Why the Argolic Gulf Matters
(The following are the prepared remarks made by AEF Executive Director Pavlos Zafiropoulos at an event to celebrate the Greek foundations of the Conservation Collective held in London on November 1, 2021).
I am Pavlos Zafiropoulos and I am here to talk to you about the Argolic Environment Foundation.
Having only been founded in April of 2021, we are the youngest of the Greek foundations. So we don’t yet have quite the list of achievements that Anni or Victoria have to point to, although like any younger sibling, we are more than happy to share in the credit of our elders – to stand on their shoulders as it were, and brag about how tall we are.
I say that in jest but, of course, there is a lot of truth to it – my job is certainly made a lot easier from being able to learn from the experience developed over the past few years by the other Greek foundations, as well as the broader Conservation Collective.
And so I would like to take a moment first to thank them for all of the assistance they have so open-handedly given us as we have taken our first steps. Anni in particular is one of those people who can always find the time to give you a boost or a helpful word of advice whenever you need it, so thank you Anni, and I look forward to hopefully being able to repay the favor.
What’s in a Name
Age aside, there is also another area where the CPF and IEF have an edge over us – one that is perhaps more difficult to tackle – and that is in name recognition. Everyone has heard about the Cyclades – marvelous Delos and happening Mykonos. So too with the Ionian islands – the Corfu of the Durrells and the Kefalonia of Captain Correli’s mandolin.
The Argolic Gulf on the other hand, tends to ring far fewer bells. Ours is the name from a long forgotten hi⁸istory lesson – something vaguely familiar to most but a place where relatively few outside of Greece could pinpoint on a map.
So I would like here to talk a bit about this area and why I think what we are doing there is so important.
Where is the World is the Argolic Gulf?
For those of you who may not know, the Argolic Gulf is located off the eastern coast of the Peloponnese – if you imagine the Peloponnese as a hand, it is between the thumb and forefinger, located between the regions of Argolis to the north and Arcadia to the south.
And just off the coast are the islands of Spetses and Hydra.
This is not a particularly big area – the gulf itself is only about 25 kilometers wide at its mouth and about 80 kilometers long until the point it meets the rest of the Aegean. Spetses and Hydra are relatively small compared to islands like Corfu or Naxos, each with only a few thousand permanent inhabitants.
Yet I would argue that in this place – the Argolic Gulf and the lands that surround it – you will find all of Greece. Like a piece of a fractal puzzle, the part contains the whole.
Wealth of Nature
In terms of nature – we have all of it. There are dolphins and sharks and octopuses and squid and shoals of anchovy and sardine. Tuna stream in and out. Seahorses mate in fields of sea grasses. Sea turtles and monk seals hunt along the coast. Wetlands host literally hundreds of species of birds – some local, many on epic journeys between continents.
As mentioned earlier, the sea here reaches almost a kilometer deep. Yet just 40 kilometers away as the crow flies one finds a 2000m tall mountain peak – Mt Parnonas snow capped in the winter and densely forested with fir and oak and plane trees.
We have some of Greece’s most ancient vineyards and acres upon acres of olive and citrus tree groves.
Of Myths and History
And we have myths – it was just up the road that Hercules slew the Nemean Lion – and some of the earliest recorded history. When the Mycenaean fleet set off to join the 1000 ships heading for Troy, it was from the shores of the Argolic Gulf.
More recently, the region – and the captains of Spetses and Hydra in particular – played a vital role in Greece’s war for Independence. The first capital of the modern Greek state was the town of Nafplion, located right on the Argolic Gulf.
In short, the heart of Greece beats loudly here. And if history is any guide, where this area goes, the rest of the country tends to follow.
The Challenges Ahead
Unfortunately of course, just as it has many of the natural riches for which the country is famed, it also has many of the problems that threaten them. I will not repeat these here, but suffice it to say that our natural capital is being squandered due to a combination of apathy, inertia, and an inability to put long-term abundance over short-term profits.
But within this challenge, lies our opportunity.
Because I firmly believe that we can change that. With the right strategy we can help catalyze a critical shift in the area’s long-evolving identity. From the steady environmental attrition we see today, we can move to steady environmental regeneration.
Given just half a chance, natural populations will rebound, abundance will return. The benefits of this will be obvious, and they will be self-sustaining. The most important thing we need is what is already is in this room: the belief that it is possible.
And if that sounds too lofty or idealistic, I would say that not too long ago the same was said about the very notion of a modern Greek state.
But fortunately – and in rooms not unlike this one – an influential group known as the Filiki Etairia began to meet and to believe. And with the Argolic Gulf as one of their starting points, they went on to change history.
With your help, I believe we can do the same.
Thank you very much for your attention.