Thursday, December 29, 2022

Industrial wind farms in Greece

Industrial wind farms in Greece
Winter 2022

With its high relief and geographical diversity Greece is definately on of the richests countries in Europe in terms of scenic landscape resources. These landscape attributes are, as one would expect, taken for granted. Just like biological riches, these landscape riches can be plundered and degraded.  Landscapes can be desecrated by all sorts of developments - poor planning, wrongly-placed roads and industrial wind farms, for example. 

Here I present some thoughts and photos of industrial wind farms in Greece today.

The first voice you may hear is: Not in my back yard! The NIMBY syndrome. But, many of these landscapes are part of the local identity, sometimes they are outstandingly important: often within protected areas (within the Natura 2000 network) or near famous historical, mythological, archaeological sites. Sometimes there in nobody's backyard: wilderness mountain crests and islets. So its not just NIMBY. Often, it is misplaced industry: bad planning. And with dirty politics included.  

So, how bad is the situation? 
I think Greece is a special case for this kind of problem - a "planning accident" of a grand scale. 
Wind farms have expanded during the last 10 years; and they keep expanding. Broad-scale and wholesale destruction of landscapes and protected areas is taking place in the name of alternative wind-power development. 

What wind farms and their infrastructure may affect:
  • Biodiveristy, wildlife habitats
  • Designated protected areas (e.g. Natura 2000 site integrity)
  • Wilderness (roadless areas that are remote and of high natural or cultural integrity)
  • Traditional cultural landscapes (land-use patterns)
  • Cultural Ecosystem Services  (including non-material benefits provided by natute to human society)
  • The tourism industry
  • Aesthetic qualities
Some photos and maps and a recent paper of ours illustrate the situation today; I believe it is an important concern.

On Mount Kytheron with the Corinthian Gulf. (Photo courtesy of Nikos Nezis).

 Same area as above; Mount Kytheron with the Corinthian Gulf in the distance. (Photo from the internet).

In the magnificient...formerly wild Akarnanika, the Acarnanian Mountains. Desecration of landscape. Also an important haunt for vultures and good populations of rock partriges...will the wildlife survive? Road-access is the big problem (Photo by Apostolos Kaltsis/HOS). 

Close-up in the Acarnanian Mountains (Photo from the internet).

Same place above, from afar. The Acarnanian mountains with Perganti peak crowned by the mega-turbines as seen from afar; same location as previous photo. (Photo by Vassilis Wooseas). 

Thrace, in NE Greece is the scene of remarkable wind farm expansions, much of them unseen, unheard of and neglected. This on is just north of Alexandroupolis. The interesting problem here is that these developments are on ridglines in a very forested (re-wilded) area; some of the ridges were the only grassy meadowlands left in the landscape, now they are roaded "drive-ways" with lines of wind towers. 

Wind park with gigantic industrial turbines on Mount Valtou in the Pindos range- imporantant wilderness areas and critical for vultures. Seems absolutely UNREAL! (Photo from the internet).

Oh the roads, the dust, a wind-factory landscape. This near Molaous on the road to Monemvasia in the Peloponnese. (Photo by the author).

The "wind-factory" near Molaous (as above) in Monembasia municipality, Peloponnese.  Dystopian or ecological landscape - you choose...(Photo from internet).

In the Argolid, Municipality of Trizinia, Peloponnese. Again mountain ridgelines of industry, you can see the quarry-like size of the founation bases and road. Desecrated former wilderness. "Maybe a tourist attraction for a small number of new age californication fans..."

In the Argolid, Peloponnese. Again mountain ridgelines. Formerlly, no roads, no access, endemic plant hotsports. Sky islands. Desecrated wildernesses.

On Mount Asksio, near Siatisa (Western Macedonia) former higland grasslands, wonderful areas that remind one of the short-grass prairies up in the sky. Now they are road-scarred, fragmented, broken.  Forever. See Google Earth image below.

These are the road-scars on Mount Askio near Siatista in the Western Macedonia region (Sattelite image from 2020). All these meandering roads are new, all are for wind farm development.  Despite the rather smoothe low-relief conditions in these highlands (see above) there is one road with an incredible slide. Where they just trying to finish the project in a hurry? 

