The multihued waters of the Aegean Sea sparkle by the...

The multihued waters of the Aegean Sea sparkle by the islet of Kounoupa off the island of Astypalea, Greece, on Aug. 30, 2021. Greece aims to create two large marine parks as part of a 780 million euro program to protect biodiversity and marine ecosystems, with the plans to be formally announced at an international oceans conference starting in Athens Tuesday. Credit: AP/Giovanna Dell'Orto

ATHENS, Greece — Greece will be able to create the two new major marine parks it has announced for the Ionian Sea and the Aegean Sea by the end of this year, the country’s environment and energy minister said Wednesday.

Speaking during an international ocean conference in Athens, Theodoros Skylakakis said scientific studies to determine details such as which species will be protected and what measures must be taken will be completed and implemented by year's end.

“Real protection needs to be backed by real science,” Skylakakis said.

The creation of the park in the Aegean has irked Greece’s neighbor and regional rival Turkey, which has accused Athens of exploiting environmental issues to push a geopolitical agenda. Greece’s foreign ministry retorted that Ankara was “politicizing a clearly environmental issue.”

The NATO allies have been at odds for decades over a variety of issues, including territorial claims in the Aegean.

Omer Celik, spokesman for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan ’s ruling party, said on Wednesday that Turkey would “not allow” the creation of marine parks in the Aegean and called on Greece to abandon plans that would “harm” efforts to improve ties.

Relations have been improving over the past year following a period of heightened tensions that saw the countries’ warships face off in the eastern Mediterranean.

In this Monday, May 25, 2020 photo, medical staff in...

In this Monday, May 25, 2020 photo, medical staff in a dinghy leaves from the Aegean Sea island of Milos to Sikinos island, Greece. Greece aims to create two large marine parks as part of a 780 million euro program to protect biodiversity and marine ecosystems, with the plans to be formally announced at an international oceans conference starting in Athens Tuesday. Credit: AP/Thanassis Stavrakis

“We consider this a step that sabotages the normalization process and that this unilateral approach is an exploitation of environmental sensitivities,” Celik said.

“We would like to remind Greece once again that it should not deviate from the path of diplomacy, that no steps that would harm normalization should be taken and that Turkey will in no way allow actions toward the declaration of marine parks in the Aegean Sea,” he said.

The park in the Aegean will have a series of rocky islets at its core and aims to protect seabirds, covering more than 8,000 square kilometers (3,088 square miles) or just over 6.6% of Greece’s territorial waters.

The park in the Ionian Sea in western Greece will focus on the protection of marine mammals and extend over 14,000 square kilometers (over 5,400 square miles) from north of the island of Kefallonia to Antikythira in the south, covering 11% of Greek territorial waters.

In this Monday, May 25, 2020 photo, medical staff in...

In this Monday, May 25, 2020 photo, medical staff in a dinghy leaves from the Aegean Sea island of Milos to Sikinos island, Greece. Greece aims to create two large marine parks as part of a 780 million euro program to protect biodiversity and marine ecosystems, with the plans to be formally announced at an international oceans conference starting in Athens Tuesday. Credit: AP/Thanassis Stavrakis

A new system to monitor the parks that will include the use of drones, satellites and artificial intelligence will be ready by 2026, Skylakakis said, with monitoring by traditional methods until then.

The parks' creation was part of Greece’s pledges during the Our Ocean Conference. Other measures include a ban on bottom trawling in national marine parks by 2026 and in all marine protected areas by 2030, reducing plastic pollution and mapping marine habitats of protected areas.

Nearly 120 countries and 20 international and regional organizations attended the two-day conference, raising $11.3 billion in more than 460 commitments for marine-related environmental protection, organizers said.

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