Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Ichthyology at Oroklini Lake

Spring 2014, 
Oroklini Lake, Cyprus

Fish are supposed to be good indicators. Indicators of what?
At a small coastal marsh in southeastern Cyprus the fishes have guided us towards a different path of understanding  the inner workings of unique limnosystem: its past, present and management for future rehabilitation. Our work at Oroklini Lake is the first to investigate fish and explore aspects of a holistic management.

Fish are important in understanding the integrity of ecosystems - and they help us unravel what a place needs to resotore any semblance of its past natural state.

The Oroklini Lake area or Oroklini Lake Wetland area has four regularly occurring species of fish:
  • Striped Grey Mullet (Mugil cephalus
  • Thin-Lipped Grey Mullet (Liza ramada)
  • Eastern Mosquitofish
  • European Eel 
We have been studying fish at Oroklini in the framework of  a Life Nature project.
But fish are very very scarce in the system!!! I mean you go down, watch for fish and usually see none! (But there are always plenty of birds)....So what does this indicate?

Our understanding so far gives the following research results.

Firstly we discovered that Oroklini Lake is a special heavily modified watland area that has been poorly researched in terms of its hydrobiology.

1) What was "Oroklini lake" before it was artificially "heavily" modified by humans? And this is a critical question because it may lead us to understand how the limnosystem worked, and how native fishes adapted and developed communities and strategies for survival when this was a natural wetland.

Answer: At least one 19th century map does show a lake at the spot - actually being fed by a stream so the "lake" was a natural area and since flow was from a stream - an estuary or river-mouth was present. We are nearly certain the site formed a coastal lagoon system. A seasonally-arid coastal lagoon system that may have gained waters either from the small stream and/or from south-wind marine water surges.

2) Is Oroklini a lake or a coastal lagoon?

Answer: Coastal Lagoon but with a grain of salt (!!!). Most visitors who see the "Lake" today would argue against this since the system is atypical...and in a very peculiar "degraded" situation today. In fact the "lake-like basin" is separated by a wide sandy coastal bar that is about 400 m wide and the connections to the sea are only two artificial drainage canals (the "West Canal" is actually no longer directly connected to the lake basin...). However I am calling it a heavily modified coastal lagoon for the following reasons: a) The historic map I have shows a natural lacustrine body by the shore with an inflowing stream, and the low depression near the shoreline creates conditions for flooding and water flow toward the sea. Coastal process - head-on south winds would build a sandbar. Also, the salina-like pan is salty - brackish usually today. I am sure it was originally a coastal lagoon habitat.

3) What would you expect to be the 'reference conditions' of the wetland?

Answer: Weird and varied coastal lagoon stuff (...). The system was MUCH bigger 100 years ago. So there was a connection with the sea (perhaps more run-off, perhaps marine wave flooding...). However it is a very small catchment and drought does effect and extirpate fishes. So I expect only Mugilids, Eel, Mediterranean Killifish  - that's all. To construct references (i.e. refrence conditions to guid restoration) we need to look deeply into the ecological history of the site (and that's another project altogether).

4) What would you do now?

Answer: Just like you can restore and enhance habitat for birds, you can do the same for fish, and here some suggestions:

a) Protect the inflow and ensure outflows to the sea (one outflow, the East Canal exists - see report).
b) Ensure unobstructed passage of eels and mugilids from the sea. Provide "turf" for the elvers to scale the Spillway Sluice at the "Lake"-proper and provide passage from both Canals.
c) Ensure refugia for eels and mugilids during normal years.
d) Conditions are not optimal for introducing Killifish (Aphanius fasciatus) but perhaps an experimental attempt can be carried out. The big problem here is that most waters dry out on very dry years and in "normal years" there is an abundance of mosquitofish (a direct competitor and aggressive alien invasive). The question of re-introducing Mediterranean Killifish is important - it needs some bold experimenting.

Have a look at my report:


Please see acknowledgments in the report for all the people who banded together and helped us in this. And in 2018, the local Water Development Department also attempted their first eel pass- could work!

Yours truly, looking for fish in the salty mud. Good help from Athina Papatheodoulou and friends. 

Phragmites reeds.

Upper part of the "Lake" above the weir - floods in winter and is full of birds.

