Monday, October 28, 2013

Lake Beletsi...just north of Athens!

Early October 2013

With Ioannis Karaouzas our HCMR waters team visited this artificial pond, unknown to me. Lake Beletsi is situated on a plateau at about 600 m. elevation on the eastern flanks of Mount Parnitha at an area of holiday-home developments called Ippokrateios Politeia. It is said to have been created in 1972-75 as a reservoir. The size of this huge pond is 105 m by 130 m (7000 sq. meter area approximately). It is large by pond standards, and should be properly called a small artificial lake since it is also quite deep. It is said to be 9 m deep at some pointy by the WIKIPEDIA account (Λίμνη_Μπελέτσι) but a diver fb friend of mine documented only 5.3 m depth a few year back - sound about right! 

What about biodiversity? 

Surprise! We found three species of fish here. We collected two native endemics of the Western Aegean Ecoregion. The Greek Barbel Luciobarbus graecus and the Greek Rudd Scardinius graecus. Now this is big news since both are rare endemics, and the Greek Rudd is actually Critically Endangered ( In the photos below the white-shiny-fishes with a slightly upturned snout are the Greek Rudd. Both fishes exist in Lakes Yliki and Paralimni about 60 north within the isolated river basin of the Beotian Kifissos. Rudds are predators, they probably feed on the mosquito fish in the lake - there were a few, but not in dense concentrations. We also found large mussels here. I think they are also from Lake Yliki. 

So, in short, the lake does have something interesting - and an interesting philosophical question relating to the transplanting of native rare endemic species. Needs another visit!

(Minor note: The last photo shows a group of beautiful young Luciobarbus graecus with Mosquito Fish and a funny looking dark thing protruding on the bottome Left part of the photo. It is an Eel (Anguilla anguilla). I collected this specimen elsewhere (Kato Almiri Lagoon two years and kept it in my personal aquarium). So just for the record - this Eel is NOT from Lake Beletsi and I highly doubt Eels exist in Lake Beletsi (contrary to what the Wiki article says). Also it is more than obvious that all fish found in the lake have been introduced by humans. The quesiton is - how bad is this? 

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Agios Stephanos Attika: Ichthyological Surprise for HCMR!

Early October 2012

My colleague Ioannis Karaouzas (HCMR) and I did some wondering round Attika to find sites for water/ecological quality sampling during the beginning of the month. I had been informed by a local Athenian naturalist, Dimitris Zarris that a population of fish were evident near Agios Stephanos. Agios Stephanos is perhaps the northernmost suburb of Athens - so the story and his photos on fb came as a surprise. 

Ioannis and I headed exactly to the spot. And lo-and-behold fish! Now, in our Med-type thermo-xeric tiny and degraded streams you do not often find fish! But in this case the tiny-tiny streamlet had four pools (along a 100 m stretch) and they were FULL of fish. Ioannis collected waterbugs and I collected the fish. I placed them in a formalin solution and collected some in ethanol (somewhat sloppily, but anyway- I will do better next time!). 

The result is that we have a species of Chub - a species probably native of Greece - but perhaps not a native of this tiny stream. However, they are surviving, reproducing and large individuals over 20 cm. are common. The species is called "Potamokephalos" in Greek and belongs to the genus Squalius. We cannot yet identify the exact species - since several are found in this country and the systematics is difficult (if not totally confusing to amateurs). So the large fish in the photos below are of Potamokephaloi...

We also found the Marathon Minnow (Pelasgus marathonicus)- this is 6th site the species has been located in Attika (well two are right on the border with Beotia). The photo below with the small fish is the Marathon Minnow (Attikopsaro in Greek).

The map shows the site - it is a streamlet with perrenial water that enters Marathon reservoir - very interesting.

Lefkada for Ionian Islands Region Workshop

 Late October 2013

Drove out to Lefkada (about 5 1/2 hours from Athens). Beautiful day, magnificent countryside. Then you finally cross to the island on a causeway that leads to the small city next to a lagoon. The causeway crosses large wetland- lagoons with honking flamingos, venetian fortresses long-forgotten above the marshes. I took some pictures of this amazing wetland serenity - then I wore my tie, changed shoes and entered the workshop at the Cultural Center.

