Elafonissi, the "pink sand" beach, which is located on the South Coast of Chania region is one of the most popular reasons why travellers come to Chania Crete.
Just as soon after the scheduled flight from Athens landed at Chania (CHQ) Airport, as the passengers started to come out of the terminal, a fellow tour guide of mine approached the gate looking for her guests, holding a board with their names.
A few minutes later, the guests appeared in front of her and one of them, a lady from China, immediately announced in her broken English: I-Want-Pink-Sand!
Probably one of the best examples to realize how popular Elafonissi Beach has become worldwide, through the years. It is so popular in fact, that it has become problematic and if we don't make decisions that will protect the place in reality - because on paper it is a protected NATURA 2000 area - there will not be much left for future generations.
Many years now, we're observing the same problems occur around us - created in the name of ''touristic development'' without any sustainable plan. To shed light & raise awareness about these problems to the visitors of Chania, we are discussing the subjects openly, using our website blog, social media & also by informing our guests in person.
At the core, our travel agency Bonnie and Clyde Urban Tours promotes eco-responsible travel on a human pace, at its very core.
Chania is both blessed & cursed for having two of the most beautiful beaches, not only in Greece but worldwide: Elafonissi and Balos sea lagoons are amazingly beautiful but also very sensitive environmental areas. They look like they have escaped from the Caribbean sea. In this blogpost, we'll go deeper into Elafonissi's Summer reality & in a future blogpost , we'll have a closer look at the Balos lagoon.
It's just no longer possible to pretend that we don't see, or have heard of these problems which over-tourism has created to local societies & Nature's balance. At the same time, the underlying issue that all decision-making is made by local authorities, who too often work hand-in-hand with the big local Travel Agencies and the Overseas Tour Operators, dealing with such issues according to their profit calculations.
This is unquestionably disastrous.
Elafonissi is located in the South West part of the Chania region, 70 kms away from Chania's town centre. It became widely popular & rapidly famous on social media for its "pink sand", the sensitive biodiversity & the light blue shallow waters.
First of all, let’s make it clear that there is no actual pink sand. The pink colours come from millions & millions of broken sea shells of different types & sizes, broken into tiny minuscule pieces from the wind & the waves through time. This pink shell layer sits on top of the classic beige sand, creating a surface illusion of pink coloured sand.
Certainly, collecting this "sand" is prohibited.
I repeat: COLLECTING THE SAND IN ELAFONISSI IS PROHIBITED!!
As we mentioned earlier, Elafonissi is part of Natura 2000, the European network which protects very sensitive environments & eco-systems. The place is defined as “Site of Community Importance” for the European Union (EU). Unfortunately, this title doesn't seem strong enough for local authorities & big Travel agencies to respect or uphold.
With an extremely complex & sensitive biodiversity system of flora (which includes sea flowers, juniper trees, sand dunes & the underwater plantation) and fauna (sea turtles, dolphins and many many many very small to tiny sea creatures), it is expected to be a highly protected area from massive tourism, invasive human activity & poor economical foresight. Well, this not the case at Elafonissi.
Meanwhile, in other places on our planet such as Thailand, sunscreens are banned from marine national parks andhe authorities even close over-used beaches. Maya Bay, on the island of Phi Phi Leh - made famous by its appearance in the film The Beach - has been closed since 2018 after most of its coral was destroyed from over-tourism.
Why not here as well? Who hasn't smelt all the different types of chemical sunscreens mixed together, walking through endless rows of sunbeds during their visit to Elafonissi? Who hasn't see a light film of oil floating at the surface of the shallow waters?
The area, still today, remains without any kind of control on how many daily visitors can enter this unique place. For the local authorities, success is calculated by high volume of people, hoping to make some more money by renting sun chairs & selling ice-cream or iced coffees. It seems to think that since the eco-system has not yet collapsed (a faulty, short-sighted superficial pseudo-assessment), then we probably have not reached the maximum number of arrivals. Simple, isn't it?
In a Natura 2000 protected area, could this even be legal? In this case, we have let the wolves become the shepherds.
Cretan Travel agencies are allowed to sell excursions to Elafonissi on a daily basis with no limits. None. One, two, three or ten big busses, mini busses can be there, on the same day and time without making any difference to local Municipality authorities. Everybody is welcome to enjoy for 3 ½ hours the "pink sand beach". If time seems too short, you can just snatch some of it to take back back home with you. Will there be anyone to stop you? I personally haven't seen enforcement after all these years.
Collecting this "sand" is prohibited!
One thing that would be really interesting to know is how much money all these Travel agencies have paid back to Elafonissi (out of the profits that they make, by selling this day trip excursion) after all these years of operation, in order to protect this unique & fragile ecosystem or if they ever have collected the garbage their tourists leave behind?
We would also really like to know how many people should be allowed to visit this place every day without creating any problem to the eco-system & if the use of the bushes and juniper trees as a toilet helps these plants growing faster?
All the above, together with hundreds of individual tourists visiting the place daily with their cars, mini vans, scooters, ATV'S, mobile homes, etc., has created a huge parking area inside the protected zone. Reality is even worst than imagination.
Unfortunately, this is the second catastrophic era for Elafonissi, the pink sand beach; the first being the dynamite fishing habit back in the 80's & 90's. Will there be anything left for the future generations? It is hard to say.
In Greece, every summer, we are facing catastrophic fires, burning our forests & wildlife. Is the danger of fire also present in Elafonissi? Is there any active evacuation plan by the authorities in case of an emergency such as a fire? If so, this should be communicated to all visitors & agencies.
In most of the countries on our planet a place like Elafonissi would be protected & cared for by the governmental & local authorities. No questions about it. Unfortunately not here in Greece.
How is it possible for us to accept, that in the name of financial profit for the big tour operators, travel agencies & transfer companies, that Elafonissi will turn into an over-touristy waterpark?
There are many positive actions that can be done even without any financial cost:
1) limited number of daily visitors (that can be based on a proper research assessment)
2) no vehicle can park inside the Natura 2000 protected area
3) a token entrance fee that will be used for the maintenance and cleaning of the are
4) no visitors during animals' and other species reproduction period
5) no fishing
6) no collecting sand, stones & plants
7) banning chemical sunscreens & oils
As Bonnie and Clyde Urban Tours, we'll continue to write articles & blogs (which we share in our website, network & social media) that will promote forward thinking, eco-responsibilty, long term sustainability and will also bring the local over-tourism problems on the surface. We'll keep promoting only non-touristy tours & activities by creating experiences to remember back home, environmental friendly.
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