Restoration actions by BirdLife Cyprus.

Birds are good indicators too!

Thursday, May 23, 2019

A Landscape Assessment Protocol

"Reading the landscape": LAP - a new assessment protocol 
Published in "Sustainability" April 2019

In a recent paper, we introduce an on-site field survey method to assess the conservation condition of landscapes, the LAP.

ASSESSING LANDSCAPES...a daunting task...

Using a popular rapid assessment format - scoring metrics from viewpoints - this study defines observable “stressed states” in each metric in order to gauge overall landscape degradation. Fifteen metrics within six thematic categories were selected through a literature review and extensive field trials.

The protocol effectively goes beyond a traditional visual aesthetic assessment; it can be used both by experts and non-scientists as a conservation-relevant procedure to support a holistic landscape diagnosis. The combination of an on-site experiential survey and its simple integrative format may be useful as a screening-level index, and for promoting local participation, landscape literacy and educational initiatives.

Please read at: Sustainability 11, 2019

In the near-future we will present a how-to-guide on this protocol, for now any correspondence on the issue should go to Panayotis Dimopoulos (pdimopoulos@upatras) and Vassiliki Vlami (vas.vlami@gmail.com).

The LAP field form’s scoring card with the 15 metrics used to assess landscape conservation status (these are scored by the assessor using a 10-1 (Excellent-Bad) scale and guided by a detailed guidance narrative. 

Results of index calculation of 35 landscape sites on Samothraki, as assessed by a single expert.

Field tests on Samothraki show a positive correlation between a single expert’s scores and five assessor’s scores at 35 landscape sites.

Kozbeyli wind farm and the noticeable changes to landscape and ecosystems due to this ridge-line location site; typical of many wind turbine developments in Turkey and other areas (from paper on scoring wind park impacts, see: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1364032115014008)

This is a descriptive poster from an initiative that describes restoration actions and gives the impression that we are dealing with the landscape scale. It focuses on functions such as water cycles etc. (see: https://www.behance.net/gallery/73243657/Ecosystem-Restoration-Camps)
And finally, the much tweeted graphic showing that wildlife is a good indicator of landscape degradation (origins unknown, but definately a true graphic). Same could be said about flora and natural vegetation metrics.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Amateur ichthyology in Vancouver: 2008 flashback

Flashback: Summer 2008

Back in the summer of 2008, Dimitri and I (later Vasso too) spent a full month or more in Vancouver, my home city. "We" were writing my PhD then and stayed at my Sister's and Brother's homes. It was a memorable because my son was wild about fishing and I really enjoyed the fish-watching.

I share some photos, most of them personal, but I guess you get the idea.  An 11 year old kid really should be exposed to the wonders of the aqua-world in this way. And we are so much richer for it.







Spiny dogfish, not caught by us - it needs special gear and is targetted by the oriental fishers on the Kits jetty. 


And a final shot of my sadly lost friend Volker Bodegom who passed away in 2018. We would often go to these swiming holes on the Seymour when I was a student back in the days...We miss you Volker! 

River barriers and conservation actions in Greece: First-ever meeting!

(Zarris on stage, Photo by M. Gaethlich)
River Conservation Actions: National AMBER meeting in Athens
May 8th 2019

This was the first-ever meeting to deploy the concept of river barrier and dam removal in Greece! It was organized by the AMBER consortium (Adaptive Management of Barriers in European River, an EU supported H2020 project). The meeting was supported by the Hellenic Ministry of Environment and Energy and HCMR. And it was tightly focused on the issue of barriers, river engineering to mitigate and restore rivers.

I came away from this with a lot of good knowledge, and also some pain: some brief inflection points here:

-We really need to focus on barriers in Greece, we circulated a questionnaire and are working with a PhD student on this issue, but its really just a beginning for Greece.

