Thursday, 1 July 2010
Hello, where is my beach?!
(the coastal damaged road at Eftalou)
Here on Lesvos you can make a choice from all kinds of beaches: small and hidden, or big and busy; they are covered with small or big pebbles, there are sandy beaches and some are cloaked in thick layers of sea weed. There are beaches just beside the main road of the coastal villages; for some you have to drive far away and others can barely to be reached on foot. Plenty of choices, I would say.
There are also beaches on Lesvos formed from ‘beachrock’. This is a kind of flat stone formation at the high tide mark. It looks like eroded rough cement and the first time I saw some, I thought the Greeks were so crazy and careless with their rubbish they even threw old cement on their beaches! At Melinda there’s a long line of this ‘cement’ that looks like a crumbled path. I imagine that in earlier times people from Plomari might have come there to parade their finery along the sea shore: women in long white lace dresses with parasols to protect them from the sun and high heels tip-tapping on the cement.
But in previous times Greeks were not that enamoured of beaches. The sea was where you went fishing, children liked to play in it or, if they wanted to cool off, women might just step into the sea fully clothed and stand there gossiping with each other as if they were in the neighbour’s kitchen. So, even though the azure Aegean has always been within reach on this island, swimming in it was never a common pastime. People certainly paraded along the shore, but they preferred to linger high and dry along the boulevard or the quays in the harbor.
However, the cement I had assumed was dumped there turns out to be a purely natural phenomenon: the sea ‘cements’ itself. Under certain conditions its action turns sand, stones and shells into these flat stone masses and they can be kilometres long and metres thick. I have a vivid memory of the beach at Drotta with a complete wall towering alongside the rock of its ‘cemented’ stone.
Here on the island they have been investigating the relationship between tourism and beachrock and it seems tourists don’t like it, one reason: it becomes slippery and dangerous to walk on – you can quite easily step on it and fall. There are even tourists who offered to donate money so the formation of these stones could be stopped! But they don’t really avoid beachrock beaches – they just choose a spot to enter the water where there isn’t any. But I imagine beachrock can be useful. It stops beaches disappearing under the water.
The beaches disappearing is a problem. For example, Eresos (in the south) is losing its beaches to the sea because of a new beach rock ‘dam’ formed by the sea. Here in the north of the island some beaches are shrinking before our very eyes. At Molyvos in front of the Olive Press hotel the beach used to be much wider and you easily pass whole days there. Now, for that experience they either have to go to the beaches at Eftalou or those further along the coast, even beyond the Hotel Delphinia.
After the nasty violent winds that struck us in the winter and spring (big surf-like rollers were here even last week) the beaches continue to be shrink and some at Eftalou have completely disappeared. Hello, where is my beach?! My own little stretch of beach is totally gone. Now the water laps gently at the walls of the road which still has not been repaired after the mighty waves that broke some of it away and pulled it down into the sea.
I was hoping that a new storm would bring back the sand and pebbles, but I am afraid that this is just an idle wish. As the sea level slowly rises it’s eating our beaches away.
How good life must haven been when the sea level was dropping: you would see more and more beach appearing but now it looks like we will have to crowd on to beaches that are getting smaller and smaller. Imagine if it were to happen to a famous British resort like Brighton where thousands of people come to the beach, it would be a complete disaster. But I will not complain because life at the beach on Lesvos is so quiet. The number of tourists has decreased - many Greeks don’t have the money to come the islands and some foreign tourists are afraid of the strikes and bombs in Athens.
So, even though our beaches have become smaller, we continue as usual: the local Greeks lie in the shade of the trees while their offspring play at the high tide mark and the foreign tourists lie shimmering in the sun to catch some colour. The sea itself has not really changed. It still embraces you with its warm and transparent water. I’d rather have a diminished beach with ‘cement’ beachrock along the coast than an offshore oil well leaking into the sea. When such a disaster strikes you have the right to complain for years.
(with thanks to Tony Barrell)
@ Smitaki 2010