Greek tourist spot could get beached. Government, tourism industry at loggerheads over sea turtle

In a rare snub to the tourism industry, the Greek government has banned further development along a seven-mile stretch of Ionian Sea beach that is the most important Mediterranean breeding ground of the loggerhead sea turtle. Greek and other European ecologists have been pressing for such a decree since September, when the government passed a new environmental protection law that they deemed ineffective in addressing the turtle's plight.

Every summer, some 800 female loggerheads drag themselves onto the shore of a cove on the island of Z'akinthos to lay their eggs in the sand, just as they have been doing for millions of years.

Until the 1970s, humans posed more of a threat to the loggerhead's cousin, the green turtle, prized for soup. But on Z'akinthos, which lies between the Greek mainland and Italy, developers, hoteliers, and tour guides are threatening the loggerhead. The tourist boom of the last 10 years has turned the beach along the island's Lagana Bay from a virgin stretch of sand to the setting for three hotels and numerous shops, restaurants, and discos.

According to Lily Venizelos, who heads the Sea Turtle Protection Society here, the ravages of tourism have halved the number of loggerhead nests over the last decade. She cites in particular the effects of noise and light on the shy, 240-pound creatures. This past summer tour operators started escorting groups on night strolls along the beach to witness the egg-laying performance. They found the turtles uncooperative under stage lights.

Land development, with these accompanying hazards, ``has been going at such a pace that the turtles will not survive another breeding season with out legislative help,'' says John Troumbis, a local representative for the World Wildlife Fund. ``It would be disaster.''

The decree aims to halt the encroachment of tourism on Lagana Bay by providing a 1,100-acre ``zone of complete protection'' that runs the length of the bay and stretches inland for 220 to 550 yards. It also limits building activity adjacent to this zone and heads off development of those areas of the bay's shore that today are accessible only by boat. Whether the decree will give teeth to previous legislation remains to be seen. Developers have ignored past zoning decrees, and municipal governments on the island are opposed to restrictions on their chief source of income.

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