The Greek volcanic island of Santorini with white houses, crystal blue beaches, steep slopes, stunning views and world-famous sunsets has never been that empty.
With the sun setting in the background, Greek Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis noted on June 13 that safety comes first as Greece was about to ease restrictions, opening up its tourism sector on June 15. But the first mass arrival of tourists after the coronavirus lockdown was expected on July 1 when Greece opened its regional airports on the islands.
Now Santorini residents hope to restart the island’s tourism industry that was severely hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, capitalising on Greece’s good track record in dealing with coronavirus.
But the pandemic also showed another side of the island, undisrupted by hordes of tourists and cruise ships. Usually crowded hotels, restaurants, alleys and beaches were completely deserted.
Now the plan is to make Santorini more sustainable. Greece’s Environment and Energy Minister Kostis Hatzidakis, who accompanied the Greek premier to Santorini on June 13-14, said the island is not only coronavirus-free but will also become plastic free.
“We are talking about projects for the environmental protection of Santorini,” he said, presenting three policies for the protection of the environment and the sustainable development of the island that will change its image.
Firstly, Greece’s Environment and Energy Ministry will prepare a Special Urban Plan for Santorini in collaboration with the Municipality of Thira, as the current urban planning is outdated, Hatzidakis said in a statement, adding that funding has already been secured by the Green Fund and the dossier for the relevant studies is being prepared. The Special Urban Plan for Santorini – which is expected to be completed in about 15 months – will include in addition to land use a number of other parameters, such as a plan to adapt to climate change, a plan to tackle disasters and a plan to characterise the islands’ overall local road network.
Secondly, the main points of the new waste management model for Santorini have been presented, including the construction of a waste treatment plant and a biowaste treatment plant, together with the necessary landfill are expected to give a final and permanent solution to the problem of garbage on the island, Hatzidakis said.
The ministry is also preparing a pilot programme to promote Santorini as a recycling model and an island without plastic waste. It is also planned to expand the infrastructure for the collection of recyclable materials and to create a separate stream for the collection of disposable plastic bottles from cruise ships, restaurants, hotels, etc.
“Santorini is one of the most beautiful places in Greece and a top tourist destination. Our priority is to protect and upgrade it with specific initiatives. With a Special Urban Plan for sustainable and controlled development, with modern waste treatment units that will replace today’s unacceptable landfill, but also with safe, cheaper and more environmentally friendly electricity that will be secured by the island’s submarine interconnection system,” Hatzidakis said, referring to the planned electrical connection of Santorini via the island of Naxos with the mainland. This is a project with a budget of 117 million euros that is expected to be completed by 2023 as part to connect the Cyclades group of islands. And that means that Santorini will also get more environmental-friendly energy.