Construction works often resemble open-pit quarrying or maybe a war-zone? These two photos are from the Mani Peninsula; the project is controversial because it would aesthetically and ecological damage rare landscapes, including protected areas (photos from the internet).

Agioi Apostoloi on Euboea Island. About 20 wind turbines are visible in this image, but the number in the surrounding area is in the hundreds!!! It really is an interesting degree of landscape distress! (Photo from the internet).

Agioi Apostoloi on Euboea Island (same area as abome). Looking northwards - Lake Dystos on the middle Left. (Photo from the internet).

New Vestas power plant being errected somewhere in the Aegean. Note the cultural landscape of high-stone walls and terraces. (Photo from the internet).

Near Antia in Southern Euboea Island above the brilliant blue of the Aegean.

In the picture are just five mega industrial turbines  (Kafireas, Euboea Island). Its impossible to show the effects on the landscape - its impossible to show how this highlands area was before. But before this it was...lets say a different place. 

At 1000 m elevation on Mount Ochi, Southern Euboea. Are there significant effects on the biodiversity uniquness of these "sky islands" in the Aegean? 

A rather famous drone shot taken from the website and video documenting the achievement of building a gigantic wind farm on an uninhabited islnad south of Athens - the Agios Giorgios Wind Farm. Now the islet is an industrial site or maybe in some perceptions it is a work of industiral art and of a New Age. In some ways it is beautiful, except if you knew the place before the 'development'.

Drone photograph of a windfarm on Kephalonia Island; the peak is no longer a wilderness islet but a lovely industrial site and look-out: now easily accessible to tourists and local recreationists... (Photo from the internet).


My sincere opinion: After working in Greece for many many years and having witnessed real change in the '80s and '90s, I believe that the issue of industrial windfarm mass developement is the single most important threat to biodiversity and landscape integrity in this country in recent times. It cannot be eclipsed by anthing - even considering other important threats such as urban and coastal building sprawl, ongoing wetland and river degradation, and mega-wildfires. We are talking about a step-change in wild land change in a country. Greece really did have wild land until just a decade or so ago in many areas that are now slated to become wind farms (mountain crests, upland wilds, off-shore islands). This issue is seriously big and harmful. And it has been overlooked. 

The level of the threat? Where is the industry being concentrated-promoted? This is the scence in 2020 from Vlami et al. 2020.  Read paper in link below:

Please read our review for a 'conservative' analysis of the windfarm threats to protected areas in Greece:

MORE photos, real scenes from Greece....

Mountain peaks have been called "sky islands" since they have distinct and often unique bioclimatic conditions hosting unique plant and animal communities; the effect is particularly important in Greece (where there are many endemic plants isolated on such habitats and many range-restricted animal species surviving up there as well). And now we have a landscape-scale change often targeting moutain-tops and mountain crests (internet photos from western Greece). 

Nightmare landscape change (internet photo).

Mount Ochi, Southern Euboea (Author's Photo).

Mount Ochi, Southern Euboea. Local environmentalists took the case to the Supreme Court and there was a six month moratorium - the buldozers were all locked up and there was silence. Ultimately the case was lost and all windfarms constructed on previously unroaded mountain ridges (Author's Photo).

These ones are abandoned; Southern Euboea (near Kastri). (Author's photo).

Archeological sites such as Ancient Macynia in western Greece are also aesthetically affected (Photo from Internet). 

Near Antia on Euboea island (Author's photo).

Greece's protected area system has expanded since the mid 1990s and many believe this is a good thing. However, the ability of the country to manage and safe-guard these areas is sadly poorly supported by government planning and development decisions. Many of the windfarms are within protected areas (source: OECD Environmental Performance Reviews: Greece 2020).

Ecotourism in Costa Rica: Recent experiences

Ecotourism in Costa Rica: Recent experiences

Summer 2022

Had a wonderful 23 day trip to Costa Rica this summer. This included our summer vacation (traveling as a couple) and a collaboration with the National University for a seminar-workshop. 

On the past two trips to CR we've spent about 35 days in the field and have stayed at number of hotels and a friend's home; often travelling in pursuit of the wild, the rural, and for work: for landscape assessment study; and for birding. 

