Links of interest for

Greece : Agios Efstratios


The Greek Islands comprise more than 6,000 islands and islets covering much of the eastern Mediterranean. Only about 230 are inhabited and, of these, just 80 or so have more than 100 permanent inhabitants. The largest Greek island by area is Crete, located at the southern edge of the Aegean Sea. The second largest island is Euboea, which is separated from the mainland by the 60m-wide Euripus Strait, and after the third and fourth largest, Lesvos and Rhodes, the rest of the islands are two-thirds of the area of Rhodes, or smaller. The latter are represented by the Greek Small Islands Network (EDMN).

The Greek islands are traditionally grouped into the following six major clusters:

Ionian: Found off the north-west coast of mainland Greece in the Ionian Sea these contain the popular holiday islands of Corfu, Kefalonia and Zante.
Saronic: These lie in the Saronic gulf near Athens and the main islands here are Aegina and Poros.
Cyclades: A large, dense group of islands in the central Aegean Sea that include the popular holiday islands of Mykonos and Santorini.
North Aegean: A loose island group to the north-east of Greece. The main holiday destinations here are Thassos, Lesvos and Samos.
Sporades: A small, tightly-knit island group just off the east coast of Greece that include Skiathos and Skopelos.
Dodecanese: A long and loose string of islands that follow the Turkish coast and include the popular holiday beaches on Kos and Rhodes.

Politically, there are 13 administrative regions known as Peripheries of Greece (nine on the mainland and four island groups), which are further subdivided into 3 super-prefectures and 54 prefectures or nomes. The North Aegean is one of these thirteen regions and consists of the prefectures (provinces) of Chios, Lesvos and Samos. For the purposes of this case study we are going to concentrate on Lesvos, which is made up of three islands: Lesvos, Lemnos and Agios Efstratios. The Prefecture has over 150,000 inhabitants, 260 of which live on the 42 sq km island of Agios Efstratios (or Ai Stratis) selected in 2009 as the first Greek 'green island' to be entirely powered by renewable energy sources (RES).

Renewable Energy & Eco Housing

Greek islands present many advantages for the promotion of sustainable energy planning because they usually possess a significant RES potential, which remains practically unexploited, whereas energy demand depends highly on imported conventional fuels. In addition, Greek islands very often present significant tourism related activities causing high seasonal variations in energy demand and producing severe impacts on the natural environment. These impacts along with the adverse environmental effects of conventional fuels may negatively affect the sustainable development of the tourism sector. That said, plans to build wind farms have been thwarted by local authorities who fear their picture-perfect landscape will become blighted by large turbines and scare off tourism. This has happened on Serifos and conservationists have fought to keep a major wind farm off Skyros because it would threaten rare breeding bird species and native horses.

The Greek authorities have amassed three decades experience of system technology for renewable energies starting with the installation of the first wind farm in Europe on Kythnos, one of the less known islands of the Cyclades. Kythnos went on to pioneer a new generation of modular hybrid power supply based on AC-coupling. Again in the Cyclades, Milos is aiming to become the first 'Hellenic hydrogen island' with the realization of various projects related to hydrogen production, storage and use. An integrated renewable energy network is presently being built on the North Eastern Aegean Island of Ikaria.

The Ios-Aegean Energy Agency in cooperation with various other institutions undertook an initiative to elaborate a consistent strategy for the development of RES and energy savings in Aegean islands. Their resultant study published in January 2009 concluded "the maturity of RES technologies offers the opportunity for the islands to reach energy independence, by the integrated large-scale exploitation of their abundant RES potential with respect to the natural environment and in harmony with local activities. It is therefore of primary importance to investigate this possibility and to establish local plans identifying the optimal path towards maximum RES integration in islands with the aim to achieve 100% RES supply."

