Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Fish Monitoring Training Seminar: Sperchios River

27-28-29 April 2015. Loutra Ypatis, Sperchios River, Greece. 

Standardization of river fish sampling for monitoring is critical for researching, protecting and managing inland aquatic ecosystems. In Greece, widespread fish populations monitoring in rivers begun with the application of the Water Framework Directive, just during the last 15 years. We have built our know-how through many collaborations with European institutes and experienced professionals and strive to ameliorate our methods for best monitoring practice.

Four research teams and their students gathered at the Sperchios River in Central Greece for a mini-seminar on the subject of our rapid assessment electrofishing technique. It was a closed meeting (not-for-the-public) - only selected persons now using the monitoring protocols for the National Monitoring Network would be involved. 17 persons participated from the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, the Fisheries Research Institute (INALE), University of Ioannina, and HCMR.
Members of the Institute of Marine Biological Resources and Inland Waters - Hellenic Centre for Marine Research (HCMR) led this training initiative.

The seminar consisted of an indoors session where HCMR's rapid assessment protocol was discussed in detail and several discussions developed. We focused on the field form we have finalized for monitoring and the optimal habitat/pressure data gathering during the sampling effort. We discussed both EU Water Framework Directive (WFD) uses and Habitats Directive data uses. Field sampling trails at two locations on the river also took place. Members of the different academic teams used the rapid assessment protocol in order to demonstrate technique and best practice in a particularly difficult  part of the river.  The sampling took place at the mid section of the river's main-stem (downstream of Loutra Ypatis bridge and downstream of Kastri Village). The river is now wide; it is freshet now, snow-waters melting, cold-river fast flowing conditions.

Our rapid assessment sampling method exerts extra effort to sample in waters such as these, although this must be done with more than one anode to be most effective. We caught five species of fish in these mid-stream sections: Vardar Chub, Greek Barbel, Sperchios Barbel, Sperchios Sprilin, and Marathon Minnow.We also saw a lot of pressures affecting this beautiful river - channel straightening, inappropriate flood control works, harsh river engineering with no respect for flood-pulse morphology. Embankments are still being raised. Trash everywhere also. Anyway....

We thank the hotel that hosted us and took care of all needs including the conversion of the lobby into a small auditorium/classroom. The Hotel Alexakis (http://hotelalexakis.gr/en/) in Loutra Ypatis is a wonderful base!

Everyone is welcome to download our rapid assessment manual and field protocols here:

I post a few of the snap-shots we took; it was a great couple of days with motivated people of similar interests who love their rivers and know their fish!

Petrol-powered Backpack Electrofishing. Vassilis Tachos explains site sampling requirements.

First site: Downstream of Loutra Ypatis bridge.

Downstream of Loutra Ypatis bridge.

Downstream of Loutra Ypatis bridge (in background).

 Backpack Battery-Powered Electrofishing.Team from Ioannina, Thessaloniki and HCMR working together.
Teamwork on field protocol. Really warm day! 
Second site: Just downstream of the village of Kastri, near the confluence of the Vistritsa Tributary.

Jimmy K and Alexandros check the generator while the others inspect site.

Argyris Sapounidis, Jimmy (aka Dimitris Kommats) and Nicholas Koutsikos using the shore-based generator.

Nektarios Kalaitzakis manning the generator's electricity wires.

Protocol handlers: Aimilia Panagiotou, Leonidas Vardakas, and Nektarios.

Vardar chub. 
Sperchios barbel.

Sperchios spirlin.
Photis Arapoglou in discussion with seminar leader Vassilis Tachos.

Class-room environment: Protocols in hand, fresh coffee served.
Research Leader Alicibiades Economou from HCMR.
Anthi, Photis, Yorgos, Argyris organizing gear.
Confluence of Vistritsa on the Sperchios river at Kastri Village.
Hotel Alexakis at Loutra Ypatis Village, Phthiotis, near Lamia and very close to the beautiful Sperchios.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

10th Annual Athens Bird Race

Totally trashed and infilled wetland at Vourkari Megaron: Restoration plan needed here fast!

10th Annual Athens Bird Race 25th April 2015

Our team the "Sainia" (Levant Sparrowhawks...also meaning "smarties") did really poorly during this year's birdrace.

We planned to tour "all the wetlands of Attika" - striking two birds with one stone: birdracing and monitoring wetland conditions...or sort of!

We started with Vourkari Megaron - a truley magical place with its shallow lagoon-like bay near Megara. It was beautiful, serene.

Then we speeded up to the Assopos River Delta with its lovely open lagoon at Skala Oropos.

We crossed down to Marathon Lake for a veiew from the Dam. And on to Schinias.

Schinias-Marathon National Park was mesmerising. Particularly the landscape. Open - not overly build-up for the most part - wild-feeling, flowery, bridy...

Then we had a minor accident. Our rented Nissan X-Trail jeep drove off the track and tipped into the marsh. So we were stranded for 3 hours, missing the finish-line, disqualified from the race. At least we were all safe and had a great laugh at our near-submerged jeep.

We saw a total of only 52 bird species. Best birds were a Flamingo and Common shelduck at Vourkari, Great Egret, Ibis and many waders at Schinias, Whimbrel and other waders at Oropos Lagoon. I really enjoyed views of the lagoon-like waters of Vourkari, the many egrets, the Little Terns and Kentish Plovers at Oropos. The song of a nightingale at Marathon. And just sitting and waiting for our rescue at Schinias, in peace and frog-song.