Here I present some raw ideas concerning ecotourism in CR, and particularly "wildlife watching development" in this country. We are interested in supporting the connection between culture and biodiversity, and of course CR is famous for having some success here. Lets study this; some points:

A. CR's success in park management is real, its not just tourist hype. 

Parks look good in CR. They seem to really be functioning well. We have limited knowledge of the details but from our experience there is good control inside the parks, excellent infrastructure, good interpretation - in both public and private reserves. OUTSIDE, around and near the parks situations may NOT be ideal and we have recorded on-going damage including old-growth tree logging, etc. Poaching, roading, roading and road-kills, disturbance from landscape-scale building sprawl and tourist-and-holiday home developments are a serious problem, especially on and near the coast in some places. Much of the change is rather hidden by much forest re-growth so it may not be immediately apparant (simply not-in-view due to the tall treed conditions). But the landscapes are changing in many, many places. So the paradox is this: Good parks, reforestation in many areas, -but lots of degradation on the coasts and near cities and towns. 

B. Huge supply of lodges or other accomodation: Great choices for wildlife watching, study, field-based education.

Despite the negative aspects of tourism, there are many positive ones in Costa Rica. CR has many very good accommodations often with private gardens, trail systems, observation towers, artificial ponds, birdfeeders, etc. These are excellent places to observe wildlife and make the wildlife travel experience of much higher quality. Things can only get better.

One tiny exception, with regards to a recent trend to stop bird-feeding. Some policies such as avoiding/not permiting bird-feeding in tourist establishments or in some protected areas we think are largely unfounded. For example, in Santa Elena Reserve there are no hummer feeders due to policy. We understand the logic of this, but we disagree. Having just two (2!) hummer feeders near the entrance facility would not impinge on the population biology of the areas' birds! It is very hard for a visitor to observe hummers without feeders (also the research shows that feeders do no harm to the hummingbirds- check this out). Avitourism and the sensitization of the youth blossoms near bird feeders. 

C. Birding without a guide/eco-guided tour is hard-work in CR. 

It is incongruous but real: you see few birds in the tropical forest. Without the good hotels, birdfeeders and experienced guides its difficult. Seeing wildlife in CR would be much more challenging without the infrastructure. Guides with certification and personal intererest usually seem well versed and do excellent tours in CR. There seems to be competition which has increased the demand for really good guides. In Cahuita alone we were told by an experienced guide that this village has many guides: Cahuita has guides and about 30 wildlife watching scopes! (often very good ones, KOWA, SWAROWSKI etc).  Cahuita has a resident population of about 1500 so this is exceptional on a global basis- we think. 

D. CR is expensive as an ecotourism destination.

The experience of organizing a ecotourism experience is expensive in CR, reflecting western European prices instead of what one may expect in Latin America or other tropical destinations (e.g. Asia). Competition is high since perhaps the demand for such higher-priced conditions is rather low (compared to other types of tourism). I heard that the yearly influx of tourists is about 2 to 3 million - its still low by tourist country standards (Greece recieves about 15 to 25 million visitors per year during the last decade). 

E. The major influx of tourists are not naturalists; but naturalists have and can influence tourism quality.

Although the issue of wildlife is a BIG symbol of the CR tourism industry the naturalists are a very small part of this. Very few of the tourists are actualy well-read and sensitive naturalists and even fewer are birders! For example, we saw very few birders - I mean, really very few in the field. Sure, we say the camera-totting asian photographers at the Arenal Observatory Lodge...but less than a handful of people holding well-worn binoculars. Actually, on this last trip, I saw two Costa Ricans twiching for a parrotlet at Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve - these two guys had binoculars (and good cameras as well); but we saw no other local birders anywhere. I asked two experienced guides (at Cahuita and Arenal) and they agreed that the overwhelming majority of their clients have virtually "no clue" about nature. The guides work to spark their interest. Naturalist guides do good by sensitizing tourists and locals alike.

So these are our two bits on ecotourism so far;  here we share some photos too; all taken by myself and Vassiliki Vlami in August 2022. All phots are of wild animals, not in captivity, but often near feeders. 