In March 2009 the then Greek Development Minister, Kostis Hatzidakis, announced the many candidates for their 'green island' project. Agios Efstratios, Nisyros and Tilos were the front-runners. The Public Power Corporation submitted an investment plan of 100m euro for the establishment of nine 'green islands' using the geothermal potential of Kos, Kalymnos, Lipsi, Leros, Telendos, Pserimos, Gyalos, Nisyros and Tilos. On the other hand, Agios is the only island not connected to the continental power grid and the daily energy needs of its 260 inhabitants was not higher than 200kW currently met by oil-fired generators producing 1MW. Perhaps more pertinent, the outlay would cost only 10 million euro compared to a budget ten times greater for a bigger island and the time for the project's realisation would be short. Agios Efstratos was therefore chosen but it is understood a geothermal plant of 25MW is still planned for Nisyros, part of the Dodecanese group, which will meet the energy needs of this island by 100% for 24 hours a day. The Minister underlined that the promotion of green energy use was a priority for the government and pointed out that since 2004 the installed power of plants using renewable sources was tripled from 430 to 1,350 MW.

Work on Agios Efstratios was expected to begin in 2010 with the cost covered by the General Secretariat of Research and Technology. Wind generators and photovoltaic systems were to be installed, while a biomass production plant was to be constructed to replace the oil power station on the island. Even the means of transportation were to be replaced by electric vehicles. Technical and economic studies were to be conducted by the Public Power Corporation, National Technical University of Athens, University of Aegean and Centre for Renewable Energy Sources and Saving who were advocating hydrogen applications for small islands. Information about sustainable energy efficient buildings and their construction would also be expected from the Interdisciplinary Institute for Environmental Research (DIPE) who manage an informative website on green building.

{Update Sept 2010. CRES will be responsible for implementing this project, which will last three years and the proposed electricity production system will consist of the existing conventional power generators and a new hybrid plant of one or two wind turbines (460 kW), a PV station (100 kW), batteries (2000 kWh), inverters (340 kW), an electrolysing unit, a tank for the storage of H2 and an electricity production unit from H2 (75 kW). Moreover, it is foreseen the creation of a basic infrastructure for the use of H2 in transportation including electric vehicles. The main objective is to make Agios Efstratios an "open laboratory for innovative green technologies and sustainable development through organic agriculture with national and international impact."}

On neighbouring island of Lemnos the RES prospects are considered very high, concentrating on the solar and wind potential as well as biomass exploitation utilising the significant amount of agricultural residues together with the traditional wood-stoves and the development of energy crops. An Action Plan pp 49-55 has been supported by a cost-effectiveness analysis and an Aegean Interconnection Project is under consideration.

Waste Minimisation & Recycling

It is not known what facilities presently exist or might be introduced on Agios Efstratios. However, Terragon Environmental Technologies has a special interest in small isolated communities like islands and is developing highly innovative technologies that allow anyone to convert, economically and safely, small quantities of waste into useful products. For example, their Micro Auto Gasification System (MAGS) that can in one day treat the waste typically generated by a community of up to 500 persons might be particularly suitable for Ai Stratis.

For many centuries olive oil production has been a particularly developed practice on the islands of the North Aegean. The high economic growth the island economies enjoyed from the 19th century until the beginning of the 20th century is largely attributed to the flourishing olive oil production sector. This economic growth was due to the fact that the olive products were of significant economic value on one hand, and that a particular trading relationship, based on these products, was developed between the N. Aegean islands and the coasts of Minor Asia and Istanbul. Even today olive production plays a leading role in the economy of most islands and on Lesvos for example, the olive industry accounts for 3.6% up to 15.3% of the GDP, depending on the olive-growing period.

A number of by-products are produced during the olive oil production process. These are the pomace, which consists of mainly the pits of the fruits and solids after pressing, olive leaves, that are carried away with the olives as the latter are being collected, and a significant quantity of vegetable water of high organic load, known as 'liozoumi', 'katsigaros' or 'mourga'. Direct dumping of olive mill wastewater in the environment is unacceptable due to its high organic load and the presence of polyphenols. Thus treatment is required prior to disposal and University of the Aegean was engaged in a major pilot research project to investigate innovative olive mill wastewater management systems.