The workshop was about "smart specialization" focusing on regional economic development and the sea. My colleagues from HCMR, Drs. Aris Prospathopoulos and Kostas Kapiris did their best to express our ideas on how fisheries, conservation, ecotourism etc can contribute to "ecodevelopment". We learned a lot and met both politicians and consultants. Later I visited the trawlers in Lefkada harbour - mantis shrimps, hake, sardines and mollusks. We enjoyed a wonderful seafood dinner and lots of cold Greek beer next to the trawlers.

Incidentally, due to a mistake in my hotel reservation, I was turned away from the reception desk and asked to go to another hotel...the hotel was full! This is amazing, but really good news; this year was good for the tourism industry in Greece.

I really believe tourism if managed properly could help Greece recover. But it needs to be of a different variety - not the tourism we saw developing in former years. We propose more alternative tourism strategies - and we especially support ecotourism development. More education and special promotion facilities for this are needed. Tourism services need to be of a higher quality as well. Tourism needs a vision that will support and protect the natural heritage. And this kind of ecotourism requires bottom-up local support. And it must be strategically planned -focusing more on Nature. The unique nature of each part of the Ionian for example must be brought out, interpreted, promoted as a heritage. Its possible if we put our minds to it!

Here are some scattered examples of where I think scientists could support "eco-development" in practice - within a smart specialization framework:

- Monitor marine and coastal resources using smart technology and applications (produce new innovating means to do this).
- Promote and better enforce wise fisheries use; better monitor stocks, explore new harvest methods; stop catastrophic and wasteful overfishing or unchecked fishing techniques; integrate forces to end the stocks destruction.
- Help "restore stocks"; its not enough to monitor we must apply our developing knowledge.
- Help better monitor, assess and remedy fisheries conflicts with wildlife (turtles and dolphins are a local problem).
- Promote tourism development focusing on special clusters such as ecotourism inovations.
- Help build facilities that interpret nature and promote it - I really believe Greece could have at least 5 big world-class aquarims (In Lefkada why not an..."Aquarium of the Ionian"). The lack of functioning nature interpretation facilities, education materials etc is striking in Greece.
- Educate and train locals; one important aspect is training eco-guides (certification also). We need to upgrade the "nature and culture experience" of visitors, so we need knowledgeable guides.
- Plan, apply and help monitor new recreational - education ventures such as diving tourism (Dive parks they are called in Greece - these are specially designated sites where great diving is promoted).
- Marine strategy and Water Framework Directive approaches (policy-relevant applications supported by industry).
- Making some industrial developments less costly to the enviroment - better fish farm practices.
-Coastal zone management; espeically "small wetland" conservation, restoration, habitat enhancement and educational development (e.g. wildlife watching etc).
- "Eco-development" within and near the protected areas of the Ionian (Natura 2000 sites); organize to develop recreation without degrading the environment (walking, eductional tourism, snorkeling, boat trips, kayaking, biking, birding, conferences, biological statiosn, field schools, summer schools etc). 
-Manage protected-areas (the Natura 2000 sites) effectively and sustainably; and bring culture in. There are many ways to do this, especially through eduction and eco-promotion. Bring out the "nature-identity" of each island in the Ionian....

We need to bring scientists closer to development and economy at the local and regional level - it is possible to make a difference.


Monday, October 7, 2013

Campaign: Alykes Anavissou and Agios Nikolaos Attika

The Agios Nikolaos coastline with the characteristic tombolo and small marine lagoon. The island in the distance is Arsida- located across from HCMR headquarters (Photo by D. Klouras).

