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Article

Ecosystem-Based Blue Growth: The Case of the Semi-Enclosed Embayment of the Inner NE Ionian Sea and Adjacent Gulfs

1
Laboratory of Environmental Chemistry, Faculty of Chemistry, National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, 15784 Athens, Greece
2
Department of Port Management and Shipping, National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, Evripos Campus, 34400 Evia, Greece
3
Laboratory of Physical Geography, Faculty of Geology & Geoenvironment, National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, 15784 Athens, Greece
4
Institute of Oceanography, Hellenic Centre for Marine Research, 19013 Anavyssos, Greece
5
Section of Zoology-Marine Biology, Faculty of Biology, National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, 15784 Athens, Greece
*
Authors to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Water 2023, 15(16), 2892; https://doi.org/10.3390/w15162892
Submission received: 30 June 2023 / Revised: 5 August 2023 / Accepted: 8 August 2023 / Published: 10 August 2023
(This article belongs to the Section Oceans and Coastal Zones)

Abstract

:
Ecosystem-based Blue Growth reflects the need to develop human activities taking place in the marine environment, under the scope of protecting marine ecosystems. To this end, the Marine Strategy Framework Directive identifies the specific ecological characteristics of a marine area, the human activities taking place in it and the main pressures induced thereof. The present work focuses on the semi-enclosed embayment of the Inner Ionian and adjacent gulfs (the Gulf of Corinth and the Gulf of Patras) in Western Greece, in order to present the type of environmental data and information required to be considered in the framework of ecosystem-based Blue Growth. Such data may include oceanographic and physical environmental features, biological and ecological distributions, areas of importance for species, communities, and habitats, along with spatial and temporal information regarding human activities and pressures caused. Data interpretation shows that future economic development in the study area should follow an ecosystem-based approach to maintain/achieve the Good Environmental Status and regulate existing and immerging anthropogenic activities within the framework of marine spatial planning.

1. Introduction

At a global level, natural capital and coastal and marine ecosystem services are key issues in the management of human activities [1]. As the demand for coastal and marine ecosystem services is constantly increasing, the intensification of maritime activities raises the demand for maritime space [2], which in turn leads to the need for appropriate maritime spatial planning. Pressures induced on the marine environment, if not properly addressed, lead to the deterioration of its environmental status and threaten the sustainability of ecosystem services [3].
In response to the overexploitation of natural resources and economic challenges, Blue Growth was introduced in 2010 as a long-term strategy to support sustainable growth in the marine and maritime sectors as a whole [4,5]. The optimal use of marine natural resources as well as the integrated management of multiple economic sectors constitutes a key principle of Blue Growth [6]. Thus, ecosystem-based Blue Growth seeks to balance economic prosperity with environmental sustainability, recognizing that a healthy and productive marine environment is essential for the well-being of both present and future generations. Ecosystem-based coastal zone planning offers several benefits as it promotes and ensures both the high-quality state of the sea and the sustainable economic growth of human activities [7,8] while supporting the development of new maritime activities in accordance with the Blue Growth strategy [9,10].
The concept of Blue Economy captures the marine environment potential to contribute to global economy [11] and encompasses all economic activities, both sectoral and cross-sectoral, based on (fishing and aquaculture, exploitation of marine minerals and aggregates, marine renewable energy, desalination, maritime transport, coastal tourism and recreation) or related to (seafood processing, biotechnology, shipbuilding, ship repair, port operations, technology and equipment development, digital services, etc.) the marine and coastal environment. Given its broadness and significance, the Blue Economy forms an integral component of the overall EU economy, and as such, it considerably impacts the economic cycle.
As Blue Growth tries to exploit coastal and marine ecosystem services (i.e., living and non-living environmental resources), the intensification of maritime activities raises the demand for both managing maritime space and maintaining Good Environmental Status. To this end, the marine-related EU directives have a most crucial role, with the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD_2008/56/EC) [12] and Maritime Spatial Planning Directive (MSPD_2014/89/EU) [2] being the pillars of the EU Integrated Maritime Policy [4].
In the MSFD framework, all the anthropogenic activities or uses taking place in the marine environment that could compromise the marine environmental status are addressed explicitly by identifying management measures to achieve Good Environmental Status [3,13]. However, the MSFD does not provide the operational framework to manage those activities [14,15,16] and this is where the incorporation of ecosystem services into marine spatial planning (MSP) comes as a challenging approach [17,18,19]. MSP assists in spatially distributing maritime human activities and enhancing existing management measures so as to maintain marine ecosystems in Good Environmental Status [20] and achieve sustainable resource use [21]. The Maritime Spatial Planning Directive (MSPD) focuses on the planning of activities and their regulation in the sea under the scope of protecting marine ecosystems [2,22]. MSP is crucial to the development of an ecosystem-based approach in the marine environment [23] as it aspires to prevent from the spatial conflicts among the various maritime uses, while supporting the long-term protection of marine species and ecosystems [24,25].
The ecosystem-based approach becomes a necessity in the case of semi-enclosed coastal embayments, especially those receiving terrestrial fluxes from an extended hinterland area. The ecosystems of semi-enclosed coastal embayments are under great pressure from human activities as both the terrestrial and marine activities of the coastal zone are accumulated due to coastal physiography. The complex coastline configuration of Mediterranean Sea environments necessitates an integrated coastal zone management served by maritime spatial plans considering the various expressions of climate change.
The scope of this study is to show how Blue Growth could take advantage of and be facilitated through environmental status knowledge, providing data and information on the structures of ecosystems, as well as the pressures and impacts induced by the anthropogenic activities occurring in the coastal/marine environment. The approach is developed as a practical example in the Inner Ionian Sea and adjacent Gulfs (i.e., the gulfs of Patras and Corinth) in Western Greece, an area which presents considerable difficulties and limitations in the planning process [26,27,28]. To this end, most of the components describing the environmental status of the study area are delivered through the identification of the physico-geographical features and localization of important biological and ecological characteristics and the pressures exerted.