Water Management & Security

As on other Greek islands there is an increasing frequency of drought on Agios Efstratios, which means not only a shortage of drinking water but irrigation problems. Transportation of drinkable water from mainland or bigger islands is an inconvenient solution and expensive. Conventional desalination plants only worsen the situation since they require considerable amounts of power at a time when, particularly in summer with the arrival of tourists, the islands barely manage to meet their energy requirements. The use of chemicals in sensitive environmental areas, and the disposal of brine are associated difficulties to overcome. This conundrum has been recognised by Prof Nikitas Nikitakos, Informatics and Naval Electronic Technology Dept, Univ of Aegean, who is a strong supporter of the Ai Stratis 'green island' project. His department were behind another project in 2007 to design and position a wind powered floating desalination plant off the Cyclades island of Irakleia for 18 months. This pilot unit used sea water as feedwater and a 30kW wind turbine for producing 70,000 litres of potable water daily, a quantity corresponding to the needs of approximately 300 people. A further advantage of the system was that is fully automated, remotely controlled and can be tele-operated.

In 2009, the Municipality of Hydra in the Saronic Gulf collaborated with EWA Tech Greece to install a pilot unit for the Extraction of Water from Air (EWA) in order to evaluate this new technology as an alternative water source to solve their severe shortage brought about by drought conditions.

Extensive Agriculture & Organic Food Production

The climate on Agios Efstratios is arid, with little rainfall during the winter months and long, hot summers. The landscape is mostly rocky, with scarce and low vegetation. As a consequence, there is very little agriculture and fishing is the main source of livelihoods. The neighbouring island of Lemnos has a strong husbandry tradition. Its hillsides afford pasture for sheep and the island is famous for its feta and melipasto cheeses, and for its yoghurt. Fruit and vegetables that grow on the island include almonds, figs, melons, watermelons, tomatoes, pumpkins and olives. The main crops are wheat, barley and sesame, reflecting the fact this island was Constantinople's granary during Byzantine times. Lemnos also produces honey (from thyme-fed bees), but, as is the case with most products of a local nature in Greece, the produced quantities are little more than simply sufficient for the local market. Muscat grapes are grown widely, and are used to produce an unusual table wine that is dry yet has a strong Muscat flavor. Since 1985 the variety and quality of Lemnos wines have increased greatly. The Lesvos province has an e-commerce portal with a comprehensive directory of local producers including some purely organic enterprises like Terra Aeolica.


The sole direct connection from Agios Efstratios to the Greek mainland is an eight-hour ferry from the port of Lavrio near Athens. In summer a small Limnos-based ferry, the Aiolis , sails every weekday (Mon-Fri) at 3pm from Limnos, returning the next morning. Despite recent harbour improvements, this is still a very exposed anchorage, and in bad weather you could end up stranded here far longer than you bargained for. If an indefinite stay does not appeal, it's best to visit from Limnos on the day-trip offered by the Aiolis (usually on Sun).

Sustainable Tourism & Niche Marketing

Greece is considered one of the oldest and more resilient tourism brands but is facing increasing environmental problems as cited in this presentation by the Athens based Director of ECOCLUB. Agios Efstratios is neither a mainstream holiday resort or ecotourism destination featured prominently in the official tourism website. The island will only appeal to visitors who appreciate a simple, healthy and completely relaxing life away from crowds. It does have some pristine sandy beaches, many sea caves and small churches but only one village with little or no facilities apart from some rooms to rent, traditional coffee shops and a few tavernas. It is an ideal place for a stress-free camping and trekking holiday.

Agios Efstratios has been inhabited since prehistoric times. Many scholars maintain that it is the mythical island of Chryse (or Nea, Neai or Hiera), where Philoctetes had his horrible accident and where he remained abandoned until near the end of the Trojan War. Human settlement is well attested in the Byzantine period, when the island was made over to the Athonite monastery of the Great Lavra. It is probably named after the ascetic Saint Eustratius who is said to have lived on the island in the ninth century as an exile because he was opposed to the iconoclastic policies of the Byzantine Emperor Leo the Armenian. Locals will proudly show his supposed grave inside a cave.

From the beginning of the nineteenth century the people of Ai Stratis started emigration to various other places in the Ottoman Empire in considerable numbers. On 18th October 1912 a detachment of the Greek army was landed on Ai-Stratis, which was annexed to Greece at the end of the Balkan Wars. In more recent times the island was used to house some 10,000 political prisoners in internal exile from the interwar years to 1962. On 19 February 1968, an earthquake demolished most of the houses, which were replaced by concrete prefabricated buildings laid out in a military-like camp formation. In the 1970s, the island was again used as an offshore prison for political activists.

