Battle of the Beaches: Greece Has New Plan to Keep Its Coasts Pristine

The Greek government on Friday published a list of 198 “untrodden beaches” that it said are now off limits to bars, restaurants and large public gatherings in its latest attempt to contain development and address the backlash to the throngs of tourists that descend on the country’s coastlines each year.

The move comes amid growing frustration among residents of Greek islands and parts of the coastal mainland that are popular with foreign visitors. Protests ballooned into a nationwide “beach towel movement” last summer as disgruntled locals complained that they were being pushed off their own beaches by businesses seeking to take advantage of a tourist boom that brought more than 32 million foreign visitors to Greece last year.

On the country’s Cycladic islands, local residents joined forces with the authorities to push back against a wave of construction.

Greece’s conservative government has pledged to crack down on the development, and on seaside businesses that violate regulations. In February it passed a law aimed at regulating the use of the country’s coastline, imposing penalties of up to 60,000 euros for businesses occupying more than 50 percent of Greek beaches with umbrellas and sun beds.

Critics said the law did not go far enough to curb the problem, with some claiming that the government was perpetuating the issue by not tackling illegal land use more comprehensively.

The list of “untrodden beaches,” unveiled in a joint agreement between Greece’s finance and environment ministers, is part of a broader effort to restore balance, the government said. “The main goal is to combine environmental protection with sustainable development,” Kostis Hatzidakis, the economy and finance minister, said on Friday.

“The environment is a valuable component of the Greek tourist product,” he said.

Under the new initiative, the government was putting public assets “under a strict framework of rules, penalties and obligations,” Mr. Hatzidakis said. Inspections and transparency would be increased, as would “the enforcement of the law,” he added.

The beaches on the list are in areas included in the European Union’s Natura program, a network of vulnerable habitats across Europe that are protected under European law. Among the beaches listed on Friday are spots on popular islands such as Milos, Naxos, Lesbos, Samothrace and in the southern Peloponnese peninsula.

The islands were selected based on the advice of the country’s Natural Environment and Climate Change Agency and are all “areas of high ecological importance,” Theodoros Skylakakis, the environment and energy minister, said on Friday.

Under the new initiative, no section of those beaches can be auctioned off for commercial use, and the presence of sun-loungers and umbrellas will be prohibited, as will the organization of public events involving more than 10 people.

Another initiative being introduced by the government is a new app called “MyCoast,” on which people can report violations.

Some environmentalists in Greece were not impressed by Friday’s announcement. Eleni Andrianopoulou, a resident of Naxos and a member of a local “Save the beaches” group, said the government’s original plan had been for more than 1,000 beaches nationwide to be covered, adding that Natura areas require “real protection.”

“From the beginning we had stressed that this reform for untrodden beaches was a fraud.”

Demetre Karavellas, director of the World Wildlife Fund Greece, said the authorities were jumping the gun with their list of pristine beaches, noting that there are more than 100 marine and coastal areas in Greece that are recognized by the Natura program but have yet to be effectively managed or conserved.

“The government should start by complying with its basic legal obligations before creating new vague categories of protection,” he said.

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