Saturday, March 28, 2015

Nature Park Proposal: Phaliriko Delta Athens

This could by a European capital city's nature foreshore. A lively riviera next to a beautiful open space nature park.

March 28th 2015 Phaliron Bay- Moschato Coast

I think capital cities really need open green space for nature. Not only for nature - for the city's sake; for the people, the culture; quality of life and green infrastructure. In Athens I feel we have failed. And I feel part of the reason is not only the bad decisions, poor planning and an unforgivable mess created by governing politicians; the heart of society is responsible too.

And we - the naturalists let them do this. We should know better. We have a passion for nature, for living natural beauty. We know how to identify a good site. Indicators abound: the birds, the plant communities, insects, the natural elements all bursting with colour. The landscape - a connectedness among land-sea-sky. We have this at Phaliriko Delta.

Phaliriko Delta was a place that my naturalist colleagues and I knew well in the '80s - we made a strong plea for its conservation because it was one of the most imporatant biodiversity sites in Athens - we tried to publicized it well back then. The Hellenic Ornithological Society really did a lot. We did a big report on it - two editions of it. But when the 2004 Olympics were announced in 1997 the idea of a nature park seemed preposterous...LETS MAKE THIS AREA INTO A MEGA PROJECT the politicians thought. And they tried. They built sports facilities, dredged and straightened the river-mouths, engineered the coast, expanded marinas, laid concrete everywhere. But they did not finish up. (Not enough time...).

OK, so now we have a derelict landscape. Wet with strong spring rains and full of migrating birds! What is left is a small patch of land between the two legendary river mouths - the Kifissos and Ilissos. Let's call it the "Moschato Coast" (it belongs to the Municipality of Moschato). A mere 800 m stretch of coast and in-filled upland only 300 meters wide! Now in full flower with chrysanthemum and mustard fields, tiny pools, flowering tamarisks, thorny acacias. People don't know this place exists. 5 Million people live just up the street in the huge conurbation of the Athens basin. What a disasterous failure - not to make this into a nature park!

What my crazy naturalist friends and I propose:

a) Implement a low-cost:high-value Plan B for the site's creation into a unique nature park. Restoration and eco-development: create the "Phaliriko Delta Nature Park" at Moschato Coast. The main goal and over-riding premise would be to manage the landscape as and open-air landscaped nature park for people and biodiveristy.

b) Plan-in habitat enhancement that promotes natural looking habitat features that are open - similar to the agro-pastoral coastal zones of Aegean Greece. Think of the beautiful fields and grazed meadows behind beaches on Lesvos, Paros, Legrena and Sounion.  Instead of typical city-park tree plantation thickets, keep the land open. Let the scrubby fields, wild meadows grow! Engineer simple shallow pools and ponds for the birds to come; they need shelter and peace. Make a hill with natural-looking open vegetation and only a few scattered trees. "Plant-in" rocks instead of trees. The blue-rock thrush - petrokotsifas - will come here to sing in winter...

c) Include some off-limits sections so that birds will keep gathering and nesting on the site - larks, swallows, martins, little plovers. Make trails, look-outs and interpretive exhibits that help people appreciate the landscape. People will feel safer here than if the place is planted-up as an artificial thicket. The sea-breeze will come in and fill the Attika basin unimpeded: Sea and city will finally unite.

This derelict land - this "bazotopos" - is still very valuable: potentially the jewel in the crown of Athenian parks.

Can we help promote the nature park idea?
Can some members of local society work with government to achieve this?
Is this a high priority for a city suffering from an unprecedented economic depression?

Photos of my visit today (10 years after my last visit...). I spent just less than an hour watching birds and photographing - I saw 26 species! Also I met - out of pure spontaneity - four other Athenian birders on the spot: Margarita, Vasso, Vassilis and Pavlos. They care, they know.

Instead of all the kitsch over-developments planned here....we could create green infrastructure and open space for people and biodiversity...

On a Saturday afternoon and nearly no one knows about this place; Imagine it a Nature Park!!!

Migratory birds come and go all through March, April and May: these are Black-necked Stilts in flight today.

The sea is eutrophic. Rich in small fishes. This is a Red-breasted Merganser - a fish-eating duck!

Red-breasted Merganser - a very rare bird for Attika! There were many sea-birds out today.
Dad fishing, kids playing; loads of concrete everywhere. We Greeks have an obsession with concrete!

Poseidon's fall. This is our ship! Athena and Poseidon at war:Poseidon will win. We need to believe in the idea to unite the coast with the city. This Park could help!

Never on Sunday: Piraeus just behind the Kifissos River. The idea of a nature park will help Pireaus: Unemployment, poverty and crime have increased greately. No more sports facilities needed.

This is the river mouth of one of Antiquities' most renowned river gods - the Kifissos!