2. Study Area

The study area is approximately 13,400 km2 including the Inner Ionian, the Gulf of Patras and the Gulf of Corinth (Figure 1). More specifically, the Inner Ionian comprises the marine area surrounded (from South to North) by Kyllini cape, Zakynthos, Kefalonia, Lefkada islands up to the western opening of the Gulf of Patras. The Gulf of Patras extends from the line of the Araxos Promontory to the mouth of the River Evinos (west) to the Rio-Antirio strait (east), while the Gulf of Corinth is located to the east of the Gulf of Patras up to the Corinth canal (eastern end of Gulf of Corinth).
The inner Ionian Sea covers an area of some 3370 km2 having water depths of 5127 m (Zakynthos depression), while the highest elevation of its hinterland area is some 1310 km at Mount Ainos on Kefalonia Island. Its eastern part of the coast is rather flat consisting of the deltaic plain of the River Acheloos (northeast) and the alluvial plain of the northwestern Peloponnese. In terms of administration, the islands belong to the Region of Ionian Islands, while the mainland belongs to the Region of Western Greece.
The Gulf of Patras covers an area of approximately 1500 km2 having a drainage (terrestrial) area of some 2423 km2. A large part of its coastal zone is characterized by low relief consisting of alluvial deposits that are formed by river deltas (i.e., the River Evinos delta) and alluvial fans. The depth does not exceed that of 200 m. Administratively, both the northern and southern terrestrial sides (of the gulf belong to the Region of Western Greece.
The Gulf of Corinth (2.43 km2) is rather deep, more than 900 m in the centre of the basin, with significantly steep slopes (Poulos et al., 1996), being an elongated tectonic graben [29].Its length is 115 km and its width ranges between 5 and 30 km. The hinterland of the Peloponnese part is mountainous with elevations reaching 2650 m accounting for an area of 3685 km2. Its coastline is approximately 130 km long, whilst administratively it belongs to four regions: the northern coast belongs to the Region of Central Greece, the southern coast to the Regions of Peloponnese and Western Greece, while its eastern coast belongs to the Region of Attica [30].
Regarding water circulation, the western part of the case study area (Gulf of Patras) has significantly warmer surficial flows of ~23 cm/s velocity, reducing their temperature and reaching maximum velocities of 100 cm/s in the straits of Rio-Antirio as they enter the deeper Gulf of Corinth [31,32]. The mean annual significant wave heights are <0.5 m, increasing from East to West [31]. The mean annual wind speeds are ~7 m/s with the maximum values reaching 15 m/s in the straits of the outer Gulf of Patras and Rio-Antirio, having minor contribution to the general circulation. The water circulation of the Gulf of Corinth is clockwise, while upwelling has been reported at its northwestern margin [32].

3. Data Collection

For the needs of the present work, the collection and mapping of existing information concern (1) ecosystem components of conservation importance (e.g., habitats, species) according to European legislation and international agreements; (2) physical parameters (e.g., coastal geology, oceanography); (3) human activities and associated pressures. The elaboration of all the data was carried out with the use of ArcGIS. For the scope of the present work, the provided data are classified as natural capital (living and non-living resources), natural and anthropogenic (biological, substances, litter, noise) pressures, uses and human activities as well as administrative information.

4. Results

The environmental status of the coastal and marine ecosystems of the Inner Ionian Sea and the adjacent gulfs of Patras and Corinth as well as the major anthropogenic pressures that need to be considered along with administrative parameters are presented below under the concept of Blue Growth.

4.1. Natural Capital

The natural capital of the coastal zone (terrestrial and marine) and of the aquatic environment includes living (e.g., species, habitats, Natura 2000 sites) and non-living (e.g., deltas, lagoons, beaches, marine minerals, cultural heritage) resources.