- Greece is focusing on "routine monitoring" in rivers but it is largely neglecting active measures for river restoration and practical conservation at both the basin and the river water body level. Neglecting restoration work such as barrier issues is a serious gap in our obligations in the WFD process and a serious missed opportunity for conservation of globally threatened species and ecosystems. Please see a review of ours on this here: River_and_Wetland_Restoration_in_Greece_Lessons

-Greece has no experience in barrier removal while other EU states are moving fast ahead-despite the economic recession and very serious EU complications (...and this includes Spain and Portugal). We have not even thought-out this issue and have not even reviewed the potential impacts of barriers on the biota in a general sense in this country. Greece has not removed a single longitudinal barrier or dam ever... (even Cyprus has revolved on small weir within its restoration measures in the WFD context). There are several situations that we know of where we have old and useless barriers (small weirs, anti-erosion barriers, old retention dams) that could be assessed for removal in Greece.

-Greece is remarkably behind in completed or well-developed Nature-Based Solutions and re-wilding of urban and peri-urban streams and rivers. (By 'behind' I mean "really-way-behind" the rest of Europe - not just the EU Med states). This saddens me. And it is sad that we are missing opportunities in peri-urban situations around Athens where we are wasting hundreds of millions of Euros on anachronistic and nature-destructive projects for anti-flood works (i.e. Rafina's Megalo Rema, Erasinos Stream in the Vravrona Natura 2000 site, the Podoniftis stream in the Kifissos basin). This is a scandallous situation that must be re-examined by scientist, engineers, policy-makers, politicians and other stakeholders.

- In Greece we are still not experienced at building a healthy conversation about dams and barreirs. Some colleagues are easy at promoting controversy and not prone to discuss openly the real needs for mitigation measures (and the feasibility and management aspects of this).  Polorization and "extremes" dominate many silly arguments. Speaking for myself, as a researcher who was worked in many arid/semi-arid countries in the Med and the Middle East, I know that dams are "needed", no doubt, no one can be against "all dams"... But: how to manage dams and barriers? and where to place them? and even the potential for removing some useless dams and barriers is what I would like to a talk more about.

-Removing barriers (including dams) and doing ecological restoration gives new opportunities for major engineering works and allows environmentalists to work closely with creative planners and river engineers. In 2015, my friend K.G.Papaconstantinou made a case of a new agenda needed for river engineering through ecological restoration in Greece, the piece he wrote is timely...(Greek readers please see p. 58 here: EU_Directive_200060_and_the_conservation_of_inland_waters)

-  Finally, please see the PDFs of the 8 speakers of this meeting here: 

I want to thank the following HCMR people for supporting this initiative and helping me in its set-up in Athens: Christina Papadaki, Aimilia Panagiotou, Haris Vavalidis, Giannis Kapakos, Angeliki Mentzafou and Elias Dimitriou. From the Hellenic Ministry of Environment and Energy I would like to thank Ioannis Mitsopoulos for his time and effort in helping this happen here.

Prof. Andreas Eftstratiadis from NTUA opened the first session with a well-documented over-view.

The fish-pass engineer and Dam-good organizaer, Mrs. Pao Fernández Garrido of the World Fish Migration Foundation. She organized the meeting from start to finish! 

Dr. Argyrios Sapounidis from the Hellenic Agricultural Organization -Demetra gave us a well-illustrated case-study from the Nestos.

My long-time friend Dr. Jose Maria Santos from Instituto Superior de Agronomia of Lisbon gave us one of the best fish-pass state-of-the-art stories ever! 

Dr. Dimitris Zarris who studied at the  National Technical University of Athens and is also working on conservation issues in Attika gave an excellent overview of our urban stream problems.

From Dimitris Zarris slides: the main problems in Attika....

From my presentation: I was lucky to be speaking to a nearly full-house on this very important topic! 

From J.M. Santos' slides of the new-age fish passes in Portugal...

Our warmest thanks to the Ministry for hosting us and especialy to Ioannis Mitsopoulos who set the stage for us. 

Post-workshop 'field trip' to the karstic hills of Athens with star professors and researchers: Marta González del Tánago (Polytechnic University of Madrid), Piotr Parasiewics (Sakowicz Inland Fisheries Institute, Poland) and Diego Garcia de Jalon (Polytechnic University of Madrid) and Yours! 

Post-workshop meeting down at our Research Institute at HCMR Anavyssos with friends from North Macedonia: Dusica Ilik-Boeva and Zoran Spirkovski. I guess these are two of the first visitors to visit our government institute after the Prespa Agreement and the changing of the name of their country. A good beginning I hope...