To the west side of Moschato Coast (above the Kifissos River) is a hill made of infill - now the top is fenced off - but round the hill are these very "birdy" semi-natural habitats: leafless acacias, pooling rain-waters, fields of mustard, and rock-piles. Nature has colonized. Nature is regenerating. Give nature a chance. Keep this kind of lanscape in this new Park. 

Wonderful tropical migrant birds were all around the little hill. This is a ferocious mini-predator, the Woodchat Shrike.

Common and melancholy resident: Crested Lark. These birds nest and feed in open landcapes - if you plant trees they cannot survive.

Northern Wheater in typical migratory habitat -derelict works done during the 2004 Olympics projects are a good subsitute as a "rocky" habitat. These are also open-country birds. 

Many Pipits and wagtails come in spring - Meadow Pipits love the rain-water pools.

Meadow Pipit taking a bath - a break during its spring Migration. 

 Pile of rocks and a Magpie!
Pile of rocks and a Wheatear!

Moschato Coast - pooling rain-water full of algae and some water weeds!!! Amazing how nature is rejuvenating. 

Moschato Coast upland. Looking towards the new Cultural Center constructions and older Olympic Games facilities along the Ilissos River. Imagine this a Nature Park. Its not hard - just imagine....

The Ilissos River mouth looking southwards towards Paleo Phaliro. The big warship at center is the legendary Averoff - a ship that landed on many of Greece's Aegean Islands in 1912 - making them Greek forever...

Wild tamarisk next to the Ilissos River mouth. This species - looks like Tamarix gallica it is- is a wild tree found in many wetlands along the Western Aegean coast. It makes the most beautiful pick flowers. 

The Ilissos River mouth. Next to the Athens 2004 Olympic Games facilities. This was a small river mouth when I was a kid, now its engineered like a modern European canal! (Thank you Europe!).

Moschato Coast - pooling water everywhere. Makes birds happy! 

Moschato Coast - unbuilt land!! And full of flowers - rocket, chrysanthemusms, mallow, nettles, marigolds and more!

Northern Wheatear

Larks! Skylarks seem to overwinter here - excellent to see and hear.

Larks need open spaces, bare ground, low-grasses. They are good indicators of naturalness of parkspace in cities.

Greater Short-toed Lark in foreground.

A migrating Meadow Pipit - allowed super-close photography. 

Migrating Yellow Wagtail (Black-headed race) straight from Africa - on migration.

Yellow wagtail (Black-headed race).

Woodchat Shrike
The site today: A short stretch of infilled coast between the Kifissos River mouth and the Ilissos River mouth is what remains - a mere 800 m across and nearly 300 m wide..... Two artificial islets exist in Phaleron Bay which is a very eutrophic water body and full of grey mullet and other fishes. The feeling is very much as being in an enclosed lagoon like coast. Note that the Moschato coast is the only substantial unbuilt area in the picture!!!! 

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Memoir: Red-breasted Goose Phaleron Bay 1985

Memoir from past notes: Phaleron Delta, Athens, Attika.

It was 7:10 am, February 15th 1985;  I had walked down to the Ilissos river-mouth in Kalithea Athens to have a look for birds. I spotted a small goose on the beach -  a rare Red-breasted! Then a flock of White-fronted Geese flew over. I was a fifteen year-old manic birder and these were fantastic birds amazing for me - and for southern Greece, let alone Athens! Anyway I ran back home and brought a camera - taking 11 pics of the goose. The good pics are not in my hands anymore, but today I post four of the ones I have kept from that time. The Yellow-legged Gulls chased the goose away at 9:25 am. I cherish the notes that bring me back to those days three decades ago.

The finding of such a rare bird boosted the area's importance as a potential site for conservation - and after that we begun a campaign to protect Phaleron (what we then called the Ilissos Delta). Many birders considered the site their home turf and they assembled really important finds. The Athens Olympics 2004, which were announced to take place in September 1997, did away with the dream of a nature park. Sadly, no one listened to the idea of a nature park - it was a good idea and would tie in well with the after-Olympics era. Perhaps the idea is still useful.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

HCMR Inland Waters Meeting in Athens

March 16th 2015.
The Water Frame Work Directive and the protection of  inland waters: Research and prospects

A public information meeting organized by our Inland Waters Department of IMBRIW (Institute of Marine Biological Resources and Inland Waters), Hellenic Centre for Marine Research (HCMR).

Impressive day. We tried to mimic the approach taken last October (Fisheries meeting) where many top-speakers had only ten minutes to summarize their story within an open-to-the-public all-day event. We focused on the EU Water Framework Directive - specifically our research results, problems, and future needs and prospects. We had more than 25 speakers; 8 were from our institute. A good combination.

The amphitheater hall at the Hellenic "Ministry of Environment" on Mesogeion street in Athens was nearly full. The meeting begun at about 9:00 and ended nearly on time, at about 18:00. The Minister of Environment and Special Secretary of the Special Secretariat for Waters made introductory speeches in support. Many people were so engaged in what these odd scientists and environmentalists had to say... And we also heard from NGOs and a recreational fisher's prospective as well. All in a long day.

