Monday, April 28, 2014

Sperchios River: Kripis Project Spring Visit...

Early April 2014

Spring photos along the length of the beautiful Sperchios River in Central Eastern Greece. 

In my mind this is one of the most beautiful rivers in Greece. What a statement! 

The is my reasoning:

a) The upper tributaries on Mount Iti National Park are spectacular (not shown here); amazing cold waters dropping into deep narrow canyons, others full of trout in Greek Fir forests.

b) No major dams on the main stem - except for some new barriers at and near the National Highway crossing.

c) Meanders! Still the river has a few true meanders in the lowermost part. 

d) Extensive riparian  forests. For a lowland river, only the Pinios of Thessaly, the Nestos and Evros can compare with its extensive lowland forests. But it is a smaller river than the above. 

e) Endemic fish bonanza. Its unique biogeographical cross-roads position lends the river an amazing situation where fishes with biogeographical origins from the north meet fishes from the unique southeast. Three taxa are local endemics to the river (Pungitius hellenicus, Alburnoides sp., Rutilus sp.).; the total list in the rivers freshwater is about 15 species. 

f) Fantastic birdlife. The lower course, its forests and wetlands and the Delta are incredibly rich and little-studied. 

g) Floods! The river still has flood-pulses that are along a natural flow regime cycle. This feeds the Delta with sediments and nutrients. 

h) Estuary-like Delta system in the Malliakos Gulf. Greece doesn't really have any true tidally-influenced estuaries. Our deltas and lagoons are tide-less really. But at the Sperchios Delta there is a tidal influence with amazing mudflats, delta islets, etc. Important as a fish nursery ground and a bird migration hotspot of international value. 

i) Fantastic landscapes and landscape features: Looming Mount Iti over the lower valley. The unique Gorgopotamos Canyon. Thermopyle with its steaming hot springs. The vast Delta wetlands and shallow green-grey-blue Maliakos Gulf. Working countryside farm villages. Ancient Oriental Plane groves over the rushing river waters. Hundreds of clean upstream headwaters. The 'presence' of wolves in the hills.

So all these riches add up; they give the river valley and delta a unique place among Greek river scenes - it is wonderful in Spring.....

This is how one falls in love with landscapes....

All photos below are from our early April 2014 trip. I will inform about locations asap. 

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A Greek Barbel Luciobarbus graecus caught with throw-net in the Delta, at the Anthili Pump Station.
Sites visited during our second biological survey (Early April 2014); site numbers are also used in the photos above.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Wanted: Alosa fallax - Twaite Shad records from Greece!

Juvenile Alosa fallax caught by HCMR electrofishing team at Pinios River, Summer 2009.

Spring fish migration 2014...

Many fishes enter freshwater from the sea. A few of these are truly anadromous long distance migrants - they journey up river to spawn (e.g. Salmon do this in the Atlantic). In Greece we have a wonderful anadromous clupeid, a Herring family fish, the Twaite Shad Alosa fallax that does this. But few people know it. And, it is a rarity, there are signs of it having declined. We must draw attention to it.

Twaite Shad or Sardelomana in Greek,  can reach up to 50 cm in size: A giant herring-like fish. Reproduction is in May (or maybe April also) in gravel beds in large rivers (mainly in northern and western Greece). Once the eggs are laid they soon hatch and the young fish migrate downstream, often staying in freshwater during the summer. The fish then migrate to sea and adults mature after 3 to 4 years.

My personal experience with this species is minimal. We have recorded the fish only twice, once in the lower Pineios of Thessaly and the lower Kompsatos (both young small-sized individuals in late Summer). But we have collected published records and some anecdotal mention of the fish from various big rivers (Axios, Amvrakikos rivers, etc). We have very interesting anecdotes of large numbers of "Sardine-like" fish running up-river from some places but these are really unconfirmed (i.e. from the Lower Alfeios etc). Such mystery talk by amateurs cannot be confirmed without a photo!!!  So we need to hunt for more documentation. My HCMR colleague, Yorgos Chatzinikolaou obtained the images featured in this post from a tributary of the River Evros, near Didimoteicho in late April 2013. It is well known that in the Evros this species migrated up from the sea to spawn and people collected to dry it (in great quantities) as far up as the Ardas river (near Kastanies). The three photos we post here are testimony that the species is still there! And evidence of the species' presence is vital to assessing this rare animal's conservation status in Greece.

