Case Study of Airport Noise in Zakynthos
On the island of Zakynthos (Greece), there has been a specific threat from the close proximity of the main runway to key nesting beaches for the Loggerhead Sea Turtle - Caretta caretta. This section highlights this threat and reveals some of the conflicts and solutions that have emerged as a result.
  • Zakynthos airport is located in the south of the island and the end of the runway is within 1 kilometre of the key nesting beaches of Kalamaki and Laganas. The beaches near this flight path account for approximately 20% of the total nests in Laganas Bay, one of the most important shores for nesting Caretta caretta in the Mediteranean. ( Average number of nests for 1984-90 season in Laganas Bay was 1269 - data from Margaritoulis & Arapis))

The following map shows the location of the airport and the close vicinity of nesting beaches.

Every year nearly 300,000 tourists visit the island, the vast majority arriving by air from all over Europe. There are many flights per day, all landing at this airport ( during July 1996, 313 flights arrived at the airport, an average of 10 flights per day and 45,876 tourists for the month - source MEDASSET,1996).


  • The jets fly very low over the beach after an approach across Laganas Bay. On some days they will approach from the northern part of the island, although this is not a common event. The following photographs were taken in 1993, whilst standing at the end of the runway, which is located less than 1 kilometre from nesting beaches.

  • View of main runway - Zakynthos airport.

  • Jet landing at Zakynthos airport.

Eyewitness account: Miles Smith (July 1993)

" We waded out until the water almost covered our shoulders. We could see loggerheads about 50m away, as their heads 'bobbed' up for air. In the distance far out over the bay, we could see an approaching jet. It banked and came directly towards us. As it approached, the roar steadily increased and it passed directly over our heads: it was so close you could easily make out the details of the fuselage and the under-carriage. We could also feel the vibrations as it passed through the water into our bodies. As the jet passed, there was a high whistle form the plane's jet-stream. A few minutes later ,you could hear the 'reverse' engine roar as the aeroplane slowed itself for a safe landing and deliver yet more tourists for a two week holiday on the island. "

  • The present situation:

A study in 1990 by the National Aviation Service on the impacts of the airport on nesting sea turtles showed clearly that significant disturbance occurred to nesting loggerheads. The greatest disturbance would occur at night and cause females to return to the sea without successful laying.

In 1990, the airport of Zakynthos banned flights between 22:00 and 5:00. In 1996, Olympic Airways rescheduled its last daily flight from Zakynthos to Athens, in order to avoid breaching of the ban.

  • An aircraft on final approach to Zakynthos airport.

To hear the sound of the jet flying over the nesting beach - click on the overhead plane.

Conflict of interests (June 20 1995) :

  • The headline of an article in the 'Times' newspaper, on 20th June 1995, highlighting the problem.

Extract from the Times article:
British toursists bound for Greece began their holiday a day late after an airport closed to allow a colony of rare turtles to lay their eggs.

A flight from Manchester to the Ionian Island of Zakynthos was delayed overnight to spare endangered loggerhead turtles the trauma of aircraft landing next to their nesting beach. The turtles lay only at night and are susceptible to noise and light.

The 200 Britons had expected to leave Manchester on Sunday afternoon but a technical fault delayed them for an hour. After spending the night at Hotels, passengers left nine hours behind schedule when Zakynthos airport reopened at 6am.

Nick Humphries, of the tour operator All Leisure, said: "The airport closes from 7pm until the early morning during the nesting season and our aircraft would not have got there before 7pm. It would probably have been diverted to the Greek mainland and the decision was taken to wait. It is proving a difficult problem for us. "

The arrival of summer package tourists each year conicides with the nesting and hatching season of the loggerhead. Tourist numbers have risen sharply the past five years and 40 per cent of the 300,000 tourists that visit the island are British.

(The article continues with a discussion of illegal buildings which threaten nesting turtles)

  • Another headline on the same day, but this time in the Daily Mail.

Extract from the Daily Mail article:

As an excuse for lateness it beats British Rail's leaves on the line.

But Holidaymakers waiting to fly out from Manchester Airport were less than amused to hear that their plane had been delayed to allow turtles to breed in peace......................

The plane finally took off yesterday, nine hours behind schedule. A spokesman for the All Leisure airline said: "The turtles are an endangered species and Zante airport closes from 7pm until the early hours during the breeding season. We are trying to reschedule our take-off times so everyone is happy."



The brief and trivial nature of the report on the Airport delay of tourists to Zakynthos implies that 200 British tourists were unecessarily discomfited because of the activities of a small group of interfering conservationists on behalf of an important colony of Mediterranean turtles whose protection is opposed by all the Greeks on the island.

The plane was late in leaving because of reasons nothing to do with marine turtles. This then meant that the plane would leave too late to arrive within the limits of the night time flying ban.

In reality the night flying ban that caused the delay is part of a well-integrated set of laws, set by the Greek Government and financially supported by the European Union, that seeks to protect the turtle and its breeding sites. There is a total exclusion order for these beaches from dusk to dawn. Unfortunately these laws have been poorly implemented.

There is, or course, strong opposition from some local people, mostly small landowners and particularly those making a living from beach activities. However, there is also strong support for conservation of the Loggerhead turtle both in Greece and on the Island. Among the groups conerned are the Sea Turtle Protection Society of Greece (STPS), MEDASSET (Mediterranean Association to Save the Sea Turtles) Greece and UK, WWF (Greece), Greenpeace (Greece), The Zakynthos Ecological Movement and the the Zakynthos Hotel Owners Association (ETAZ).

All these groups support the Government's legislation and its plans for a Marine National Park. A recent survey carried out in 1995 by the STPS suggested that 90% of visiting tourists supported the idea of a National Marine Park and 86% were willing to pay a surcharge towards the upkeep of the Marine Park.