4.1.1. Living Resources

Living resources in the area under investigation include species, habitats, and Natura 2000 sites.
  • Species: The coastal and marine environment of the Inner Ionian-Gulf of Patras-Gulf of Corinth is characterized by important ecosystems and high biodiversity, including numerous rare species of community interest. However, major knowledge gaps exist concerning the biology and ecology of most marine species; life cycle, competence, sensitivity-tolerance, genetics. Some of the most important marine species hosted in the study area are (a) approximately 230 species of macrophytes (e.g., Padina pavonica, Cystoseira sp., Corallina elongate, and Peyssonnelia tubra) and 2 species of angiosperms (Posidonia oceanica, Cymodocea nodosa); (b) 7 species of cetaceans (Delphinus delphis, Stenella coeruleoalba, Tursiops truncatus, Grampus griseus, Ziphius cavirostris, Balaenoptera physalus, Physeter macrocephalus); and the Mediterranean monk seal Monachus monachus; (c) 3 species of marine reptiles (Caretta caretta, Dermochelys coriacea, Chelonia mydas); (d) approximately 60 marine fish species (Sardina pilchardus, Scorpaena sp., Hippocampus sp., etc.); (e) more than 250 species of invertebrates (Pinna nobilis, Savalia savaglia, Leptogorgia sarmentosa, Octopus vulgaris, etc.); (f) important species of seabirds (Calonectris diomedea, Phalacrocorax aristotelis, etc.) [33,34,35]. However, regarding the species P. nobilis, after a survey of a single site in Vouliagmeni Lake in the Gulf of Corinth, Zotou et al. (2020) [36] estimate a mortality rate of more than 89%, with at least 3700–7400 dead individuals.
  • Habitats: The most common habitats of biodiversity significance, vulnerable to environmental pressures found in the case study area are: (a) Posidonia oceanica meadows; a priority habitat type for conservation under the Habitats Directive (92/43/CE), settled in shallow waters of less than 45 m depth, occurring more commonly in the Ionian Sea where the seabed deepens gradually and to a lesser extent in the Gulf of Corinth having generally steeper seabed. Bottom-trawling is forbidden on these seagrass meadows (Ministerial Decision 2442/51879/2016 as amended in 2826/68784/2017); (b) Coralligenous formations; two major sites of interest are identified along the southern coast of the Gulf of Corinth, where the development of typical coralligenous assemblages is favored by the steep rocky cliffs present which extend to depths often greater than 200 m, and where some rich gorgonian and gold corals can be found [28]; (c) Marine caves; submerged and semi-submerged caves and overhangs of scattered presence (Papanikolis cave on Meganisi, Lefkada, Kefalonia, cave Karst and Blue Caves on Zakynthos) occur mainly in the Inner Ionian Sea and less commonly in the Gulf of Corinth [37,38] (Figure 2). However, there is limited information about the status and trends of these variable habitats.
  • Natura 2000 sites: The study area comprises 12 marine and coastal Natura 2000 sites and includes two national marine parks; the National Marine Park of Zakynthos founded for the protection of the spawning sites of the sea turtle Caretta caretta on Zakynthos Island including 90 km2 of marine and 36 km2 of land area vulnerable to the climate change SLR impacts [39]. Moreover, the National Park of Messolonghi-Etoliko Lagoons located between the estuaries of Acheloos and Evinos rivers covering 90 m2. The entire Gulf of Corinth has been designated as a protected area and was included in the Revised National Catalogue of the European Ecological Network of the Natura 2000 protected areas (OGJ B 4432/2017) (Table 1), having a Management Body established by Law 4519 (OGJ 25_ 20/2/2018) [40].

4.1.2. Non-Living Resources

Coastal landforms are considered among non-living resources as they host explicit ecosystems and often provide goods (e.g., agricultural and aquacultural) and services (e.g., recreational activities). In the area under investigation three river deltas, four lagoons and hundreds of beaches constitute coastal landforms of Blue Growth interest.
  • Deltas: The Acheloos Delta (NE coast of the Inner Ionian Sea) is the largest one with a deltaic plain of 270 km2 associated with a drainage basin of 5470 km2 and annual water/sediment fluxes of 7.8 km3 and ca. 5 × 106 tonnes respsectively (pre-damming). The second in size is the Evinos Delta (northern coast of the Gulf of Patras) (90 km2) with a drainage basin of 1070 km2 and water/sediment fluxes of 1.5 km3 and >0.5 t. Finally, the Mornos Delta is the third one with a deltaic plain of ca. 28 km2 and a drainage area of 1010 km2 and annual water/sediment fluxes of 1.13 km3 and 0.35 t. However, since the 1970′s the largest volume of its water discharge has been artificially diverted in order to provide water to the city of Athens.
  • Lagoons: The main lagoons are those of Messolonghi (129 km2) and Kleisovas (2.5 km2) located at the northeastern end of the Inner Ionian Sea, the Kotichi (4.3–7.6 km2) on the Peloponnese coast and the Kalogera (4.5 km2) being part of the Araxos Promontory. Their maximum depth does not exceed 2.5 m except for the Messolonghi lagoon, whose depth reaches 5–6 m in its seaward opening. All these lagoons present distinctive biodiversity while they are natural grounds for aquaculture [43].
  • Beaches: The Inner Ionian-Gulf of Patras-Gulf of Corinth area includes 662 beaches (https://beachtour.geol.uoa.gr/el/, accessed on 10 March 2023) which cover a total area of ca. 4 km2. Most of them are found on the northern Inner Ionian coast, whilst those covering the greatest area are on the northern Peloponnese coast (South Inner Ionian coast). Approximately 50 blue flags are assigned to the beaches in the area [44].
  • Minerals: The exploration for possible oil and gas reservoirs in the Inner Ionian Sea has been of particular interest due to the geologic and tectonic regime of the area. The fields under investigation have been thoroughly examined for possible hydrocarbon traps whilst the seismic surveys in the area have detected oil-prone geological structures, with the most promising case being the offshore area of the Gulf of Patras. The estimated recoverable reserves are around 200 MMbbls [45] (Figure 3).
  • Gas venting: Areas of gas venting are located within the Gulfs of Patras and Corinth. More specifically, pockmarks have been traced in the vicinity of the Port of Patras in the Gulf of Patras, assumed to be among the largest and deepest in the world, formed slowly since Holocene by continuous gas venting, periodically interrupted by short duration events of enhanced gas seepage triggered by earthquakes [46]. With respect to the field in the Gulf of Corinth, it is located in Elaiona Bay, consisting of a number of pockmarks formed in Holocene muddy sediments which cover the seabed [47].
  • Marine aggregates: No appropriate fields for extraction of marine aggregate deposits have been reported [48]. On the other hand, extended abstraction of riverine aggregates has taken place during the last decades in the lower route of the rivers Meganitis and Keranitis. This activity has now been significantly reduced (if not totally stopped) due to the erosion caused at their mouth area and the adjacent coasts.
  • Underwater Cultural Heritage: In the study area, there are 6 underwater archaeological sites of different construction period, according to the official, open database of the Ministry of Culture [49]. All the sites are found on both terrestrial and marine areas, except one which is a shipwreck and is underwater (Table 2).
Table 2. Areas of cultural importance in the study area (source [49]).
Table 2. Areas of cultural importance in the study area (source [49]).
SiteConstruction Period
Gulf of CorinthArchaeological site of Agios Georgios islet and its surrounding marine zone (Galaxidi)Classical Antiquity, Byzantine Era
Archaeological site of Apsifia islet and its surrounding marine zone (Galaxidi)Classical Antiquity, Byzantine Era
Archaeological site of Panagia islet and its surrounding marine zone (Galaxidi)Classical Antiquity, Byzantine Era
Archaeological site of Kavoulinitsa coastal area (including the marine parts of the area (Kallithea Doridos, Glaronissi islet)Roman Era
Inner IonianArchaeological site of ancient city of Sami (Sami, Kefalonia)Late Bronze Era, Classical Antiquity, Hellenistic and Byzantine Era
Underwater archaeological Site, in the southern part of Fiskardo Gulf (Fiskardo, Kefalonia)Prehistoric and Classical Antiquity

