Sunday, 5 October 2014

Junipers and sea daffodils (Κέδροι και κρινάκια της θάλασσας)

Despite the sunny weather, it's getting quite chilly now, which means that beach weather will be coming to an end soon, and the coastal habitat will get a rest from too much human activity.

The Cretan coastline is lined with some of the most interesting Mediterranean flora, most of which is, these days, facing great risks from the changing nature of the landscape. Uncontrolled tourism, logging, forest fires, camping and general trampling, coupled with global climate changes, are leading to the restricted growth and regeneration of endangered plants such as junipers and sea daffodils. The flora found on the coastline of Crete are under constant threat of destruction, especially during the tourist season: campers who were surveyed to find out whether they knew that the juniper tree habitats were protected or not were cutting the dry stalks of the juniper tree to make a fire, but they didn't realise that this breaks down the root system and dries up the plant. Despite this fact, the plant itself is not under any formal protection orders.

The walking paths around the beach of Elafonisi have all been demarcated so that people and cars (which often park directly beside endangered native species) do not damage the flora of the area, namely Juniperus species and the sea daffodil, Pancratium maritimum, as well as other species.

Juniper trees, as well as sea daffodils, are found mainly along the coastal sandy dunes of Crete. Their habitat is considered both rare and aesthetically beautiful, which has led to its classification as a 'priority habitat' by the EU Habitats Directive, leading to its protection. So the habitat is now being protected from further damage from the risks involved in the highly connected world we live in, even though the actual species located in this habitat type may not be protected individually.
The sea daffodil - Pancratium maritimum - is found all over the Mediterranean coastline, but it's considered an endangered species in places like Crete due to tourism - too many cars, too many people, too much trampling. There are signs on the beach reminding people not to pick or disturb it, even though it is not officially protected by an law. 
This 2008 photo shows that the sea daffodil is less prevalent than it is in 2013.
Both the juniper and the sea daffodil are found on the most popular beaches of Hania. Crete's large tourism industry has placed them at risk of great damage. In other less touristy areas of Greece, these species are gaining habitat, but in Crete, if an attempt was not made to protect them, they would now be faced as endangered species. Swaths of sea daffodils are now seen on our beaches, but it was not like this at all in our recent past - better educational awareness of the locals (and tourists) has helped such species to survive better in Crete. The signs that have gone up in Elafonisi for the junipers, and the local beaches on the north coast of Crete for the sea daffodils, are a clever 'trick' that seems to be working - the signs all over our beaches have actually helped the daffodils to multiply and stay on the ground, they aren't being picked and our parched-looking soil in the summertime gets a boost from these wild flowering plants. The venture of protecting it was undertaken on a local level in Crete. 

2013: These signs have remained virtually untouched at my local beach - Greek and foreign tourists are more environmentally aware than in the past, thanks to small efforts such as these ones. 
Interestingly, the island of Limnos came up in a discussion of juniper coastlines in Greece (in a MAICh seminar I attended recently), where the sea daffodil was also mentioned as a point of comparison. Limnos is a not-very-touristy island compared to Crete. The sea daffodil was mentioned in relation to the importance of protecting various plants in certain areas; in Limnos for example there are a lot of sea daffodils and not many tourists, whereas in Crete, the opposite is true, and the loss of one is due to the rise in the other - and so it is for juniper too. 
 Juniper bush on Grammenos beach, Paleohora
The speaker at the seminar said that the authorities in Limnos, when asked to make special arrangements to protect the sea daffodil, rolled their eyes at the idea because there are so many of them. But in places like Cyprus, where the habitat of the sea daffodil is under threat due to tourism (just like in Crete), huge efforts have been made willingly on a very short stretch of coastline. So there is a difference in people's attitudes towards protecting something, and there are different reasons for such attitudes.
A close up of the juniper berries - they are highly aromatic and can be milled when dry to be used as pepper. I gathered two dozen of them for personal use.
The once not-so-environmentally Greeks are now making greater efforts to protect their surroundings, even at a personal level. Funds are always hard to find these days, but the willingness of the people is there. What was once seen as the domain of municipal authorities is now being dealt with by concerned individuals. It's just another sign of a a re-examination of one's values, and their relation to one's identity.
Above: Juniper and sea daffodil, Grammenos beach, Paleohora.
Below: Juniper tree gum, seeping out of the bark; aromatic nut not commonly used.

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