Skip to main content

Founder & History

Yannis Vardakastanis

Yannis grew up on Zakynthos and has always had a passion for nature. After seeing first-hand how tourism has negatively impacted the environment here on Zakynthos, and the impact this has on the sea turtles, he started his own conservation organization called Earth, Sea & Sky (now the Mediterranean Marine Life Center) to protect Gerakas and the rest of the undeveloped areas.

He became a full-time conservationist in 1991 and established Earth Sea and Sky in 1993. Yannis’ efforts are focused on Gerakas, in the region of Vasilikos, which is the heart of the Carettta-caretta nesting grounds. In 1996 he built a small wooden information kiosk which has now grown into our information center. It is the only place on the island to educate and encourage tourists to take a closer look at the rich heritage, natural beauty, wildlife, and culture of Zakynthos, with the goal of protecting the island for future generations.

Yannis Vardakastanis has dedicated his career to protecting the paradise and helping visitors understand their impact on Zakynthos in helping people realise that our actions and behaviours matter. We must stop, think, and work together to preserve the natural world around us before it’s too late. In addition, Yannis helps research, monitor, and protect the sea turtles of Zakynthos.

  • 1980s – Yannis returned to Zakynthos and opened Gerakas Beach Bar, next to where he grew up, and the ocean-front bar quickly became a popular and lucrative tourist destination.
  • 1980s and 1990s – Tourism exploded and the sudden influx of tourists on the island resulted in the rushed development of hotels, restaurants, beachfront construction, and mounds of trash. In 35 years, the island went from 40,000 permanent residents/inhabitants to 2 million visitors each year, without adequate infrastructure or proper environmental protection.
  • 1991 – Yannis realised that his bar is part of the reason Zakynthos is becoming destroyed and relocates the bar off the beach and launches one of the first island businesses to focus on responsible eco-tourism and sustainability; profits go towards helping fund the first marine life information center.
  • 1993 – He launches a sea turtle center with the goal of protecting the island’s sea turtles and other marine wildlife and provide essential conservation education.
  • 1990s-2006 – Island tourism and commercialisation overtook Zakynthos, dividing the island’s community into those that make money from its beauty, and those that are committed to protecting the rare turtle habitats and other natural beauty.
  • 2006-present day – Yannis partnered with SEALIFE to develop an S.O.S. Rescue Center in Laganas Bay, which is seen by local residents and businesses as a major threat, and the hostility proves difficult to overcome. Today we continue to run the turtle center in Vasilikos to inform and educate visitors and tourists and help them avoid becoming a threat themselves.

“This is a disaster for the animals, our culture and our community. The next generation must learn from the mistakes my generation has made. Zakynthos may never recover. It’s a huge loss for us, the animals who depend on the island for survival and for the entire planet. Please open your eyes and begin to be the change. You are the future.”

Yannis Vardakastanis