4.2. Human Presence and Pressures

4.2.1. Uses and Human Activities in or Affecting the Marine Environment

The anthropogenic activities taking place in the study area include fishing, aquaculture, transmission of electricity and communications, generation of renewable energy, tourism and leisure activities as well as shipping and ports.
  • Extraction of living resources/Fishing: The study area belongs to the Geographical subarea 20/Eastern Ionian according to the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean [50]. The overall catches in 2020 amounted to 4164 tonnes of fish in Inner Ionian and to 1108.3 t in the Gulf of Corinth [51]. According to Moutopoulos et al. [52], the estimated fishing effort (number of vessels × annual number of fishing days) per surface area, for the combined estimates for the professional small-scale and recreational was higher in the Gulf of Corinth related to the Inner Ionian Sea area, with the southern part of the case study area exhibiting higher fishing effort than the north. The Zakynthos and Kefalonia islands areas exhibit lower fishing effort compared to the rest of the Inner IonianGulf of Corinth area. The fishing fleet in the Gulf of Corinth is predominantly of small scale. Overall, seiners and trawlers constitute the main anthropogenic factor threatening the fish stock viability [34].
  • Cultivation of living resources/Aquaculture: Aquaculture farms (Figure 3) are mainly found in the inner Ionian Sea as well as along the northern coastline of the Gulf of Corinth. Conversely, along the southern coastline of the Gulf of Corinth there are no aquaculture farms, neither along the coasts of the islands of Zakynthos or Lefkada [53]. Even though there is not specific data available, the total area occupied by fish farms in the study area is estimated to be approximately 120 ha. based on extrapolation from data on total aquaculture production in Greece [54].
  • Extraction of non-living resources/Desalination: There are only 4 small desalination units located in in the marine environment of the study area (North Kefalonia Isl., Inner Ionian area) [53].Three of these units have a productive capacity of 201–700 m3/day and one unit a capacity of <200 m3/day (Figure 3).
  • Production of energy/Transmission of electricity and communications (cables): The main cables network involves the following routes: (i) Rio-Antirio, (ii) Kyllini-Zakynthos, (iii) Kefalonia–Zakynthos and (iv) Lefkada- Kefalonia (Figure 3). The deployment of marine cables was terminated in the Gulf of Corinth in the late 1960′s due to submarine slides along the margin of Peloponnese which caused more than 12 cable failures [55].
  • Production of energy/Renewable energy generation: Although there are no offshore wind power installations in the study area [53], the existing shallow fields seem to attract interest for developing offshore wind farms.
  • Tourism and leisure/Tourism and leisure activities: Tourism activities are related mostly to beach activities and sailing. Yachting is supported by seven marinas officially designated for leisure boats (1 in the Gulf of Corinth, 2 in the Gulf of Patras and 5 in the Inner Ionian Sea). However, leisure boats often use small fishing ports or even bays without human settlements. There are also diving centers located on the three large islands (Zakynthos, Kefalonia, and Lefkada).
  • Transport/Shipping and Ports: Since 1893 the Gulf of Corinth has served as a shipping route connecting the Saronikos Gulf with the Gulf of Patras and then with the open Ionian Sea. The Inner Ionian-Gulf of Patras-Gulf of Corinth area includes a significant number of ports; one Port of International Interest, five Ports of National Importance and five Ports of Major Interest, as well as a great number of smaller ports (Table 3). The majority of these ports belong to the Region of Ionian Islands (Figure 3). The ports in the study area serve a variety of uses such as transportation, cargo transport, cruising, fishing and leisure [56].
Figure 3. Human activities in the Inner Ionian, Gulf of Patras, Gulf of Corinth; WWTPs [57]; aquaculture units; desalination unit vessel density; military areas; cable ports; main cities [53].
Figure 3. Human activities in the Inner Ionian, Gulf of Patras, Gulf of Corinth; WWTPs [57]; aquaculture units; desalination unit vessel density; military areas; cable ports; main cities [53].
Water 15 02892 g003
The most active ports are those of Patras (Gulf of Patras) and Kyllini (Inner Ionian Sea, Peloponnese coast) that connect Peloponnese with Italy and the Ionian Islands (Zakynthos, Kefalonia Ithaki), respectively. The largest commercial port is that of Patras being an international port, whilst the port of Corinth is the 3rd in order providing mixed services.

