The Aegean Islands are places of rare beauty. Their unique landscapes, cultural heritage and environment are the driving force of their economic development, which is centered on tourism, and simultaneously contribute to a special sense of identity and a high quality of life for the local communities. These unique landscapes are being sacrificed for short-term financial advantage, through large and small scale real estate development alike.
Elliniki Etairia's (Society for the Environment and Cultural Heritage: the largest NGO in Greece active both in the protection of the environment and cultural heritage, since 1972) Sustainable Aegean Programme is an awareness-raising campaign aimed at creating the conditions to ensure these islands a sustainable future. Its main objective is to make the Aegean Islands' inhabitants aware of their environmental and cultural heritage as of high value both for their quality of life and for economic development.
At SAP's core lie large-scale environmental education activities and the formation of a good practices Network in the Aegean. Our basic tool for the dissemination of these good practices, the results of the pupils' projects as well as the information gathered through our activities and campaigns is our interactive specialized website (www.egaio.gr). In addition, our site provides the public with the necessary guides and tools for funding initiatives and legal advice.
Large scale environmental education
All the programmes start with a showing of the award winning documentary "Voice of The Aegean" (director Lydia Carras), followed by at length discussions with the pupils. SAP'S environmental education activities include:
a) Photographic Contests entitled "What I like in my island and would like to see preserved and what I would like to be changed". The pictures along with the comments of the pupils are shown at Photographic Exhibitions and the best participations are awarded a prize. These ceremonies are attended by the local society: relatives, local authorities and media. By exposing their children's ideas to the public, a new form of education is achieved, flowing from the younger generation to the older.
b) Film documentaries: Pupils create their own documentaries. Educational seminars and festivals -projecting the pupils' best creations and attended by the local community- are organised by the SAP.
c) a group project called "Guide for the sustainable development in my island". Pupils suggest ways and measures for the sustainable development of their island.
d) a group project called "My island a ship that travel through time". Pupils research different aspects of their island's life, perceive the differences between past and present and set out a best case and a worst case scenario for the future.
Sustainable Aegean network
The Sustainable Aegean Network is an initiative which aspires gradually to bring together all members of each local society in the Aegean favourable to conservation. It consists of 5 separate groups (entrepreneurs, local authorities, academics, NGOs and active citizens) who through their work contribute to sustainable development and consequently are considered to be those who can bring about the necessary changes.
SAP is one of the 7 partners participating in a Leonardo Lifelong Learning Programme called LitusGo, whose aim is to educate local authorities on how to make their activities more sustainable and in accordance with ICZM (Integrated Coastal Zone Management).
Another significant action organised and carried out by SAP was the cataloguing of the remnants of the agricultural heritage of Amorgos -such as footpaths, cisterns, wells, farmhouses and terracing. Following the success and social acceptance of this project, SAP carried out a second one including the restorations of old water supply installations, as well as awareness raising campaigns to pupils and adults. A book with all the details of the project and the techniques of "water monuments" restoration is currently being prepared and a documentary on sustainable water management is being made.
SAP also organizes conferences about critical issues of the Aegean Islands' development such as: the island's tourist product (i.e. Lesvos, Ios, Naxos, Kea, Skiathos) and sustainable water resources management (i.e. Syros) featuring experts and attended by the local community (authorities, media and citizens).
In 2007-2009 SAP has played a crucial role in mobilizing public opinion throughout the country and successfully preventing new planning legislation for massive modern second home development. This legislation would have been destructive for the environment of the islands, subsidizing huge construction projects along the Aegean coast, causing irreversible consequences. Sharing a Committee of 10 of the largest NGOs of Greece, SAP succeeded in persuading the majority of the National Committee for Land Use Planning to oppose the then government's proposals.
SAP is unique, because it represents the most considered and organized civil society initiative yet made to preserve the natural resources and cultural heritage of the Aegean Islands. It is also targeted to all the age groups from the youngsters at school to the adults who through their activities contribute to sustainable development.
The idea of SAP was conceived by Costa Carras (now President of the SAP Committee) and it was inspired by the "Voice of the Aegean" documentary by Lydia Carras. Very crucial was the innovative approach of Kriton Arsenis (SAP's former director, currently M.E.P.) of winning over local opinion of all ages, starting with the youth.
The success of this project is due to the collective work of its employees and volunteers. Major contribution has been made by Kriton Arsenis -Director of SAP until May 2009- who designed the structure of SAP (environmental education and network). Georgia Kikou, current SAP's Director has also been directing for 3 years and a half SAP's environmental education programmes to the schools of the Aegean. Aris Komninos helped designed our website and Alexandros Moutaftsis put together all the large quantity of information contained in our previous website (www.diktioaigaiou.gr). He also extended the network to certain islands. The two projects in Amorgos were carried out by Katerina Kanakari and Katerina Chatzikonstantinou, respectively. Vivian Renesi and Mirto Papa carried out the Photographic Contests in Naxos and Skyros respectively. Also, a large number of volunteers have helped doing research.
SAP would not have been possible without the financial support from our sponsors and donators such as the Leventis Foundation (major sponsor since 2007), Mr Themis Vokos, the Evgenidis Foundation and Mr and Mrs Sgoumpopoulos. Other sponsors include Blue Star Ferries, Nel Lines, Agoudimos Lines, Canon, JVC, OTE and Cosmote. Support has also been received by the Prefecture of Cyclades, the General Secretariat for Youth, the Ministry of Labour and the Municipalities of several islands such as Andros, Kos, Amorgos and Paros.
The work of SAP has also encountered many difficulties: in the beginning the biggest one was raising the necessary funds for the implementation of our action plan. After this was overcome our activities grew exponentially, which often led to shortage of staff to carry forward the program at the necessary pace. At the same time, as projects run simultaneously on various islands in the Aegean during all seasons of the year, our activities are often confronted with unpredictable weather conditions that irregularly cut communication between the mainland and the islands.
To overcome some of these difficulties, SAP is giving great emphasis to its website and is creating a system of correspondence in some islands.
In contrast to other projects or activities where the results are seen immediately, SAP's effects are seen in the long run. Our reward is at the end of each campaign when we talk to the pupils and see that their interest in protecting their island has grown and they are already aware of some of the ways in which this can be achieved. Even more so, when the change of atmosphere has affected also, the older generation as has recently been observed on several islands.
Finally, if we were to give some advice to those who would want to enter such similar project, we would say that even though it is not easy and the results are only seen in the long run, the "journey" is worth every difficulty as the cause is too important for conservationists not to undertake to protect such beautiful sites and public opinion is crucial to success.
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