Early October 2013

The west coast of the Attika Peninsula from Varkiza to Sounio is certainly one of the most beautiful coasts in the southern Greece! This is not hyperbole; but it is a very subjective statement. And unfortunately the area is aesthetically degraded due to building sprawl at various areas near Athens. Sprawl of all sorts and ineffective planning are rife despite the beauty of the relief, the variety of landscape formations and the magnificent sea-scapes. So much has been lost: the coast road, the extensive in-filling of wetlands and creeks and haphazard development of all kinds has done extensive damage. Distasteful degradation.
So what can we do?

Find the remaining open places;
assess values, and save them!

Large and important open spaces first.
Important beyond the local scale. One such area is Alykes Anavyssou (Anavyssos Salina) and the the beautiful coastline south to the tombolo of Agios Nikolaos (about 50 km south of Athens). The area is public land belonging to a government organization intending to sell-off public lands for rapid development.

Since HCMR headquarters at Anavyssos is located very close to this area, several scientists have visited many times and there is a certain understanding about the area's potential.

These are the main values as biodiversity experts see things:

Alykes Anavyssou
  • Alykes Anavyssou is a wetland area- one of the largest in southern Attika. The wetland area covers nearly 900 stremmata (90 hectares); a basin that was formerly an active salina until 1969. It is a huge expanse of beach-side coastal lowland.
  • Although degraded by Wetland habitats exist (Juncus rushbeds, steppe-like limonium flats, small temporary ponds and scattered shrubs (Tamarix, Retama etc)). 
  • Rare wetland plants have been recorded (various charophytes such as Chara canescens, Chara vulgaris s.l. and the rare water moss Riella helicophylla have been recorded by my friend botanist Uwe Raabe in 2011). 
  • The area is of moderate ornithological importance; at least 36 species have been recorded in 2011 when we visited during a wet Spring. This includes rare and protected species (collared pratincole etc). It potentially could have a high local importance if semi-aquatic conditions were better managed. Due to the salina's embankments, roads etc. the hydrology is severely cut-off from the basin and rarely fills with water. It is usually dry and quiet most of the year. 

Regenerated wetland habitats after Spring rain (March 2011) at Alyki Anavyssou. 

Summer air-photo. The tombolo - a slice of sand- connecting the
islet of Agios Nikolaos.The coastline is public land all the
way to the unbuild basin of the Salina, At Upper Right behind
the beach of Anavyssos Bay
(Photo from Enotita Saronikou NGO).
Agios Nikolaos Coast

  • Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
  • Small wetland lagoon fringed by rush beds, low dunes, salt-wart salt marsh, reeds.
  • Natural tombolo formation.
  • The area is a rare marine formation (beach-rock naturally embanks the shallow lagoon).
  • The area is of moderate ornithological importance; It potentially could have a high local importance. 

This area is vulnerable not because it is one of the last open spaces it is immanently threatened. It is public land that may be sold -off to developers. Local government, NGOs and some knowledgeable members of the public are very intersted in seeing this area "protected".

Off-hand recommendations

a) This issue is local, but can be developed into one of regional value if the uniqueness and "larger" potential values of the site are recognized (biodiversity, recreation, education, landscape conservation potential).

b) Alykes Anavyssou should remain a greenspace. This can be combined in harmony with specific development actions only if it is planned in such a way as to be a small-scaled thematic development- functional and not distasteful. Attika and much of coastal Greece is full of so much distasteful sprawl and assorted ugliness.

c) A vision for the Alykes Anavyssou area is needed. Already some proposals (thematic parks etc) have been put forward. Many local environmentalists want to see the are rehabilitated and its natural character retained.

d) The coast along the beach of Alykes Anavyssou has been gentrified (lawns, etc); distasteful and typical of so much development. The Agios Nikolaos area fortunately does not have this; this relative naturalness means it has an outstanding value of naturalness. All the public land of Agios Nikolaos must remain unmodified.

In short, yes lets save it. Worthy of a fight!

On the 4th of October we had a very successful public meeting on the issue at HCMR. About 70 people gathered including many specialists from the Municipality, public authorities, university and HCMR. We thank the local NGO Enotita Saronikou for making this possible.