Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Mandili Island on the Cavo D'oro Straits

August 26th 2012. 

More diving with our friend Kyriakos Dikelas and his crew in Southern Euboea's waters (see http://www.diveinevia.gr/). We visited Galani Reef, next to Mandili Island (aka Mandilou, or Kamandelo - from the Venetian "Cavo Mandelo"). This is the most southern territory of Euboea, a rocky island with an old lighthouse located just off the southern tip of Euboea (off Cape Mandelo). The straits between Euboea and Andros are known as the Straits of Kaphireas (or the Cavo D'Oro Straits) they are notorious for their strong winds, currents, wrecks etc. Mandili island is now an easy 30 min zodiac ride from Karystos - but waters are usually rough espcially in summer - so you need a good day. We got one! The place has amazing visibility and a real feeling of wilderness. On a good day - the deep blue has a 30 m plus visibility - and the prospects of seeing some big fish are usually high also. Galani Reef is a sea mount-like structure rising out of the deep blue - to just 2 meters depth. The reef head's light-blue colour is a fantastic light aquamarine and this gives the place its name (galani = light blue).

A few years ago, in 2009 Mandili was included in Mount Ohi's Proposed Protected Area expansion, and its is now a Special Protected Area (under the EU's Bird Directive) and protected under Greek law in the Natura 2000 network. Protection on paper is not enough, but it is a beginning. The place is important: Audouin's Gull colony, Eleanora's Falcon, Mediterranean Shag, Shearwaters, Monk Seal and Sharks. Of course it is poorly explored, as is much of the underwater Aegean.

I'm posting some of Kyriako's photos from our trip and some of mine and Aris' will also appear soon. (Also the first shot I procured from an internet search because I did'nt have a proper out-of-water landscape of the island - few have photographed it....)

Visit with Kyriakos, dive here, get involved. 
This place is worth it! 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Diving in Southern Euboea

August 20th and 21st 2012

About 60 Kms East of Athens is my grandparents birthplace and the land and sea that I first explored as a youth; later a a naturalist. Southern Euboea - the distinctive southern end of Greece's second largest island; around the town of Karystos. I will refer to this place often in this blog because it is a point of reference for me.

Today I share some snap-shots taken by my friend Kyriakos Dikelas who runs a superb Diving Center in Karystos (http://www.diveinevia.gr/).  Do people dive frequently in Greece? (Well after so much fame as the sponge-diving center of the world and such a sea-faring tradition on would think so- but not...). Diving was made totally legal in Greece after 2006 - most people do not know this - a widespread ban was in place to supposedly protect antiquities. So this kind of recreation is new to us - and a lot of the sea is unexplored. Dimitri, my 15 year-old son and I got our Open Water Certification here this year - we are seasoned snorkelers - and he is a manic fisherman too...so it was about time!

We went on three shallow dives these days - first site is just East of the town of Karystos at the eastern end of the Bay at a place called Mantalia, near Bouros (12 m dive). Second site is beyond the Bay of Karystos in the more exposed shores to the Southwest, just across from the Petalii Islands, at Kalamitsia (19 m dive). We saw about 27 species of fish at the first site, 32 at the second (these are typical numbers seen during a sprint through these waters for half an hour or so).  Visibility was good, but not great these days due to high winds and currents (visibility was about 25 meters I think - it is really clear in the Aegean - everyone should know). 

As the years wear on, I realize the and calm one receives from spending more time underwater.  

Diving team at Mantalia, summer meltemi wind blowing strong.

At 10 meters depth or so- we look small from above. 

Posidonia sea grass meadows, typical and widespread on the flat gravelly bottom.

Rock face with sponges, sea-squirts, urchins and algae - really interesting stuff.

Most bigger fishes are hiding under these crevices. We saw an huge Wrasse, perhaps Labrus merula

Damselfishes create cloud-like schools above the sea grasses.

Fry of the Damselfishes (Chromis chromis) in the sea meadows. 

Nearly everywhere in Karystos Bay are these shards of pottery and earthenware from classical times. 

Team at Kalamitsia, series of narrow beaches along the extreme southernmost coast of Euboea. 

We enter and start to jog down a slope for about 100 m.

Then it gets really rocky and interesting, crevasses everywhere.

Lots of colour in the crevasses. This sponge-filled crack had a Dusky Grouper and a further down was a funny looking Phycis phycis

Bus and house-sized boulders litter the cliff base, above us a 10 m. tall wall. 

