Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Samothraki Nature Observatory: Summer 2014 Notes

End of July 2014

HCMR research is continuing on Samothraki this summer. My personal contribution during this week-long stint focused on exploring riparian condition and key vegetation structure in the riparian woods, and on wetland and stream ichthyofauna. I also kept notes on birds. 

Our colleagues Anastasia Lambou, Nikos Skoulikidis and local supporters and visitors are doing various other researches also, primarily in the streams and in support of local conservation initiatives. We all thank Team Leader, Nikos Skoulikidis, for the extra effort.Vasso Vlami helped immensly in the field. Anastasia who is planning a PhD that includes the island's stream macroinvert fauna is also vital in the organization of this initiative. And we also thank the local authorities who support our stay on the island.

In a week in late July –early August we explored stream environments in the north and western part of the island; electrofished and seine netted in some streams and at the major lagoon area of Agios Andreas. We also talked a lot with the locals and the local authorities. 

The weather was stormy for nearly three days and this did not allow us to scale the uplands where we had planned a “great transect” through the southern wilds of the island (from Vatos Beach to the Fonias Springs via the upper Yiali valley). Good reason for a re-visit.

Here I scribbled some notes (compiled on the Ferry trip back to Alexandroupolis):


Some of the observations I made on this trip:
  • Water levels in the streams and wetlands were surprisingly high this year, most of the water received very late in the spring and also in summer (!!).  The salt lagoon (Almyri) near Agios Andreas was full of water (unlike last year) and nesting Shelducks (T. tadorna - a large group of about 12 individuals with young) and many Black-necked stilts were seen (but no young seen).
  • I did four electrofishing trials;  with only mugilids caught at the Varades streamlet (a stream that was incidentally not flowing to the sea last year). No Eel at Polypoudi (were great habitat existed inside Alonia village).
  •  Seine netting at Agios Andreas yielded the usual community (gobies and blennies as documented on my last blog post on this subject last year); but, the lagoon is probably artificially cut-off from the sea and there is no migrating fish population. Despite this I did see three Great Cormorants, five Shags, and two Little Grebes fishing in the lagoon – are they feeding only on large bodied Gobius cobitis??). 
  • I did 14 QBR+ surveys. These are riparian vegetation surveys and riparian habitat condition assessment protocols. I tallied a species of Mulberry living wild Morus sp. (Not seen before); I was surprised to see such an absence of alien species; nor any extensive Arundo (i.e. Great reed cane- otherwise a common Aegean stream invasive). Generally the riparian aspect of the island is very 'northern' and cool, Alnus is frequent (but dominated by Platanus).
  •  Found a new site with Terrapin Mauremys rivulata at Polypoudi in Alonia village.
  •  The island was rather bird-rich although we visited during the really quiet lag between breeding and the onset of Autumn migration; we did not really birdwatch. I tallied 35 species altogether. This included a migrating group of Chlidonias terns (50+) outside harbor on the 3rd of August. Many nesting Turtle doves, Bee-eaters; and, what I had not noticed last year: a flock of Lesser Kestrels in the fields around Agios Andreas lagoon (!!).  The island had its usual Stone-curlews nesting in the over-grazed steppes of the north shore and a group of Eleonora’s Falcons (5-6) near the Varades-Therma-Palaiopolis area. Lastly, we had wonderful views of Hobby Falcons near Lakoma on two occasions (this confirm regular breeding).

Finally a note about the people and conservation movement on Samothraki. We met the new Mayor, and the new deputy Mayor  and had a very good discussions on our mutual interests. And we met many locals, and were especially impressed with the ‘Sustainable Samothraki’ initiative and its members. We wish them all the best with this initiative. Also we wish the MAB UNESCO designation goes ahead and that the protected area development succeeds - the Austrian/ Academic connection is very important in this.

Some notes on nature conservation issues I perceived this time (my fourth visit for SNO*):
  • The north shore riparian and coastal Platanus woodland from Palaiopolis in the west, east to Platypotamos is an out-of-this world wonder, found nowhere else in the Greek islands. Coastal hygrophilous forest! It is the island’s major attraction for nature exploration (small wetlands, river mouths, leafy beaches shaded with Platanus!). (And two municipal camp sites exist within it). It is threatened primarily by immanent incremental development: building of any kind. Developmental sprawl for holiday homes, unchecked tourism sprawl. Fortunately due to Greece's economic depression this kind of building-up has stalled and slowed-down after 2008. The area needs a special study, special zonation, to protect it as a "landscape monument" within the wider protected area. It is within the wider Natura 2000 zone.
  •  Water over-exploitation and reckless water wasting are observed in many areas, particularly the north and west. This despite the island’s UNIQUE abundance of water! Although the island population is much smaller today (about 2800), the need for water is heightened due to summer tourism, summer irrigated small-agriculture, etc. Several streams have become “artificially intermittent” in their lower sections during the summer; we have not yet charted this phenomenon, but it is well known by observant locals.
  •  Local water pollution. Katsambas, Polypoudi (upper sections) and Lakoma streams have local pollution; this can probably be abated if point-source pollution is treated and enforced. Some areas of wetlands area also filled in and generally polluted (the small lagoon near Kamariotissa for example – typically “trashed”).
  •  Lots of people are complaining about overfishing; a rapid drop of fishery resources. There is a local interest in a protected area (since a part is also in the Natura 2000 network as a Special Protected Area). This issue need special study. The wild coastline on the southeast and parts of the north could be protected from spear-fishers, for example. Huge trawlers in Kamariotissa Harbor also need to be monitored. But the fisheries impact is definitely catastrophic; certainly unsustainable.
  • All of us talk a lot about “overgrazing” as a heavily destructive pressure on the island. Ok on Samathraki it is! More than 90 000 head of goats (this is an unvarified estimate, please wait for the up-coming 'paper'...). The issue of overgrazing has been challanged by the cultural landscape concept - see works by Rackham....As most terrestrial ecologists know, in many parts of Europe a LACK of grazing is a really problem – so this incongruous condition is interesting. I have had some experience with this down in Southern Euboea, so it is familiar ground, and I have studied the controversial approaches to restoration. Here on Samothraki, we need to act carefully and we need to understand the real conditions that promoted the recent increase in grazing (EU subsidies...). The grazing problem needs very careful study ASAP. However, my opinion is that other environmental problems are more severe at this point in time on Samothraki. The grazing issue is very sensitive and its a social issue as well (...we can easily f*ck up our protected area planning if we make planning mistakes here...). I recommend we focus BOTH on the 'grazing issue' and the 'Forest Protection Issue' they are related but in conservation applications very important distinct streams of actions. Forest conservation on Samothraki means protecting remnant stand from vegetational degeneration (i.e. stopping the overgrazing impact in order to induce natural regeneration) but also seeing where and how we can bring real woodland back (i.e. around remaining stands etc). The 'grazing issue' needs incentives and social work to support shepherds.
  •  What kind of ‘conservation area’ designation should we plan for on Samothraki? I have a feeling that in most European countries the degree of distinctiveness, wildness, awe-inspiring aesthetic qualities, biodiversity richness, rarity of features, etc etc would point to National Park status for most of the island. A MAB reserve proposal is being ‘processed’ so the statement for a conservation area has gone ‘international’. The local authorities want to support protected area designation but they are still not well versed in such things. It will take time, commitment, real engagement of the locals, is this worth it? Yes as I grow older, I want to see a ‘feasibility study’for conservation area designation planning; it is not easy to say what we can do and why we want such a “Park” for Samothraki. And making parks has become unfashionable now-a-days. So let’s keep thinking, studying and supporting Samothraki.
*Samothraki Nature Observatory/ Παρατηρητήριο Σαμοθράκης

(Note: for further information on inland water fishes of Samothraki please read:

Just outside of Hora: A 'ruined landscape'...professor Rackham you stand corrected!...However this is an extreme 'view' trust me. Its bad on Samothraki but this extreme state of  'bad' is localized.

Ano Karyotes riparian forest - Platanus dominated.
Lianas in 'warmer' lower elevation riparian forest in the lower Polypoudi stream riparian.
Ano Karyotes sampling site; note the naturists sun-bathing for scale.
'Agios Petros' streamlet near Kipos: new sampling site with perennial flow.
Varades stream, this year with perennial flow to the sea and small mugilids in the shallow streambed.
Stream pool, blocked by shingle beach at 'Agios Petros' after late spring-early summer rains. 
Polypotamos stream-mouth, temporary pooling water after unusual summer rains.
Polypoudi river-mouth now almost totally dry, a small pump-house provides a very small dripping water source.  No stranded fish found in the former pool, so no fish enter...
Selfie while electrofishing at upper Polypoudi: deep pools, huge bolders, Platanus roots: great Eel habitat, no Eels! Negative data is DATA!!!
Mauremys rivulata found in the polluted waters of Polypoudi near Alonia. Although the species is "pollution-tolerant" to some degree its insular populations are fragmented and vulnerable.
Perfect conditions for seine netting - fish are trapped in small muddy cove!
Collecting lagoon fishes, and lots of shrimp.
Anastasia and I with the fry-net at Agios Andreas Lagoon. Storm was coming.
'Almyri' Lagoon, just south of Agios Andreas. Great area of outstanding botanical and ornithological interest.
Storm coming from the West: An hour later we were totally drenched. (Not a Holiday beach environment...).
The "Mentha" micro-wetland at Varades, usually dry even in spring (see earlier posts); now with pools!!!

Agios Andreas Lagoon looking very Norwegian...(Thanks Robin for the aesthetic photo)
Immediately after a rainstorm, a sunset from Panayia Krimniotissa.
Perhaps and endemic plant; in the rain at Panayia Krimniotissa. Please correct me Mr. Biel.
Part of the team: Vasso, Anastasia, Nikos, Maria and Robin.

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