4.2.2. Anthropogenic Pressures

The anthropogenic activities taking place in the Inner Ionian-Gulf of Patras-Gulf of Corinth area generate biological pressures (microbial pathogens, input of Non-Indigenous Species), while they lead to the introduction of substances (nutrients, heavy metals, litter, water, noise) impacting the marine environment.
  • Microbial Pathogens: Despite the intense activity in the area, the water quality is high, as in 2021, of the 215 bathing water quality sampling sites assessed in the framework of the Monitoring Programme of Bathing Water Quality, 208 were found of excellent quality and only 7 of good (Figure 4) [58].
  • Non-Indigenous Species (NIS): NIS constitute a considerable biological pressure on the marine environment. The main invasive species in the study area are Acanthophora nayadiformis (Rhodophyta), Amathia verticillata (Bryozoa), Asparagopsis taxiformis (Rhodophyta), Balanus trigonus (Crustacea), Botryocladia madagascariensis (Rhodophyta), Bursatella leachii (Gastropoda), Caulerpa cylindracea (Chlorophyta), Chaetozone corona (Annelida, Polychaeta), Codium fragile (Chlorophyta), Crassostrea gigas (Mollusca, Bivalvia), Halophila stipulacea (Spermatophyta), Haminoea cyanomarginata (Gastropoda), Lagocephalus sceleratus (Fish), Melibe viridis (Mollusca, Gastropoda), Metasychis gotoi (Annelida, Polychaeta), Neopseudocapitella brasiliensis (Annelida, Polychaeta), Penaeus aztecus (Crustacea, Decapoda), Polysiphonia fucoides (Rhodophyta), Smaragdia souverbiana (Mollusca, Gastropoda), Syphonota geographica (Mollusca, Gastropoda), and Womersleyella setacea (Rhodophyta) [38,59].
  • Input of Nutrients: The nutrients measured in the water bodies of the case study area originate from land-based point sources such as Wastewater Treatment Plants (WWTPs) (Figure 4), river estuaries, municipal/industrial wastewater effluents, and diffuse sources such as land washout, farming, agriculture.
In the Inner Ionian-Gulf of Patras-Gulf of Corinth, there are 11 coastal waters monitoring stations operating in the framework of WFD/MSFD National Monitoring Program (http://www.ypeka.gr/Default.aspx?tabid, accessed on 15 March 2023). Total nitrogen (TN) (4.3–8.36 μmol/L) and total phosphorus (TP) (0.08–0.22 μmol/L) are mainly of organic origin due to the activities in the area. Chlorophyll-a (CHL-a) levels (0.08–0.61) and eutrophication index (EI) (0.17–1.18) as well as the biological index Bentix (3.16–5.04) reveal mainly good and moderate eutrophication and ecological status in the study area, thus the integrated status is considered good or moderate where possible to be assessed [60] (Figure 4). Data inadequacy on organic matter and nutrient input load, as well as an official registry of all point and diffuse sources remain the main knowledge gaps.
  • Input of Substances: Regarding the introduction of heavy metals in the seawater, the coastal waters of the study area are in Good Environmental Status as increased concentrations of heavy metals are not frequent even in areas of high anthropogenic activity; (μg/L) Cd: 0.01, Pb: 0.08–0.40, Cu: 0.27–0.55, Zn: 1.05–2.26, Ni: 0.44–0.71, Cr: <0.61 [60] (Figure 4). The sediments in the Gulf of Patras in the vicinity of Patras are more impacted by pollution compared to other areas in the Ionian Sea, due to the city industrial and urban uses and port activity. Moreover, the level of contamination in sediments is extremely high in Antikyra Bay because of the alumina production plant which deposited red mud on the seabed after refining and smelting of bauxite. The mining waste (red mud) was dumped from 1970 to 2011 on the continental shelf of the Gulf of Antikyra, through a system of underwater pipelines at a water depth of 100–120 m covering a large area of the bottom of both the Gulf of Aktikira and the central basin of the Gulf of Corinth. Hence, the bottom sediments were significantly impacted with iron trioxide (Fe2O3), titanium dioxide (TiO2), chromium trioxide (Cr2O3), nickel (Ni), cobalt (Co) and lead (Pb) as well as radioactive (238U, 226Ra, 232Th). The direct disposal of this industrial waste into the marine environment stopped in 2016 [61].
The levels of pollutants (e.g., Cd, Hg and Pb) in fish tissues muscle or edible tissues (e.g., muscle, stomach, liver, gonads and gills) and other seafood are compliant with Community legislation levels (regulation 1881/2006 and 1259/2011 amendment). PCBs and DDTs concentrations do not exceed the maximum permissible levels for human health set by other authorities [62]. Consequently, the marine waters of the Inner Ionian and adjacent gulfs are in GES.
Between 2015 and 2017, 28 incidents of oil spill were reported in the study area, extending on the sea surface from 5 m2 up to 5000 m2, which in total accounted for 8635 m2. The frequency of oil spills per day per m2 in the area varied considerably, and it was significantly higher in the Gulf of Patras (9.13 oil spills/day/m2), due to the presence of the Port of Patras. In the Gulf of Corinth, the oil spill frequency was 2.56 oil spills/day/m2, whereas in Inner Ionian it was noticeably lower (0.09 oil spills/day/m2) [54].
  • Input of Litter: Marine litter on the sea bottom in the Gulf of Patras and Echinades showed higher density values than those proposed as baseline limit values for the Mediterranean (130–230/km2) [63]. Based on litter typology, the three dominant litter sources identified were land-based (69%), vessel-based (26%) and fishery-based (5%) [64].
  • Input of noise: As the Gulf of Corinth is an area of interest for geophysical research, seismic surveys are quite frequent which have an impact on cetaceans. Moreover, motor yachts, freighters and ships transport is highly intense in the area and they have regularly been observed crossing cetaceans habitats, thus impacting the animals [34].

