Updated: Oct 24, 2019
During my visit in Samothraki Island, I saw and heard a lot of things and many questions fondled my mind.
Questions about human behaviour in relation to the environment.
How much should we interfere with our surrounding area?
How can we be productive whilst not destroy the environment?
How can people of the local community share and act on these principles?
Some people in Samothraki have devoted big part of their everyday lives to answering these and similar questions.
Major Island Issues
Overwhelmingly big population of free ranging goats
There is no official report of the goats number but it is considered to be around 50.000 souls. That is a huge number for an island like Samothraki. I believe that it is impossible to feed all these goats sufficiently, using the free range technique.
Why are the goats so many? Because the European Union (blesh her soul) distributed financial support to the shepherds, according to the number of goats they owned. With this shortsighted idea, the animal population reached or exceeded the 50.000 lives and of course the financial input seised. Large number of goats are malnourished and out of control. They enter fenced areas and eat whatever they find on their way. They have no other choice for their shepherds don't feed them enough supplementary food because it is a high cost for them.
One of the results is the immense disappointment that you can feel when you witness the garden you have been taking care of, in a trampled state. It only takes an hour and the goats may have eaten everything. The fences are necessary but unfortunately not enough to prevent trespassing. Additionally some shepherds have been witnessed to open the doors of unvisited gardens and lead their herds inside. All this and no protection of the municipality that is clearly protecting the interests of their voters, disregarding what is fair. Actually one suggestion on how to deal with the problem was to catch and kill the goat that was in your garden as a counteraction. Eye for an eye. Unbelievable.
To continue, the large number of goats leads to
overgrazing and desertification
The reason why, is that the vegetation does not have enough time to recover. Rocks and infertile ground take over areas of the island with an increasing tempo. Something that everyone can notice is that the trees don't have any plantlings around them. How can an already agitated forest survive? I wonder.
Desertification leads to
erosion and landslides during intense meteorological phenomena.
Who can forget the rainfall of September 2017? It was pure luck that there were no casualties that day.
Additionally, as we all know by now, these extreme phenomena will occur often in the Mediterranean. Climate change is a fact.
This leads to "more green" energy production alternatives. Samothraki has been chosen to host
wind energy producing farms.
Two of them have been already approved and planned to be set on the picks of Saos Mountain. However, as the bibliography points out, the air mixing properties of the wind mills can affect the balance of temperature and humidity of the surrounding ground surface. That in turn will affect (usually in the form of drought) the flow of springs and rivers that are essential to the preservation of the island's biodiversity.
What is remarkable is that most of Samothraki is considered to be a Natura 2000 protected area but as I have read in bibliography its legal subsistence has not yet been figured out.. There is a pending environmental study that will conclude the process but also define the zones of protection and their uses. That leaves a small window for vicious acts in the so called protected areas.
Samothraki's Municipality deals with
problems of fresh water management during the summer - highly touristic months
and if the channels dry out, that will put a lot of pressure to the island.
I have witnessed a water drilling mission to provide water to Alonia area. The spectacle was obscene. Huge machines drilled a hole in the ground releasing pollutants that where in no way managed but instead flowed freely towards the valley underneath. The people in charge avoided answering some of the questions being made to them and that is always suspicious.
Writing these stuff and reliving the whole situation makes me upset. I am sorry to transfer my tension but these things need to be heard.
I want to end with the observation that I did not notice any union of producers or organization towards the production of local products. I mainly heard that the
traders are intimidating the shepherds and farmers for lower prices or no sell at all.
After my own research, I have found that there is an olive grower union of Samothraki, an agricultural union, a winemaking union and a agro-touristic women union called "Axiokersa" that also runs a local shop in Kamariotisa. I have not encountered any of them and I wish to go back and actually talk to the people and see what they stand for. I just wish these corporations where somehow more evident in the local community so that I could have bumped onto them in a way.
Disclaimer: I cover only a spectrum of issues and probably am not the most qualified to speak of these or other matters concerning Samothraki Island. Everything I have mentioned is my personal opinion and I have not interviewed anyone specifically.
All of the above are mentioned to show the challenge for change.
In every issue there are more than one suggestions and possible solutions. It is not that everybody will agree on the same things but it is necessary for decisions to be made and people coming closer and talking about their issues aiming for a sustainable future.
The free range goats must stop immediately and a new way of grazing, that mimics nature, must be set to place. With research and experiment using transient designated pastures, the desertified areas can succumb the overgrazing pressure and become enriched grasslands or and forests. It is fascinating how the solution might be actually hidden in the problem itself.
The Unions are an important collaboration of local and future producers to support the independence of the island, for example the need to import less vegetables.
The creation of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) and methods of selling produce and local processed products is important to enhance the local markets. The local community should support actions like these and the high touristic wave of the summer could expand and enhance this market. .
There are already some groups working on subjects including environmental issues and cultural actions that is important they are supported. Some of these are Sustainable Samothraki and Samothraki Open Forum. It is important that these teams include all of the people of the local community and that a lot and different opinions are heard. They are running actions like composting organic material and reducing waste, also creating space for new people to join the Island community and many more that you can read about on their websites.
People are needed to show that they are understanding and willing to change. THe people fighting with the already mentioned issues often lose hope because the fight is seems constant and sometimes hopeless. These people need all the support they can get and we should be a part of this support.
In Samothraki I witnessed people that are trying hard for a brighter future. The conditions in which they do are not at all pleasing, mainly because they are against a majority of old fashioned opinions. But, like my friend Giorgos mentioned one day, he could have gone anywhere in the world that a local community worked better than this, but instead he chose to stay in Greece and help make this a better working community
These people are offering the best parts of themselves for this vision. And personally I appreciate that immensely and offer my full support.
I don't know about you, but I see infinite possibilities for change.
Amarantidis I., (2014). "Evaluation of production systems and management practices in flocks of indigenous Greek goats”, MSc Thesis
Sustainable Mediterranean, Summer University of Samothraki (2016). “Integrated Management Approaches for Biosphere Reserves and other Designated Areas”
Cover photo by, Maria P.