A wider consortium of Greek Ichthyologists is now working together to gather information on 72 species of fishes of European Community Conservation Concern (the Natura Surveillance Project) and the Twaite Shad is one of these important species.

Please if anyone has any feeling of ever seeing or hearing about the presence of this giant 'sardine-mother' (Sardelomana in Greek) do get in touch with us AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. And please, try to get a picture - please note the date and exact location, the number of specimens, any special conditions and the fishes' size.

Keep in MIND: The reason these fish are now suffering from humans is that human-made obstacles such as dams and weirs BLOCK their natural up-stream migration. Our "barriers" and river engineering often totally impeding access to spawning grounds. River barriers to fish are sometimes unintentional and can be re-engineered: think about fish-ladders or small works around river bridge bases, road crossings, river abstraction points, river regulator weirs. These artificial barriers to river connectivity are one of the most significant and least appreciated elements degrading the natural integrity of river ecosystems. Thinking about the Sardelomana is a start. 

Adult Alosa fallax caught at spawning site in the mid Evros in Spring 2013. 

Adult Alosa fallax caught alive at spawning site in the mid Evros in Spring 2013.

Measuring total length (TL) is important as information of any photographed fish (same fish as above).

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Buyuk Menderes Delta, Aegean Turkey

Late April 2014

Turkey is a fantasy-destination for us Greek naturalists. Many of our islands are just a few kms away; the thought of exploration across the straits is constant. And we have deep emotional ties with Anatolia; before 1922 many 'Asian' Greeks, the Rumlar (Romioi), lived here. A massive population exchange changed everything. So, "going back" to Anatolia is a pilgrimage. A major nature-oasis is the Delta of the Great Meander. I first visited in August 1989. Then I had stayed with the fishermen on Karina Lagoon...My first wild-travel adventure alone. Now a Greek-Turkish research team explores the Great Meander's waters and its fishes- what a gift for me to be part of this! I hope these snapshots share my excitement and inspire nature wonderlust. I really hope more people will work to protect these waters, within a world-class National Park. 

The Great Meander near Lake Bafa; this part is impounded by a "regulator" - a kind of weir near the Highway towards Bodrum.
Huge Grey-Mullet in the turbid waters at the Highway Bridge, Lower Gr. Meander. 

Prize-of-the-day: Knipwitschia cf caucasica, a dwarf goby, female. I had heard that the species inhabits the Delta, this one was found in the river's main stem below the Bafa weir.
The endemic river fish - Vimba mirabilis - young fish; this one in the lower Meander within the National Park boundary.
Aggressive catch of Spotted Sea Bas and mullet Lower Gr. Meander.

A catch at about 10 kms from the river's mouth. Mostly Grey-mullet and a nice Carp, among others (10 spp).
Majestic Lake Bafa. Formerly the river entered part to the lake and created these wetlands; the background is a sensational rock-scape - perfect for Anatolian Leopards...(now probably extinct).
Dalmatian Pelican that was fishing in the river near our boat. A small colony probably still nests in the Lagoons, but numbers low. 
Formerly, a Greek village, the old Doganbey, on the lower slopes of Samsun Dag (Mt Mykale).
The old Greek village hospital, later school. Now the restored National Park Information Center. Great job Turkey!
The old fishermen interviewed by Kaan Yenice, Biologist. Here we learn about the massive "Granios" fishes that enter the river - some of them over 80 kg in mass!!!
The "Granios" Argyrosomus regius. This small individual is probably from a fish-farm; it was served at the Karina Balik Restaurant.
We work on a boat - the river is deep, turbid; what an adventure. Many many fish caught!
The Great Meander - Buyuk Menderes. Along with the Evros and Axios it is one of the largest rivers entering the Aegean.
The "Kaynak" (a warm spring) near Doganbey Village next to Karina Lagoon (photo by D. Zogaris).
A Syngnanthid pipefish, probably in the genus Nerophis. Common in the vegetation of the lagoon and spring.
Two potential competitors. The American Mosquito Fish and the local Killifish (females) at the Kaynak.
At Karina there are about a couple of dozen palms that look like Phoenix theophrastii. Theophraste's Palms are one of the rarest trees in the Aegean - are they really this species?
Fires have swept through and the southern side of the mountain overlooking Karina Lagoon have been burned but the Palms do fine.
Phoenix theophrastii is an endemic palm of Crete and SW Turkey - look at the short flower stalks and tiny dates on these trees... please can anyone confirm this ID????
The river lower Meander, meanders next to the ruins of Miletos - a great nature spot for fishes and birds!
One of my favorite fishes - "Yilanbalik" - the migratory Eel. Still common in the lower river and lagoons.
The local Killifish, closely related the the widespread Mediterranean Toothcarp, now these Aegean fish are called by some, Aphanius almiriensis; this is beautiful male. 