4.2.3. Natural Pressures

The main natural pressures are associated with the tectonic regime of the area and subsequent seismic activity, as well as climate change.
  • Tectonic regime and Seismicity: The Gulf of Corinth is one of the most rapidly extending rifts worldwide, with its western part being the most seismically active, hosting numerous strong (M ≥ 6.0) earthquakes that have caused significant damage [65]. The broader area of the Gulf of Patras is also very active tectonically characterized by intense seismic activity producing earthquakes of high magnitude (Mw > 5), thus numerous earthquakes have occurred in the vicinity over the last 30 years. Finally, seismicity in the Ionian Sea generated along the Kefalonia–Lefkada Transform Fault Zone in the central Ionian [66] is rapid southwestward with velocities of 6–30 mm/year [67] and are classified among the zones of Greece of highest seismic hazard, dominated by extreme events with magnitudes larger than 7.0.
  • Climate change: Future changes in the atmospheric pressure at sea level and mean wind fields are estimated to be small, yet significant for marine extremes. In general, there has been a projected intensification of severe wave and storm surge events during the first half of the twenty-first century and a subsequent storminess attenuation leading to the resettlement of milder extreme marine events with increased prediction uncertainty in the second half of the twenty-first century [68]. A significant shift in the frequency of wind occurrence and direction from SW to NW of extreme storm events has been reported in the last 4 decades in the open Ionian Sea [69,70] whilst extreme storm surges have documented to exceed the 30 cm mean astronomical tidal range (HNHS) at several coastal areas of the Ionian Sea, as in the case of IANOS low-pressure system [71]. Sea level rise (SLR) is among issues related to climate change and the projected values of SLR for the year 2100, for the Port of Patras (Table 4) show that the port infrastructure is probable to be significantly affected by Climate Change.
Table 4. Projected sea level rise under different SSP scenarios (source [72]).
Table 4. Projected sea level rise under different SSP scenarios (source [72]).
SSP ScenariosSea Level Rise (m)
SSP1-2.61.23
SSP1-4.51.34
SSP1-7.01.45
SSP1-8.51.54
  • Beach erosion: Extensive shoreline retreat is observed in the Gulf of Corinth, mainly on the southern coast where coastal slopes are high and coastal geomorphology favors erosion. The northern coasts of the Gulf of Patras have also proved to be prone to erosion [73] where the Achelloos Delta is located. In addition, Atzoulatou [74] investigating the evolution of beach zones along the Peloponnesian coast of the Gulf of Patras (1945–2008) found that most of them retreat at a rate of 0.1–6 m/yr;, e.g., Drepano (0.3 m/yr), Vraxnaika (6 m/yr), and Selemno—Arachovitika (0.1–0.2 m/yr). Moreover, beach erosion projections for the Ionian, western Greece and western Peloponnese beaches showed that more than 60% of these beaches are susceptible to total loss under extreme climatic conditions [39].
  • Coastal failures: Coastal failures are induced and/or enhanced by tectonic/seismic activity and they are often present on the southern coast of the Gulf of Corinth. Characteristic examples constitute the coastal failures (landslides) and collapse caused by earthquakes in Aigion, Diakofto (1861), Labiri (1863), Gulf of Alkyonides (1981), Eratini (1995), Derveni (Corinth) (2014) [75].

4.3. Socioeconomics

The study area forms part of 5 Regions (2nd level administrative divisions) and includes 20 Regional units (2 in the Region of Attica, 5 in the region of Peloponnese, 8 in the region of Western Greece and 5 in the Region of Ionian Islands), comprising more than 40 coastal Municipalities (Figure 5). This multitude of administrative units, having jurisdiction and responsibility for decision making, inhibits integrated management and governance, which is exacerbated by the fact that there is no Integrated Coastal Zone Management plan of the study area, nor MSP. However, in the case of the Gulf of Corinth, there is a great number of collective bodies interested in the environmental state and the sustainability of the Gulf.
The density of the population in the area (80 inhabitants/km2) is slightly lower than that of the population density at national level (83 inh/km2). Moreover, approximately 45% of the population resides in the big towns while the city of Patras accounts for a quarter of the area’s permanent residents. In terms of economy, the allocation of personal income per capita for the majority of the coastal municipalities of the area ranges from 5500 to 7000 euros per year [54].

