Friday, May 29, 2015

Phaliriko Delta Athens: Summer rain on naturalists meeting

May 28th 2015 - Phaleron Bay Athens

By the first week of May Attika's fields go yellow, drab yellow in the warming sun's glare. And sometimes we get a thunder storm. We had one today.

We organized to meet and discuss our views on our Nature Park Proposal at the Phaliriko Delta on Athens's coastal strip at the river mouth of the Ilissos.

The beauty and biodiversity of this 'vacant lot' ecosystem is something that enthuses me. This year we have Little-ringed plover nesting, perhaps the only pair in the Attika Basin.160 birds visit the site. Now in late spring the migration is already over but an assortment of birds were here to greet us: Barn Swallows, House Martins, Olivaceous Warblers, Zitting Cisticola, Sardinian Warblers, Black Swifts, Yellow-Legged Gulls. 

The area has remarkable potential for restoration, especially as the much-needed flood control infrastructure may tie in with wetland creation here. Already the site is a quazi-wetland.
Pools form after the rains. These pools simulate an ephemeral pond environment. Native tamarisks punctuate the herb-rich meadows. Already one of our colleagues has compiled huge plant-list for the site; some scarce and one-or-two rare plant species. About 20 butterfly species have been tallied as have several other unexpected critters, Leopard Snake, Balkan Green Lizard included.  The sea-life here is exceptional: a semi-natural urban delta system, almost estuarine (but with minimal tidal fluxes); eutrophic. Loggerhead turtles spend weeks here in spring and early summer and are rather easy to see. In these respects, as it is, the site does have much interest as a marine, wetland and infilled coastal ecosystem...right at the edge of Greece's capital city and port. 

However, as are many vacant lot ecosystems, this place is threatened by typically concrete-based ideas for we are working against this. 

For more information in Greek, feel free to peruse over our proposal:

Here are my snapshots from these evenings meeting, immediately after the rain. 

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Freshwater Jellyfish in Greece

Fall 2014 Marathon Lake, Attika. 

Back on Sept 30th 2014 during a field research expedition, my colleagues and I were lucky enough to stumble upon a really interesting sight at an irrigation canal here in Attika: A freshwater jellyfish!

We immediately collected samples, did some research on this and published this in an obscure but charming scientific periodical (Journal of Limnology) since it is the first time we see it in this area and we got some interesting results in the DNA analyses showing that there are different varieties of these alien medusas in Europe... (please read our paper).

The species I have photographed here is in the genus Craspedacusta (first described by Lankester 1880). Craspedacusta in scientific naming roughly means "border guard", referring to the slightly stinging tentacles along the border of the body - the names was a synthesis from the Greek "kraspedo", meaning border and the Latin "custos", meaning guard.

Please, if anyone has any information of sightings from Greece I would be very appreciative in receiving any reports (with photos please).

The Internet is full of data on this interesting alien species, for example:

For a download of our paper on this issue:

Lake Marathon and the exact location where Craspedacusta sowerbii was found (map created by Ioannis Karaouzas)

P.S. #1. Our friends at the Greek Wetland Biotope Center (EKBY) in Thessaloniki also reported their find of Craspedacusta in Lake Marathon (also observed in late August of 2014 and directly inside the lake waters...); and they also found a huge bloom of Craspedacusta at one of the artificial reservoirs in the Nestos River, also in 2014! So the aliens may be widespread in Greece - we need to track it!

P.S. #2. I was informed by our former institute director that medusas were found in the the reservoirs and lakes of Central western Greece (Acheloos basin) in the past (however I don't know if it was this or another species). So....I'm very glad I posted this item. Reason for a new review of the subject matter, and a correction to our alleged "discovery", in a short communication.

Please send pictures if you have any more evidence!

Friday, May 8, 2015

Nature Park Proposal: Phaliriko Delta - gathering of naturalists

The Moschato Coast at Phaliriko Delta: 160 bird species is an urban biodiversity hotspot!

May 8th 2015. Phaliriko Delta at Phaleron Bay, Athens

After forming a facebook group, discussing situations with many key environmentalists, the initiation of our campaign is nearly at a plateau. We need to move into a strategy phase. The good thing is that momentum has been quite good so far. Fortunately there is a genuine interest by some really great environmentalists who know about biodiversity and restoration potential.

We are now being specific: What we envision, the future desired state. The vision for a nature park; actually a partial wetland regeneration. We do not want a "hybrid park" (i.e. a typical over-build sea-side park with a tiny piece of nature). We do not want a typical urban park or a riviera development.

The most important aspect of this area is the Moschato Coast. This piece of "infill wetland and coast" is the land between the Kifissos and Ilissos River. It now belongs to The PUBLIC PROPERTIES Co. (PPCo S.A.), a corporation with the mission of developing and managing the private state-owned properties. The company is 100% owned by the Greek State and is supervised by the Ministry of Finance. Would they want at Nature Park?

Also the surrounding municipalities of Kallithea and Moschato also have a serious say. Would they want a nature park?

Another promising development, and to be completed by 2016. is the amazing Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center (SNFCC) which is being build right across the street beyond the old Olympic Games facilities. Would these kind neighbour's want a nature park?

In our minds, as conservation professionals, there is no question really - this prime waterfront property must be developed in a way that gives-back something to the landscape, to the historical significance of the Athenian coast, to nature and culture.

Please keep in touch....

View from the Ilissos river mouth. 
Right next door to the proposed Nature Park is a phenomenal undertaking by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation- SNF (and all these cranes working are an exciting surprise in a city living in economic depression!). The Foundation is supporting the development of the National Library of Greece (NLG), the Greek National Opera (GNO), and the 170.000m2 Stavros Niarchos Park. As Athenians we can only thank SNF for this generous gift to Athens, approx. €566 million.  We hope they will like the idea of a nature park right next to such an over-built coastline. 

Sunset at Phaleron Bay. We even spotted a Loggerhead Turtle today....This sheltered inner bay is rich and productive since two river estuary here. Part of the main reason for the biodiversity value of the Phaliriko Delta. 
These are the former plans for the Moschato Coast of Phaliriko Delta. "Green" but over-built and complicated, crowded and sterile in a biodiversity sense. Completion of this "rehabilitation" project would cost upwards of 250  million so the idea was trashed by the ruling government (and the economic depression). The Nature Park idea in contrast is simpler but actually quite specialized : design "nature infrastructure" for flood control, wetland restoration, education, nature-recreation, awareness and biodiveristy. 

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Alyki Anavissou in Attika: Is it a wetland?

May 5th Anavissos Attika 

Aliki Anavissou (Alyki Anavissos) is a wetland!  It is located 50 KM south of Athens on the very dry southwest coast of the Peninsula of Attika, just before Sounion.

It was once a functioning saltworks and has been abandoned for decades. The abandoned land has regenerated, into marsh meadows, temporary pools, rough grasslands and scattered tamarisk brushlands. This year there were rains.

I visited when most of the water has evaporated away. But it was still very beautiful, full of promise. Ecological potential.

In a forty minute walk I took these spring pics, some great video and counted about 18 species of birds. The rushbeds glowing greeen, water buttercups filling up ponds, muddy spots and tiny shallow pools with the first green toads hopping about. What a beautiful start to a morning, just before work in the office.

For more information on this important conservation story download our presentation about it:
HCMR presentation on Alyki Anavissou