The Greek island of Samothraki (also known as Samothrace) located in the Northern Aegean Sea, has an interesting problem. One of the country’s most rugged islands, Samothraki is home to less than 3,000 people and more than 50,000 goats.
That’s right- goats outnumber humans by more than a little bit. Samothraki is a relatively small island, with an area of 178 kilometers square at about 17 kilometers at its widest. Attempts at farming have been stymied by the steep mountains and valleys on the island, and the farming of goats became common practice among the locals.
The Erosion of Samothraki
In the absence of farmable land, goats have been allowed to roam free and graze on Samothraki with little intervention. In the 1990s, the goat population boomed to over 75,000 goats. The island’s vegetation was stripped down, and was unable to regrow due to the sheer number of animals that lived there.
Samothraki’s hills and valleys were left unprotected by vegetation, leaving them vulnerable to landslides and erosion from heavy rainfall and other weather. Without the roots of plants, trees, and other native vegetation, hillsides are unstable when faced with otherwise innocuous weather circumstances like rain or wind.
In September of 2017, Samothraki experienced excessive rainfall that led to floods and landslides. The landslides blocked roads while streams carved new routes through the valleys on their way to the ocean.
The goat population has dropped, but the animals still have a major impact on the natural balance of the island. The lack of food resources make the goats less valuable, but farmers are unable to move to other, more sustainable options without assistance. The island will continue to be vulnerable to weather as global climate change continues to affect fragile habitats like Samothraki.
An organization called the Sustainable Samothraki Association is seeking to increase the island’s resilience towards weather and manmade circumstances. The organization wants to classify Samothraki as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, which would increase the amount of support for local farmers as well as move the island towards a more sustainable future for all involved. The ultimate goal is to reduce the potential risks and ramifications of landslides, floods, and other disasters that could impact the human and natural populations of Samothraki.
Local initiatives around the world are seeking to protect vulnerable habitats in places like Samothraki. Sustainable practices are a small but integral way to try and create balance in our ever-changing world.
Petley, Dave. 8 October, 2019. Samothraki: the role of goats in increasing landslide hazard. Retrieved from https://blogs.agu.org/landslideblog/2019/10/08/samothraki-1/
Planet Team (2019). Planet Application Program Interface: In Space for Life on Earth. San Francisco, CA. https://www.planet.com/