Lots of Posidonia meadows among the huge boulders too. It was fantastic!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Conservation Insight: Samos Island 2012

August 4th to 12th 2012

Samos, one of Greece's Asiatic islands - the closest one to Asia Minor. Its a unique part of a European country - but its not European in its nature (Anatolian flora, chameleons, jackals, Cypress forests, fascinating insects, Ruddy Shelducks...). The place is not really an island- almost. Its like a peninsula, a unique strait 1.5 Km wide separates Samos from Turkey's Mykali Peninsula - or Dilek Mili Park (...known until recently as one of the last haunts of the Anatolian Leopard in Turkey).  Last time I was on Samos I was enchanted, that was back in the summer of 1995. Also in 2000 I worked on the Special Environmental Study to create a sort of a National Park in the NW part of the Island...not a success story. Its interesting for me to discuss some of the changes, the general feel this year.

In 1995 I were amazed that a place like this still existed. Especially, wilderness mount Kerkis, the Seitania beaches in the Northwest coast. Also the inland waters - summer flowing streams on Karvouni near Mytilinaioi village and the wetlands at Alyki on the Mykali Straits, and around Pythagorio. It looked and felt fantastic - a naturalist's dream. Also a place with great incentive to save nature in the name of ecotourism.

In many ways the island is still exceptional for biodiversity in Greece. And there is still plenty of potential there. However, many things did not go very well. These are some of my initial unstructured thoughts about the conservation situation on the island:

  • Nowhere, except on the most sophisticated of tourist maps did I see any mention of the Natura 2000 network of proposed protected areas - within such fantastic sites such as the Alyki lagoon and its adjacent beaches nothing remotely gave an impression that this place is special or protected.  
  • Many "volunteer" fire fighting facilities exist after the great fires of 2000 - and much of this is heavily advertised and rather funny (how ridiculous to spend so much money on buying trucks and building outlooks when there is no real planning or appreciation for "managing fire"). 
  • Concerning Kerkis and the Seitania Beaches: The road from Drakei to Karlovassi was the reason the "National Park" idea was stalled to a halt in early 2000 and it was finally never constructed - and no mention of "Park" exists anywhere anymore. 
  • There is no ecotourism scheme for Samos - it was just a "trip" we were on in the '90s. It has blown over. I say this since, development of small holiday homes, apartments for tourists etc etc is rampart in many coastal areas and the landscape is becoming uglier with little "control". See Potami beach, Marathokampos Beaches, Alyki and Mykali and Psilli Ammos coastlines - they are much more uglier today - and geared for low-grade mass tourism. It was better in the mid '90s. 
  • The nicest environments on Samos for us were the following: some of the inland villages; parts of the town of Karlovassi (which has also become a student town); Samos Town from-a-far (reminiscent of Smyrna...); the Straits of Mykali, and the Kerkis Massif and its NW beaches ofcourse.
We saw very little wildlife - it was windy and quite hot most days. There is a lot of nature but you don't easily see it in summer: small groups of Eleanoras Falcons at Pyrgos village; A Beech Marten popped up next to the road on a night drive; locals talked of Monk Seal on the South coast; many streams were bone-dry; and it was obviously not flowery.

I would never visit Samos in mid-summer as a holiday destination or even an ecotourism base in summer. However, it was beautiful and rather quiet.... this summer its not the large number of "mass tourists" that bothered me - some say numbers are down by 60% this year....  It is just the typical mess of a coastal Aegean "tourist island" and the bitterness I feel when I think that it could be "much much better" here. 