Crimson-fronted Parakeet on a church in the Central Valley.

Wild Tapir, on our first day in Costa Rica, Braulio Carrillio National Park.

Green Ibis, elusive, but found on a roosting tree, Braulio Carrillio National Park.

Violet-headed Hummer, Braulio Carrillio N.P.

Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer, rare-localized, Braulio Carrillio N.P.

Eyelash Pit Viper; common and widespread, often waiting for hummingbirds near big flowers...

Reticulated Lubber Grasshopper (Taeniopoda reticulata), common. Cahuita.

Black-cowled Oriole, Cahuita.

Ruddy Ground-Dove, BriBri Area, near Cahuita.

Semiplumbeus Hawk, Cahuita.

Same as above; seen three times over a two-week period.

Olive-backed Euphonia, Puerto Viejo de Talamanca.

Whimbrel, a migrant from North America, Puerto Viejo de Talamanca.

Puerto Viejo de Talamanca.

Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, commonest lowland hummer; Puerto Viejo de Talamanca.

White-tipped Dove, Cahuita.
Bananaquit at Puerto Viejo de Talamanca. 

Rusty-tipped Page, Canitas Village, Guanocaste.

Puerto Viejo de Talamanca.

Puerto Viejo de Talamanca.

Common Black Hawk eating hermit crab, Puerto Viejo de Talamanca.

Killifish in dirty stream, Playa Negra, Puerto Viejo de Talamanca.

Canivet's Emerald, Villa San Ignacio Hotel, Alajuela.

Green-crowned Brilliant, Monteverde. 

Lesser Violetear, Monteverde.


Resplendent Quetzal, Curi Cancha Reserve, Monteverde.

Purple-throated Fruitcrow, near large-tree stand, Cahuita.

Azure-hooded Jay, Monteverde.

Buff-fronted Quail-Dove, Monteverde.

Forest Katydid, slightly similar to Champion's Katydid sp. (Championica sp.). Santa Elena Reserve.

Yellow-throated Euphonia, Stella's Bakery, Monteverde.

Scaly-breasted Hummingbird, Lago de Arenal (NW area near dam).

Scaly-breasted Hummingbird, Lago de Arenal (NW area near dam).

Next to a waterfall, Poas Volcano.

Brown Violetear, Galeria de Colibrí y Soda Cinchona, Poas Volcano.

Red-legged Honeycreeper, Arenal Volcano.

Buff-throated Saltator, Arenal Observatory Lodge.

Green Honeycreeper, Arenal Observatory Lodge.

Palm Tanager, Arenal Observatory Lodge.

Great Curassow, Arenal Observatory Lodge.

Great Curassow, Arenal Observatory Lodge.
With expert nature tour guide Didier Alvaez at Arenal Lodge; he belongs to the Maleku tribe, one of the smallest first nations in Coasta Rica. 

Prong-billed Barbet, Galeria de Colibrí y Soda Cinchona, Poas Volcano.

Spider Monkey, uncommon, local and difficult to see. Arenal Misticopark (Hanging Bridges).

Spider Monkey, Arenal Misticopark (Hanging Bridges). Also, well seen at roost in Arenal Observatory Lodge.

Black-cheeked Woodpecker at nest next to beach, Puerto Viejo de Talamanca.

Black-cheeked Woodpecker.

Howler Monkey, widespread, common. Puerto Viejo de Talamanca.

Keel-Billed Toucan, Cahuita. 

Black-mandibled Toucan, Arenal Volcano.

Garden going wild, Villa San Ignacio Hotel, Alajuela. 

Unknown butterfly, Villa San Ignacio Hotel, Alajuela. 

Arenal Misticopark (Hanging Bridges) - volcano in the clouds.

Arenal Observatory Lodge.

Playa Negra, Cahuita.

The last two images show the Bird sampling records we have uploaded on eBird in 2021 (26 checklists) and 2022 (59 checklists). The sites we birded are shown by red-flame symbol (known "hotspots") and the blue symbol (some newly added places on the eBird inventory). In total we observed 240 species on the two trips. 

Please have a look at our 2021 post for trip photos: