Thursday, August 14, 2014

Breksiza Wetland near Athens: Turtles!





Breksiza Wetland : Turtles!

The former USA Military Base at Breksiza was dismantled after the end of the cold war. No naturalist knew that a tiny wetland was hidden inside! Then the local government etc. turned this prized piece of open ground into in to a dump; then with the 2004 Olympics at least 1.6 M Euros were paid for anti-flooding works on site. Its scandalous: I will not show the huge ridiculous culverts and high-grade concrete canals etc here – a totally unfounded claim for “anti-flooding public works scam”.  There is no upland catchment for flooding, no river valley, only a karstic spring-wetland….*

Ok, now turtles.

Many people like Turtles, especially when you see them in clear spring waters with the little ‘fishies’ and you can throw them some popcorn or bread. You get the idea….This kind of 'summer fun' takes place at Breksiza wetland behind Nea Makri beach (about 35 km due east of Athens). 

I reacted to the call to go and see if the “turtles are dying from the pollution-choked waters at Breksiza”. An environmentalist friend found me on my cell. So, Dimitri my son, a 17 year old impatient spear-fishing macho type and I drove over to Nea Makri on this blistering hot midday. Ok.

These are our observations and photos in 15 mins we spent watching the turtles:
  •        The turtle numbers did seem marginally lower (we had counted at least a couple of dozen two years ago- but this may be just the timing of our visit - I think they go into aestivation during a very hot summer sometimes...). But the composition is as in the past: We counted 10 Mauremys rivulata (Stripe-necked Terrapins), 3 Trachemys scripta (Red Ear Slider – an American invasive sold at pet stores everywhere) and one Emys orbicularis (European Pond Terrapin). All these at the tiny pool with clear spring water rushing in from the large spring-fed pools upstream of the “Sanctuary of the Egyptian Gods” just north of Nea Makri proper.
  •         The native terrapins about – both species – are native wildlife, protected by EU Directives and Greek law, for those who do not know better; PLEASE DO not feed these animals; PLEASE do not introduce domesticated (often disease-ridden captive alien species such as Aquarium turtles). Turtles are very smart (!!!), they will become conditioned to feeding, but they will also find a way to find food. I have actually seen them foraging for grapes in vineyards at the Karystos wetland during a very dry drought. What will kill them is the destruction of the wetland at Breksiza….
  •          There were a very few foam bubbles in riffle of the canal waters at Breksiza. Probably from detergent used to wash clothes, since several of families of Gypsies squat around the waste-ground and sell trinkets near the beach. So the “foaming polluted waters” probably refer to this.
  •           Terrapins are rather resilient to water pollution; and the water is still flowing strongly, actually even entering the sea a few meters downstream of the culvert (…the “super-culvert paid by EU taxpayer’s money!!!).
  •      We also made some serious fish observations. Two age classes of grey-mullet (Liza sp.) and to our amazement a predatory fish stalking them….it was a sea bass about 10 cm in size (see below). My son’s opinion is that it is in fact a Striped Sea Bass (Dicentrarchus punctatus), a rather rare fish in Greek freshwaters (see former blog posts of mine on this). I think it is the first time it is reported in the wetlands of Attika (although truthfully we have’nt searched much…).
Finally my son was a bit nerve-wracked by my insistence to stay and “photograph” the turtles, but we did’nt fight on this. The midday sun was glaring at 38 or so degrees.

I thank my environmentalist friend for phoning to ask to go check on the turtles. We’ll be back soon.
  

*A natural wetland always existed on site – sacred also to the watery Egyptian Gods who have a sanctuary on site! (See http://www.greekmonuments.com/Marathon/egyptian_gods.html). Its a spring-fed clear water wonder- this tiny relict spring. Of course it was almost thoroughly drained when the refuges from Makri landed here from Asia Minor in 1923 and then again I guess by the Americans. So please, why the 1.6 m. European Euros for flood protection? It could have become a beautiful wetland nature park. How many of us feel disheartened about this wasted opportunity at Breksiza? 



One of the two spring-fed 'streams' from the spring-lake wetlands of Brexiza. Agriliki Hill a foothill of Penteli in the background.
The river mouth of the stream above entering Marathon Bay, looking NE towards the nearby Schinias National Park.
Pre-construction estimate of 1.6 million Euros for anti-flooding works and gypsy clothes drying at Breksiza.


Dimitris walks through a part of the 'savannah' near the wetland (on R). Agriliki hill in the background - a fragment peice of 'Wild Attika'. What an opportunity for NATURE PARK. (Wake up!!!!).
Fence in former USA Military Base of Nea Makri. Thanks USA.
Pond terrapin above (a rare species, needing clear lotic conditions) and the more hardy Striped-necked Terrapin. Both native turtles in need of protection.
The beautiful alien from the pet-stores, Red Ear Slider an American speceis at Brexiza. Only large adult individuals seen. Please do not throw your pets away. 
To my surprise, the turtles were peristantly looking for food hand-outs!!! Just like in Florida. Ok. This is not cool.
European Pond Terrapin. A rarity in Attika; "Near Threatened" in the Greek Red Data Book, a declining species in this country. 






Young Stripe-necked Terrapin. Also "Near Threatened" in the Greek Red Data book. Both speices are protected by the Habitats Directive as well. Now you know the names...remember them**
What species is this?


The fish on the top Left is a Sea Bass with spots. Lots of spots. Dimitris says its definately a Dicentrarchus punctatus. The others are Mugilids (Liza sp.).
You can watch the fishes (little Grey-mullets) and the Turtles. Wild!





** Names of the Turles in Ελληνικά:

Stripe-necked Terrapin = Ποταμοχελώνα (ή Γραμμωτή Νεροχελώνα)
European Pond Terrapin = Βαλτοχελώνα (ή Στικτή Νεροχελώνα)
Red Eared Slider = Κοκκινόλαιμη Νεροχελώνα

Thanks for listening students!

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