5. Discussion

The present work supports that ecosystem-based Blue Growth can be facilitated by environmental data regarding the natural environment and human presence, and the case of the semi-enclosed embayment of the Inner Ionian-Gulf of Patras-Gulf of Corinth constitutes a good practical example to showcase the requirements for ecosystem-based Blue Growth. Ecosystem-based Blue Growth is an approach that considers the interaction (positive or negative) of the multiple economic sectors as well as among ecosystem components and human uses. As the Blue Growth strategy entails maximizing economic growth derived from marine resources while conserving the blue natural capital [76] a thorough knowledge of the marine environment supported by the complementary implementation of the MSFD and the MSPD is necessary [14,15,77].
The physico-geographic characteristics of the study area connecting the Aegean and Ionian Seas through the Corinth Canal, relating the northern mainland of Greece to the Peloponnese, connecting the Greek mainland to the Ionian Islands through the Port of Kyllini, as well as Greece to Italy through the Port of Patras enhance the Maritime Transport sector which is depicted in the dense maritime traffic in the area, and enable human presence expressed through intense anthropogenic activities.
Amongst all activities, the combined (professional and recreational) fishing effort is estimated to be systematically high mainly in the Gulf of Corinth. This pressure is further intensified by the introduction of Non-Indigenous Species which, although at the same levels as the rest of the Mediterranean Sea, extensively impacts the study area. Overall, overfishing, illegal fisheries, aquaculture and non-indigenous species constitute pressures of high intensity for the study area which necessitate regulation as, with regard to Blue economy, they are an important threat to commercially exploited species. Regarding pollution, the overall results show that although the area is highly developed with multiple activities taking place, the environmental status of the Inner Ionian-Gulf of Patras-Gulf of Corinth ecosystems is good concerning contaminants or nutrient levels. Limited pollution hot spots are identified with respect to coastal activities with higher contaminants concentrations, or areas of moderate ecological status. Despite the termination of red mud deposition on the seabed from alumina production, the level of contamination is extremely high in Antikyra Bay sediments. Wastewater Treatment Plants (WWTP) constitute a major point source introducing nutrients, BOD and suspended matter in the marine environment. For instance, moderate bentix results are correlated with the high/very high WWTP peak population served (e.g., Patra, Messolonghi, Laganas Gulf) as well as the presence of aquaculture units, and reveal the fact that benthic communities are impacted by pollution. Additionally, the eutrophication status is influenced by the presence of WWTP with relatively high BOD input load and high peak population (e.g., Aigio, Xylokastro, Patra), as well as aquaculture units. Thus, WWTP and aquaculture units require regular monitoring to ensure their environmental impact remains within acceptable levels.
Furthermore, marine litter constitutes an issue requiring monitoring and controlled land-based activities to reduce the amounts of litter reaching the coastal and marine environment, while the introduction of noise into the marine environment needs to be considered due to the presence of important populations of cetaceans in the area.
The study area coastal and marine environment is additionally affected by natural pressures; seismicity is assumed to be the main current physical hazard, whilst future projections indicate severe climate change forcing. Both are anticipated to have significant impacts mainly on land-based (coastal) activities via, e.g., extensive coastal failures and shoreline retreat. Thereof, the sustainability and allocation of species and habitats, and consequently the ecosystem services to which they contribute are further impacted. Thus, the development of Blue Growth sectors infrastructure (e.g., coastal tourism, port infrastructure) should definitely consider the potential climatic forcing (e.g., SLR) so as to avoid areas susceptible to total loss under extreme climatic conditions. Moreover, the multiple human activities such as coastal urbanization, artificial constructions, extended abstraction of riverine aggregates induce further pressures and result in additional compromise of ecosystem services. The conservation of species and habitats present in the study area is vital in terms of biodiversity, while the protection of river deltas, lagoons and coastal areas is imperative as they are natural grounds for aquaculture, one of the most important and economically robust Blue Growth sectors in Greece. Finally, the excellent bathing water quality and the approximately 50 blue flags assigned to the beaches in the area depict the potential to sustain and sustainably increase coastal tourism.

6. Conclusions

The coastal and marine environment of the Inner Ionian-Gulf of Patras-Gulf of Corinth is characterized, on the one hand, by vital ecosystems and high biodiversity, including numerous rare and protected species of community interest and on the other hand by multiple anthropogenic activities such as urban and industrial uses, dense maritime transport, ports infrastructure, coastal and nautical tourism, fishing, marine aquaculture, submarine cables, desalination and gas–oil exploration. Although the area is highly developed with multiple activities taking place and despite its semi-enclosed character, the environmental status of the ecosystems concerning contaminants and nutrient levels is good. Additionally, the study area is affected by natural pressures (seismicity, climate change) which are anticipated to have significant impacts (e.g., extensive coastal failures, shoreline retreat) mainly on land-based (coastal) activities.
Ecosystem-based Blue Growth has the potential to prevent the expansion of aggravating anthropogenic activities and can contribute to their regulation, thus, securing the benefits of Blue Growth with respect to the conservation of natural capital. The understanding of several aspects of the marine ecosystems of the study area delivered by this work intends to support decision-making regarding the necessary actions for the conservation of habitats and species, coastal resilience, and necessary responses relating to Blue Growth activities and associated environmental pressures. As a thorough knowledge of the marine environment characteristics, functions, and pressures induced by existing activities allows to successfully apply ecosystem-based Blue Growth, future actions should include an integrated approach to the study area based on sufficient and regularly acquired data from both the coastal environment and the open sea in the framework of monitoring networks (e.g., WFD and MSFD) and local schemes, which will support concrete assessments of environmental pressures and associated impacts, as well as adaptive maritime spatial planning (MSP).