View westwards towards Samos - barely visible at the tip of Mount Samsun. Karina Lagoon sparkles in peace.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Sperchios and Maliakos: KRIPIS project in progress

Apostolos Siapatis fry-netting and others in boat observing our progress in deep mud.
April 7th to 9th 2014

Both departments of our institute (IMBRIW) are working on fish-based aspects of integrated management research at the Sperchios River Basin Area. This pioneering integrative project (the KRIPIS project) also involves other aspects of water and resource management but I focus on the fish here.... This month we had a very good first info-gathering trial working together in the Delta of the Sperchios - within the shallow and tidal Maliakos Gulf. The tidal influence and estuarine appearance of the Gulf are extremely rare environments in the oligotrophic Aegean Sea. Critical aims for the ichthyologists at the beginning of the KRIPIS project are to build a descriptive knowledge base of this unique ecosystem and to introduce fish sampling/monitoring methods so we can get some real data. A first step of course is to resort to getting a lot of help from the local fishermen. We'll be back soon.

Apostolos and I trying to work the fry net in "deep" water at the Livari Enbayment - an open lagoon-like water body in the Delta.
Working inside and outside the boat. It was a rainy day- a northern feel. Fascinating tidal estuary experience for us southerners.
The Sperchios delta has huge tidal mudflats - something very rare in the Southern half of the Aegean. Waders were in full migration - we spotted a few Mute Swans and Flamingos.
Our drag-net contraption "rolls" on the muddy bottom behind the boat. Its a quick-fish trap to see what's in the turbid bottom.
Alkis Economou and Stephanos Kavadas collecting samples from the fry-net. This little Seine-thing works well in very shallow waters. 
The shallow tidal embayments are famous as nursery grounds for Sole (Solea sp.). Even for this fishermen report a decline. 
Watery, muddy, wild world. Stephanos and Alkis working the fry-net. Ok, now we know it does'nt really work in deep water!
Prize-of-the-day: a dwarf goby, this is a robust-looking male. I assume it to be a Knipowitschia sp. collected in formalin solution! 
Stephanos and Apostolos sorting samples on board. What we collected is our first window into knowledge.
Alkis with sample bottles - some with formalin some with ethanol. Nikos the local guide, knew about throw-nets too.
Stephanos, Tassos and Alkis planning ahead: A great team! Muddy roads, small canals, mudflats - the Delta is a labyrinth.
Mugilids (Liza sp.) abound in shallow brackish waters of river-mouths and lagoons; these were caught with a throw-net.
At the small harbour of Molos we interviewed fishermen. The eutrophic waters are unlike any you see in southern Greece.
Gill-netter in a shabby state: Fishermen report a huge decline and point to illegal fishing and overfishing as problems.
One of the fishermen with hundreds of meters of gill-net. We discussed the problems. The catch was not good today.
Marbled Electric Rays (Torpedo marmorata) caught by the gill-netter at Molos. Fishermen mentioned several ray species in the Malliakos (Big ones too - over 30 Kg). 
The Mantis Shrimp, Squilla mantis, a stomatopod shrimp that is harvested in large numbers. In Greek it is known as "Katsarida" (=roach).
The invasive Blue Crab Calonectes sapidus is a problematic over-abundant species with low economic value; its impacts have not been fully assessed. 
River meets the sea. One of the most intriguing environments for ichthyologists. Here we are reacheing the moth of the old channel of the Sperchios.