Photo: Gavin Golden / Flickr

Holiday hotspots: EU urged to step in on destructive developments

The summer holiday season is just around the corner and with more people travelling to more places than ever before, stunning natural sites and local communities are being affected by overcrowding and unbearable pressure on the natural world.

But with out-of-control tourism increasingly hitting the headlines – from the mammoth cruise ships eroding the foundations of historic Venice to traffic chaos on Scotland’s Isle of Skye – more and more people are trying to ensure their well-deserved holiday doesn’t contribute to the destruction of the very nature they have saved up their hard-earned cash to visit.

With half of all international tourist arrivals (671 million) in the world, Europe’s tourism sector is worth hundreds of billions of euros – but this comes at a cost as irresponsible tourism development is a major driver of nature loss.

New hotels and golf resorts intrude on precious wildlife and tourism activity can lead to the trampling of precious plants and nesting areas, crowding out nature.

Now campaign groups are putting the spotlight on the impact of bloated tourism developments on the 787,000 square kilometres of land and 550,000 square kilometres of ocean that are supposed to be safeguarded under EU nature protection laws. That’s 18% of EU land and 10% of our ocean area preserved for wildlife, under some of the most far-reaching nature laws in the world.

Sergiy Moroz, Senior Policy Officer for Water and Biodiversity at the European Environmental Bureau told META that many EU governments are “systematically failing” to apply these environmental protections when tourism developments threaten the very nature we need to thrive.

Environmental groups have called on the European Commission to fulfill its role as ‘nature’s last line of defence’ by taking infringement action against the countries that fail to conserve Europe’s precious natural habitats.


Outgoing European Environment Commissioner Karmenu Vella is under pressure to use his last months in office to get tough on over-tourism. META takes a look at three hotspots where the Commission should act.

1. Limni in Cyprus

Credit: Luka Tomac / Friends of the Earth Europe

Limni beach in eastern Cyprus is a crucial protected breeding ground for Loggerhead turtles and a feeding ground for green turtles. These turtles face a very high risk of extinction in the wild, and are strictly protected under EU law.

But now a controversial tourism project, the Limni Bay Resort, has been granted planning permission for two golf courses, a 160-room hotel and 792 residential villas adjacent to Limni beach. The increased visitor numbers and light pollution from the development will have a hugely detrimental impact on one of Europe’s single most important Loggerhead turtle nesting sites, impacting a quarter of all Cyprus’s Loggerhead sea turtle nests.

To safeguard the turtles, scientists and the European Commission recommended a 500m no-build zone around the protected beach.

But the Cypriot Urban Planning office ignored this and gave the go-ahead to a much smaller buffer zone – which EU Environment Commissioner Vella has not objected to.

NGOs maintain this is inadequate for rare turtles to breed. The golf resort development has now fallen into the hands of the Bank of Cyprus, but with permission granted, the iconic turtles of Limni are still at threat.

2. Ulcinj Salina in Montenegro

Credit: CZIP

Ulcinj Salina in Montenegro is a unique, biodiversity-rich ecosystem which is actually man-made – a happy accident resulting from the huge salt production complex that operated here from the 1920s until 2013.

The salt works brought precious ‘white gold’ in the form of employment for the local community, and a plethora of birds – including nesting spotted redshanks and collared pratincole, and stone curlews stopping off to rest and refuel.

Salt production terminated in 2013 when the owner of the works declared bankruptcy. But now the future of Ulcinj Salina is under question. One controversial plan is to drain this migratory bird paradise, and convert the site into a luxury tourist resort of hotels and golf courses.

So far public outcry and local NGO campaigns by CZIP (BirdLife Montenegro) have held off this plan. But there is evidence of dirty dealings afoot: the salt pan pumps – essential for maintaining optimal water levels for nesting and foraging birds – have been vandalised and flamingo breeding areas have been raided and their eggs stolen.

An international campaign – #SaveSalina – is gathering support to pressure the Montenegrin government to declare Ulcinj Salina a protected nature zone and reinstate salt protection for wildlife and the local community, and for the European Union to ensure that the wetland is not sold out to unsustainable tourism, but becomes a protected area, as part of Montenegro’s accession to the EU.

3. Zakynthos in Greece 

Tourists and turtles arrive during the same period on the beautiful sandy beaches of Zakynthos, an island struggling to find the right balance between development and conservation. The National Marine Park on the south side of the island hosts the Mediterranean’s most important nesting area for loggerhead turtles.

Enforcement of EU nature laws has helped to protect the area. But still, these nesting grounds are under constant threat from tourism demands, combined with weak nature management. Illegal coastal developments, such as beach enterprises and road constructions threaten these sensitive nesting grounds; as do breaches of the protection rules, such as excessive beach furniture, night access to beaches and uncontrolled maritime traffic.

The good news is that the European Commission has twice successfully taken legal action to protect Zakynthos nature. But since then, compliance with the court’s decisions have been unstable. The European Commission monitors the situation on Zakynthos regularly, but without taking any action. It must review the effectiveness of management and warden measures to ensure EU nature laws are fully applied.