Author Contributions

Conceptualization, T.P., A.K. and S.P. (Serafeim Poulos); methodology, T.P., A.K. and S.P. (Serafeim Poulos); data curation, T.P., A.K., S.P. (Stelios Petrakis) and N.M.; formal analysis, T.P., A.K., S.P. (Stelios Petrakis), N.M., P.M., M.D. and S.P. (Serafim Poulos); writing—original draft preparation, T.P., A.K. and S.P. (Serafeim Poulos); writing—review and editing, T.P., A.K., S.P. (Stelios Petrakis), N.M., P.M., M.D. and S.P. (Serafeim Poulos); supervision, M.D. and S.P. (Serafeim Poulos); funding acquisition, S.P. (Serafeim Poulos). All authors have read and agreed to the published version of the manuscript.

Funding

This research was funded by the School of Sciences of the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, and by the SUPREME project EASME/EMFF/2015/1.2.1.3/01/S12.742087.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflict of interest. The funders had no role in the design of the study; in the collection, analyses, or interpretation of data; in the writing of the manuscript; or in the decision to publish the results.

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Figure 1. Physico-geographic characteristics of the Inner Ionian-Gulf of Patras-Gulf of Corinth case study area.
Figure 1. Physico-geographic characteristics of the Inner Ionian-Gulf of Patras-Gulf of Corinth case study area.
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Figure 2. Natura 2000 habitats present in the Inner Ionian-Gulf of Patras-Gulf of Corinth study area (source: [41]).
Figure 2. Natura 2000 habitats present in the Inner Ionian-Gulf of Patras-Gulf of Corinth study area (source: [41]).
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Figure 4. Pressures on the coastal and marine environment of the Inner Ionian-Gulf of Patras-Gulf of Corinth and bathing water quality for the year 2021 [58,60]; WWTPs (peak population served by WWTP and average input load of BOD5/day) [55].
Figure 4. Pressures on the coastal and marine environment of the Inner Ionian-Gulf of Patras-Gulf of Corinth and bathing water quality for the year 2021 [58,60]; WWTPs (peak population served by WWTP and average input load of BOD5/day) [55].
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Figure 5. Municipal units in the Inner Ionian-Gulf of Patras-Gulf of Corinth and income (in euros per capita) (adapted from [54]).
Figure 5. Municipal units in the Inner Ionian-Gulf of Patras-Gulf of Corinth and income (in euros per capita) (adapted from [54]).
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Table 1. The Natura 2000 protected areas of the Gulf of Corinth under the Gulf of Corinth Management Body (source: [42]).
Table 1. The Natura 2000 protected areas of the Gulf of Corinth under the Gulf of Corinth Management Body (source: [42]).
CodeCategorySiteSurface (km2)
GR 2320006SPA-SACAlyki Aigiou0.32
GR 2450004SAC-proposed SCICoastal Zone Nafpaktos-Itea106.38
GR 245009SPABroader Galaxidi area121.57
GR 2530003SACAkrokorinthos5.90
GR 2530005SACGerania Mountains68.36
GR 2530007proposed SCIGulf of Corinth2363.54
Note(s): Special Protection Areas (SPA), Proposed Sites for Community Importance (pSCI), Sites of Community Importance (SCI), and Special Areas of Conservation (SAC).
Table 3. Ports of international, national, regional and local importance in the study area [56].
Table 3. Ports of international, national, regional and local importance in the study area [56].
Ports of International InterestPorts of National ImportancePorts of Major InterestPorts of Local Importance
Central Greece Itea8
Peloponnese Corinth 4
Western Greece PatrasKatakolo, KylliniAigio,
Messolonghi
2
Ionian Islands Argostoli,
Zakynthos
Lefkada, Poros29
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MDPI and ACS Style

Paramana, T.; Karditsa, A.; Petrakis, S.; Milatou, N.; Megalofonou, P.; Dassenakis, M.; Poulos, S. Ecosystem-Based Blue Growth: The Case of the Semi-Enclosed Embayment of the Inner NE Ionian Sea and Adjacent Gulfs. Water 2023, 15, 2892. https://doi.org/10.3390/w15162892

AMA Style

Paramana T, Karditsa A, Petrakis S, Milatou N, Megalofonou P, Dassenakis M, Poulos S. Ecosystem-Based Blue Growth: The Case of the Semi-Enclosed Embayment of the Inner NE Ionian Sea and Adjacent Gulfs. Water. 2023; 15(16):2892. https://doi.org/10.3390/w15162892

Chicago/Turabian Style

Paramana, Theodora, Aikaterini Karditsa, Stelios Petrakis, Niki Milatou, Persefoni Megalofonou, Manos Dassenakis, and Serafeim Poulos. 2023. "Ecosystem-Based Blue Growth: The Case of the Semi-Enclosed Embayment of the Inner NE Ionian Sea and Adjacent Gulfs" Water 15, no. 16: 2892. https://doi.org/10.3390/w15162892

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