Last week I made another visit to Gyaros, the angular jutting rock island that sits just a few kilometres from the west coast of Syros. It was a hot unrelenting day with barely a breath of wind which seemed fitting for the inhospitable nature of the place. In three years since I last visited, the former prison island hasn’t changed much, a few more collapsed walls and perilous roof sections in the main prison, smatterings of new graffiti scratched in walls. More goats and sheep seem to be reclaiming the decaying spaces, as we walked hawks circled above and rabbits raced in the wild grasses.
The islands past may be dark. But it’s future is in flux. It is protected now under the NATURA framework but since 2011 it has been considered as a site for development and plans to use the island as a site for wind turbines are causing friction.
The island is a case study of rewilding in action; without human disturbance nature wins. The fish and seal colonies can thrive, wild birds and small mammals can breed without the threat of being hunted. But at what cost does this future come? What is lost if wind turbines are exiled here? How will the island’s past compete with its future? It right to let the prison buildings decay without memorialising what happened here?
I left the island with more questions than answers; drawn to the barren rock again as a stark reminder of human capacity for inflicting pain and intolerance. The ways we tell ourselves it is easier to turn away, rather than confront. To stand by, rather than act. To believe it is not our story to tell – to let each life, human or animal, fade into dust, without asking why, or if they even mattered at all.