Some coarse suggestions:
  • The local community should invest strategically in the Protected Areas. Add more small ones and some marine ones also. Create are real plan for protected areas on the island (then update it- there is very little base-line information on this). 
  • Create an International Park at the Mykali Straits -Dilek Mili Park. Here's an action that may bring Greece and Turkey closer together and lend an international distinction to Samos (but don't forget that the reason is saving nature - not just attracting investors). 
  • Create a scheme to stop or control scattered tourist-centered building in and nearby protected areas (this is especially serious at Mykali straits (in the SE coast, but elsewhere on the coast too).
  • Manage wildfire - incorporate this into the strategic planning for protected areas.
  • Save the Seitania Beaches, the Kerkis coast and the trails. No more roading!! This place is pure coastal cultural landscape and wilderness - it is a BIG asset and one of the most spectacular topographies in the Aegean Islands. Its a real shame to see it being hacked up by roads, stupid dirt tracks, tourist chalets, cafes, holiday homes on the beach (what a shame...).
  • Control wind farms. They are plain ugly and degrad landscape quality. Although few exist on the island - the island and many offshore ones further south are immanently threatened. Whatever the case, keep them off the mountain summits and the island's most pristine wilderness and top-scenic areas. What is a top-scenic area?? (that would be a typical technocrat's question...).
  • Explore opportunities of Marine Protected Areas (the seas are cold and rich here - and the situation on the Greek-Turkish border does create an opportunity, maybe....
  • Promote ecotourism more. Create an ecotourism scheme- and certification and award do-gooders in this field. Samos is a prime area for ecotourism still - that's why I feel so much bitterness. 
  • Study nature on Samos more. We know very little still - for example the sea-life on the island is really fascinating for me (e.g. the current swept Mykali straits; the presence of pelagic sharks on the west coast; the need for Marine Protected Areas). Naturalists should visit....
I'll try to visit Samos again.

Some pics will soon follow........

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

First Electrofishing Seminar in Greece

Seminar team of HCMR: Our first Intermediate Electric Fishing Certification Meet in June 2012 at the Mont Helmos Hotel, Kleitoria Peloponnese. Note the Back-pack electrofisher unit in the center is a new Smith-Root. 

 June 6th to 9th 2012, Mont Helmos Hotel, Kleitoria, Peloponnese.

Certifying field workers and volunteers in Electrofishing. With the help and step-by-step guidance of our friend and great teacher Bill Beaumont from the UK's Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust we created our first ever seminar for Electrofishing Certification in Greece. Our first graduates were 15 persons primarily from HCMR (Hellenic Center for Marine Research). I had no time to post details earlier and I mean to upload more pics as soon as possible since this was a real eye-opener for our team. 

The seminar was a three-day exercise at a wonderful hotel near the Aroanios tributary of the Ladonas at Kleitoria in the Peloponnese. On Day One we arrived at noon and later begun a Health & Safety session with field practice in the early evening. On Day Two we had a full day of lectures and certification exams. Finally on Day Three we toured nearby rivers and focused on field protocol issues. We tested various electrofishing equipment, including land based generators and different back-pack  machines (generator ground-based, Smith-Root Backpack, European Backpack units). We also had in-field discussions on recording protocol and field form details. On the final day before leaving the hotel we had an extended question-answer period on all themes. It was a great chance to organize a pilot seminar session and I hope we can do this again someday.

Its important to mention here that this project was supported by the Hellenic Ministry of Enviroment and Climate Change and EU funding of Greece's WFD Monitoring Programme. Field coordination for the seminar was undertaken by Ms. Sofia Giakoumi. And many HCMR members helped in various ways. We thank Mont Helmos Hotel in Kleitoria for all assistance and fantastic seminar conditions, high-tech class-rooms, pool-side campus atmosphere etc. etc.

We especially thank Bill Beaumont of GWCT, and Smith-Root for all support so far!

Best electro-fishing instructor: Bill Beaumont

Notes taken by V. Hatzirvassanis during the seminar. 
Sketches made by V. Hatzirvassanis during the field sessions.

Sketches made by V. Hatzirvassanis during class presentation - our instructor Bill Beaumont was kept us totally engrossed in the subject matter. 
Electrofishing with our back-pack devise in the beautiful Erymanthos stream of the Alfeios - West Balkan Trout, Alfios Soufie, Peloponnesian Barbel easily sampled right next the ruins of the Classical City of Psophis (Photo: V. Hatzirvassanis).
Most people do not know that three hours west of Athens there are wonderful riparian forests in beautiful mountain rivers very suitable for summer seminars....
Discussing the field protocols can often create lots of varying views especially since much of this work is focusing on standardizing technique.
Nick Skoulikidis, river coordinator of the challanging WFD montirong project with key-stone HCMR staff members in discussion next to the classroom.
Field sessions involved a lot of real-life work - here the team is testing the older italian equiptment in the Seirios Tributary of the Erymanthos (carried by Roberta Barbieri at Left).
Electrofishing in a very cold trout stream near Kleitoria in the Northern Peloponnese; some of us just took pics  (photo by V.Hatzirvassanis)