Our team consisted of my good friends Aris Vidalis and Vassilis Hatzirvassanis and Natalia - a student working with us at HCMR.

See other Bird Race situations from past events, here:







Vourkai Megaron

Fish-rich waters - and totally clear - at Vourkari.

Vassilis at Vourkari.
Inland lagoon-like conditions at Vourkari. Many areas in-filled, lots of potential for restoration.
Natalia, Aris, Vassilis at Oropos Lagoon.
Vassilis notes every birds at Oropos Lagoon.
Watching the Little Terns. Oropos Lagoon. 

Beach at Oropos Lagoon with Evvoikos Gulf and Evia Island beyond. 

Lower reaches of the Assopos River.
Mid-lower reaches of Assopos. One of the most polluted rivers in Greece. A disgrace. 
Lake Marathon.
Inoi Gorge downstream of the Dam of Lake Marathon.
Waders at upper part of Schinias near Kato Souli.
Schinias near Kato Souli.
Schinias near Kato Souli.
Allium cf. roseum. Schinias near Kato Souli.

Serapias orchids. Schinias near Kato Souli.

Water. Schinias.
Accident! And a shame...we should have walked this slippery narrow track....
Rescue finished!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Ilissos River...flows!

Yes this is in the center of Athens!!! A tiny trickle of water in the filled-in river bed of the Ilissos valley.

 April 22 Athens City Center, Greece 

Today I met with Philip Dragoumis an old friend and activist from the mid 1980s - from when I used to live in another part of Athens. He invited me to inspect a stretch of "open river valley" next to the Temple of Olympian Zeus. This is a trace stretch of Athens's legendary Ilissos River. We found water! No, I did not expect it....as everyone, I always thought the river was completely covered-up, totally filled-in, a sewer. 

As with so many natural things in this mega-city, the Ilissos - an outstanding historic riverscape- vanished under the city, literally.  Most of this small river's upper section is completely submerged underground - except for this tiny stretch. This section was also filled-in with rubble and debris but not covered up completely since it is right next to the support walls of the Temple of Olympian Zeus, and the Church of Agia Photini. The trickle of water we saw is run-off and seepage of the famous spring of Kallirhoe - a sacred and historic spot. This trickle covers only a few tens of meters of infilled streambed before it vanishes in the artificial rubble bed. Upstream the river runs under sports facilities - a huge athletic pool. Such incongruous developments in this historic site.

Next to Kallirhoe spring is a rocky bed-rock stretch where there was once a waterfall, cold-spring water and a riparian trees...this was clearly mentioned in the texts of ancient philosophers and writers there are gravure printings from a few centuries back depicting this glorious landmark.  

Ilissos was considered sacred to the Ancients. Ilissos was a river deity, a demi-god, son of Poseidon and Demeter; and was worshiped in a sanctuary on Ardittos Hill next to the Olympic Stadium, just a few hundred meters upstream from Kallirhoe Spring. The springs are located across from the modern Agia Photini chuch. The classical writer, Pausanias, wrote that this was the spring with the only good drinking water in Ancient Athens.  Across from the spring was a sanctuary to Pan - the deity of wild nature. This sanctuary was right behind the modern church of Agia Photini. In fact, there is a carved rock at the spot. And the relief figure of Pan is carved on the rock- if someone shows you the precise spot where the ancient's carved the rock you can see it. Its hard to make out- but I saw it clearly as Philip's friend Iosif Effraimidis interpreted the site for us.  In ancient times, the banks of the river in this area were dotted with shrines to these super-natural beings. Plato writes of this place...there were Oriental Plane trees and willows...Socrates and Phaedrus would come here on their philosophical walks - just outside of the ancient city's walls. 

Today this small stretch is totally neglected. Overgrown with a lot of alien plants (but there are many natives too - plane, chaste, oleander, myrtle, laurel, various mints on humid riparia etc.). However, today the site is a no-man's land for residents and visitors - it has a bad reputation at night. Trash everywhere. 

What is totally mind-blowing is why no one has until recently seriously planned for this short river stretches' restoration. Although it is a very short open valley section- it is worth working on a plan. And managing this small stream area as a iconic natural and cultural landmark where ancient Athens and a flowing trickling stream meet the modern City. I think it is possible to implement a restoration project here. 

I thank Iosif Effraimidis and Philip Dragoumis for guiding us today and sharing their knowledge (which I reproduce here). 

Otho's Bridge - under  the city streets. 

Sadly this is a notorious place during the night. It is filthy with trash of all kinds - but mostly the erotic kind...

Otho's Bridge with Philip. (Otto was Modern Greece's first King).

The site of the legendary Kallirhoe spring. The water runs perennially here! One of antiquities' most notable landmark natural features is totally unknown today- even to most Athenian naturalists! 

A short uncovered section of the Ilissos river valley. Still idyllic-looking even from a cheep mobile phone photo. The river has been in-filled at least 1.5 meters deep. 

Agia Photini Church with the priest's brand-new car. The church as built in 1872 when the neighborhood needed a main parish church. It was damaged by a huge river flood in November 1896.

Locals meet up with activists Philip and Iosif to discuss restoration plans.

Iosif  (at center) discusses archaeology, history, conservation, restoration. All possible!

Iosif showed us Pan's relief carved on this rock next to the road - the rock was saved "last-minute" by the Archaeological Service during road-building works. 

The location of the tiny stretch of river in Athens "Ilissos River Valley". From: http://www.greeceathensaegeaninfo.com/h-athens/ancient/ilissos-river-valley.htm