Some highlights come to mind, immediately after the event:
  • A really good review of the results so far for the long and painstaking work to monitor rivers & lakes & transitional waters: the first ever coordinated state-wide bioassessment and monitoring network effort is now in full swing. 
  • A critique of WFD progress and the big BIG problem of poor hydrological collecting and poor basic data management so far. Basic hydrological data is sorely missing. 
  • A good review of modelling applications and Ecological Flow work and prospects.
  • A good debate on hydro-electicity development and big water transfer project of the Acheloos. The Acheloos river diversion issue is one of the most controversial mega-projects in this country and it needs to be solved. 
  • Mature discussion on ecological restoration. Interesting talks on restoration prospects and about the dismal and unfortunate state of the Karla Lake's restoration.  
  • Focus on societal contribution and need for informed public participation.


Some snap-shots follow - I am sorry to say I have left out a lot of speakers and some of the photos are of very low quality - also; I apologize for my attempts at humor in the commentary. 

Professor Kostas Stergiou (Director of IMBRIW, HCMR) and Vassilis Lykousis (President of HCMR )- Introduce our passion for inland waters!

Ioannis Tsironis, Alternate Minister of Productive Reconstruction , Environment and Energy in full support of our initiative and of HCMR.
Vassilis Lykousis (HCMR), Kostas Triantis (Special Secretariat for Waters), Ioannis Tsironis (Minster)

Professor Kostas Triantis (Special Secretariat for Waters) helping to pass a registry of bore-hole inventory to monitor water abstraction pressures.
Nikos Skoulikidis (IMBRIW, HCMR) heading the WFD river monitoring project at HCMR: The first and largest monitoring project in our Institute's history.

Yorgos Chatzinikolaou (HCMR), best all-round potamologist I know; he provides results.
Vassilis Tachos (IMBRIW-HCMR) with a map FULL of  fish sampling points!

Audience both young and old; lots of people who love inland waters.
Mrs Maria Ghini (Special Secretariat for Waters) is one of the main architects of  water management in this country.

Yours (IMBRIW-HCMR) showing pictures of birds (and i love the Greek flag behind me...). 
Out for a smoke...
Costas Papaconstantinou "former Ornithologist" now Green Party activist and long-time Environmental Education expert with Thanos Athanassopoulos, ichthyologist and good friend of lagoon ecology and management in Greece
Yours with Thodoros Naziridis head ofthe Kerkini National Park Management Body - a champion for conservation in that important protected area
Vassiliki Tsiaousi (EKBY) hard-working environmental scientist discussing lakes next to Dr. Maria Stoumboudi (IMBRIW-HCMR)
Professor Kimon Hatzibiros (NTUA), legendary ecologist and thinker from the '80s period...
Researcher Andreas Efstratiadis from NTUA discussing the numerical aspects of the WFD in Greece.
Professor Derkas from the Agricultural University of Athens voicing his opinion against the Acheloos water transfer.
Ms Olga Petriki (AUT), PhD Candidate, exploring fish-based indices in Greek lakes: Excellent work so far. 

Panayotis Sabatakakis (National Institute of Geology and Mineral Exploration) in splendid rhetoric!
Dr. Dimitra Daniil from the National Chemical Laboratory.

Ioannis Kouvopoulos from the Public Power Corporation (DEH).
Professor Michalis Skourtos (Agricultural University of Athens) discussing economic aspects of the WFD.

Dr. Emmanuil Koutrakis from National Fisheries Institute (Kavalla) taking about fish-based indices in lagoons.
From Dr. Emmanuil Koutrakis' excellent talk on the lagoon fish-based indices.

Angeliki Mentzafou (IMBRIW-HCMR) had loads of  convincing reports on applying simulation models in river basins in Greece.
Christos Theodoropoulos (IMBRIW-HCMR), PhD Candidate, introduced us to Ecological Flow policy priorities.

 Christina Papadakis (IMBRIW-HCMR), PhD Candidate, eloquently reviewed the institute's Ecological Flows work in Greece.
Kaloust Paragamian (WWF) flew all the way from Crete to help us understand the need for small wetlands!
Professor Ifigeneia Kangalou (Univ. Thessaly) explained the situation in the Lake Karla restoration project. 
Associate Professor Maria Chrisochou from Univ. Connecticut and NTUA discussed environmental forensics techniques to pinpoint pollution at the Assopos River.
Amateur fisher, Stavros Bletsos along with other fly fishers interrupted the science with some real-life river problem reporting.
Anastasios Papadopoulos (IMBRIW-HCMR), Meteorologist, with Kostas Stergiou closing the day.
Nikos Skoulikidis and Professor Maria Lazaridou (AUT) sharing a smile. Optimistic!

 This public information meeting would not have been possible without the help the orgnaizational unit formed to work on this meeting: many people at HCMR helped. I really want to thank Christos Theodoropoulos for really taking up such a great burden. Thanks to all for participating and supporting.