of Culture and Sport; the Minister of Tourism; the Minister of Rural Development and Food; as well as the Minister of Shipping and the Aegean. ARCH International also wrote letters to each of the Ministers protesting enactment of the Special Port Regulation. 

That Special Port Regulation was not enacted — but as of September 2020, neither has a more restrictive Special Port Regulation that would protect Pavlopetri and Vatika Bay.