A Museum of Democracy was opened in 2006 when the Greek President cut a piece of barbed wire rather than a ribbon at the inauguration ceremony. The museum's archives and collections are housed in a restored and converted neoclassical building, a former school that used to serve as an infirmary for the exiles. The museum's displays give evidence of the histories of individual dissidents many of who were famed artists, musicians, poets and writers, show life at the camp and the daily struggle of the inmates on a personal and collective level.

Biodiversity & Protected Areas

Agios Efstratios is included in the European Union's Natura 2000 network of protected areas due to its well-preserved ecosystem. Eleonora's falcons nest on the sea cliffs and the numerous caves around the coastline provide ideal shelter for the Mediterranean monk seal that may still breed here. One of the world's most endangered marine mammals, with fewer than 600 individuals currently surviving, MOm undertake research and protection work. In many respects Agios Efstratios would be a good candidate to become another Greek National Marine Park like Alonissos and Zakynthos.

On the neighbouring island of Lemnos the two lakes of Alyki and Chortarolimni are important wetlands also incorporated in the network Natura 2000. Because of their geographical location they serve as a refuge and breeding ground for rare and protected species of birds. A typical species that arrives on Lemnos in the autumn and departs in the late spring is the flamingo. Flamingos range across the whole Mediterranean area, from Iran to the south of France, and are attracted to the lagoons by the plentiful supply of food and an environment untroubled by human interference. They live on a species of small shrimp, which exists in abundance in the shallow waters of the lagoons. It has been calculated that each flamingo eats at least 5 kilos of shrimps per month. Given that the population of flamingos in Greece is estimated to be about 7-8,000, their presence in the Alyki lagoon in numbers totaling 5,500 in 1996 is clear indication of its importance as a biotope for this species.

Lesvos also has several Natura 2000 sites and has quite rightly established itself as one of the premier birding destinations within the Mediterranean basin. The Lesvos Petrified Forest is a major geological and paleontological site and a founding member of the European Geoparks Network.

The Bern Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats has several working groups of experts including one on European Island Biological Diversity and another on Biodiversity and Climate Change who produced a report in 2010 about observed and projected impacts of climate change on the biodiversity of European islands. An earlier baseline study produced for the IUCN Centre for Mediterranean Cooperation to discuss key linkages between climate change, water and wetlands resource and management in Greece is a useful summary document.

Integrated Development Planning

The Aegean Sea comprises 90 inhabited islands, the majority of which have an inestimable ecological and archaeological value. Nevertheless, the present model of development (massive tourism, extensive construction, abandonment of agriculture etc.) combined with the scarcity of resources (energy, water, human capital) is seriously threatening their fragile ecosystems and social cohesion. A recent paper using analysis and observations from the North Aegean seeks to identify the key features and main factors of spatial development and interaction in small islands to help in engaging better policy and planning actions.

The Network of Aegean Islands for Sustainability (DAFNI) is a voluntary scheme of island communities aiming to promote a sustainable future, through concerted action. Every member of the network is committed to achieving a number of concrete targets, which are subject to external certification. Currently, 37 island municipalities of the Aegean Sea are members of DAFNI aiming towards:

  • A balance of economic growth with environmental standards and social concerns
  • Regional development through qualitative tourism, social participation and innovative structures including e-governance
  • New energy and water management schemes, including renewables and desalination

DAFNI is supported technically and scientifically by various institutions including the National Technical University of Athens, which is charged with the evaluation process through the development of indicators for insular sustainability. Islands that succeed to fulfill their commitments are awarded the DAFNI label. DAFNI also currently works in association with the Ios-Aegean Energy Agency to prove the effectiveness of sustainable energy solutions as outlined in this presentation at the launch of the ISLE-PACT project in 2010 that DAFNI is a partner.

Climate change

The Ministry of Environment, Energy and Climate Change  has been established in order to confront the continuous environmental problems and to adopt a new development model – the model of Green Development - that will secure a better quality of life for every citizen. Their website contains much useful information about the Mediterranean Climate Change Initiative and their new National Renewable Energy Action Plan.