Pierre-Yves' love of Greece and passion for activism to protect the seas is inherited, of course, from his famous father who spent many years here, sailing on the famed ‘Calypso' and discovering what lay beneath the Aegean
The warm October sea breeze ripples our t-shirts as we stand on the sand, gazing out to the magnificent caldera of Santorini. The deep mineral reds and rich golden yellows of the exposed volcanic soil create a kaleidoscope of colors in a striking crescent backdrop. A drone whirring overhead records the dramatic cliffs sheltering us on the Red Beach, giving us that too rare notion of being miniscule in the world. We are the only souls in sight, in stark comparison to this scene during the tourist season. Humbled by nature, our presence on this mission to preserve our seas and honor the marine world at once is validated. Wild nature seems to sing and wink all around us, beckoning for us to answer its mysterious call.
Pierre-Yves Cousteau, the youngest son of legendary Jacques-Yves Cousteau, the famous oceanographer, stood balancing on a rock at the shoreline, a beacon of hope, luminous against the landscape. It was he who ultimately brought us all together in Santorini. Guardians of the Aegean is a new film about overfishing in the Aegean Sea and the collective efforts of committed environmentalists to create a Marine Protected Area in Santorini. Director/producer is environmentalist Omiros Evangelinos and other key players include Dr Paraskevi Nomikou, Dr Maria Salomidi, Dr Sylvaine Giakoumi and Peter Nicolaides of the Aegean Institute.
Omiros lives full time in Mykonos and is determined to create positive environmental changes through his documentary film-making. Four years ago, he set sail from the popular holiday island on his traditional Caique the "Odyssey" (formerly an artisanal fishing boat) with a team of environmentalists to film interviews around the Cyclades with artisanal coastal fishermen, as well as industrial-scale fishermen, local politicians and marine researchers, most of whom would become major players and stakeholders in the proposed Marine Protected Area of Santorini. His aim was to depict the struggle of small, coastal, artisanal fishing communities against catastrophic industrial-scale fishing and the adverse effects of the monoculture of tourism. But what he could not have forseen was that the documentary suddenly proposed a real solution: that of establishing Marine Protected Areas. This would require the support of the Presidents of professional coastal fishermen's unions in the islands of Andros, Paros, Koufonissi and Santorini. And Pierre-Yves Cousteau would use the weight of his family name to support this proposal.
Pierre-Yves' love of Greece and passion for activism to protect the seas is inherited, of course, from his famous father who spent many years here, sailing on the famed ‘Calypso' and discovering what lay beneath the Aegean. Veteran Calypso diver, Peter Nicolaides, has been a key player in Pierre-Yves understanding of the challenges ahead and the two men have become a dynamic force, which has been able to approach both authorities and fisherman alike in this new venture.
Unfortunately, and unlike his famous father, Pierre-Yves has had to set his focus on the ocean's protection rather than its discovery as its destruction is already upon us. A Marine Protected Area is the only solution for restoring marine life diversity and animal populations in areas overfished such as in the Cyclades, which is the worst case both in the Mediterranean and in the world.
Postcard images of traditional Greek fisherman untangling fishing nets on their fishing boats perpetuate a myth of the wealth of the Aegean Sea. One thinks ‘abundance', ‘preserved traditions', ‘honor', and ‘pride'. Certainly not ‘scarcity', ‘recent history', ‘shame', and ‘fear'.
The government offers subsidies to artisanal fisherman to destroy their fishing Caiques as their livelihood is threatened by the devastating practices of industrial fisherman. As the seas and the fishing nets go empty, consumers are left in the dark, totally ignorant of where their fish is coming from, how it was fished and the dreadful consequences of over-fishing.
The new film Guardians of the Aegean reveals how overfishing, insufficient regulations, weak enforcement, ‘pirate', unreported and illegal fishing, are among the main causes for the significant depletion in fish stock. Solutions to this problem are well understood but hard to implement for a number of reasons, including cultural resistance, total lack of awareness about the real benefits of such solutions, insufficient government resources and of course, corruption.
The film captures stories from the Greek fishermen themselves, scattered throughout the Cyclades, further validating these harrowing facts. Marine Protected Areas lead to an increase in biodiversity, reproduction rates of marine life, healthier sized organisms, improved population density and an increase in biomass. Preserving and restoring biodiversity enhances the productivity and reliability of services provided by the sea for humanity.
Despite the abundance of evidence of the benefits to people, the local economy, and the environment, there are no functional marine reserves in the Aegean Sea to date. While the creation of a Marine Protected Area in Santorini has local benefits, its widespread success would give this project further weight by setting an example that would be copied throughout Greece.
Pierre-Yves proposes something seemingly radical - that we imagine not just having many Marine Protected Areas, but all of the sea registered as a protected area and instead implement distinct fishing zones. The Marine Protected Area in Santorini is a step towards that ultimate vision which he believes is the key to the survival of these seas.
The signing of a first document of good intentions by Pierre-Yves Cousteau on behalf of Cousteau Divers and President Kyriakos Prekas on behalf of the professional Fisherman's Union took place earlier this year on the island of Santorini, as documented in the film.
Four years has been spent convincing the deeply suspicious fishermen that the intention of the MPA was not malicious nor to erect mega-hotels on the surrounding beaches. The campaigners had gradually earned the confidence of the local communities, meanwhile liaising with several Ministries and investigating new legislation as currently, and unlike other European Union Mediterranean countries, there are no specific laws for MPAs in Greece. Sadly, to date, no further development towards the establishment of the MPA has been seen.
The formation of an MPA in Santorini would be a "bottom-up" policy where the fishermen choose their own fate - to agree and contribute to the MPA formation or to stifle it. Pierre-Yves, along with Peter Nicolaides (who has been working towards this goal since 1980) and other individuals and organizations, had managed to bring together fishermen, marine researchers and local politicians to finally agree on establishing and operating/managing an MPA. This culminated in the formation of an essential trilateral committee (Hellenic Centre for Marine Research, Fishermen's Union and the Municipality) as advised by Dr Manel Gazo of Submon, the MPA consultants in Spain, commissioned to produce a Management Plan for the specific MPA. This Management Plan as well as the Special Scientific Report produced by the HCMR diving-scientists team, following their detailed investigation of the area, was made possible with the funding from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation.
The journey into the conservation of our sea is a journey into the heart; naturally wondrous surroundings acquire deeper meaning after learning more truths and meeting those people dedicated and intrinsically linked to their preservation. We communicate our reality by telling our stories and then have the chance to gain a more global perspective. With this film and its goal, we celebrate humanity; step by step we gain local supporters as a hybrid of people open themselves to new ideas and information, voice their support, and spread the word.
How aptly references came to mind of Homer's Odyssey - perseverance, dedication and the duality of Journey and Destination. It is all possible, the amazing journey and reaching the hoped for outcome/destination, we just have to embark, set sail and keep faith. Years of follow-up work will be needed to develop a better global understanding of the need for a new direction towards preserving our ecology. In the meantime, this film is an important part of that new journey.
Kassandra Lefakinis is Greek-American, born and raised in Philadelphia and currently living in Greece. She studied Arts in Context in New York City and in Spain, and enjoys bridging her love for the Arts and Film with her passion for Greece and yachting. In her work and life she says she strives to create meaningful impact.
For more information on the documentary film, Guardians of the Aegean, the Cousteau Divers and the MPA visit
WEBSITE & FACEBOOK PAGE FOR "GUARDIANS OF THE AEGEAN': www.guardiansoftheaegean.com
Links on FACEBOOK FOR THE MPA: